French Linen

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Tribute to Grandma: An Enduring Life

Note: Our Grandmother passed away on February 24, 2011 after living a vibrant life for 93 years. I'm thankful that I saw her one last time 3 weeks ago -- the weekend that I was visiting Barb for our triathlon training weekend. When I decided to use a triathlon to stay connected with my sister, little did I know that it would lead to a fortuitous last visit with Grandma. This is my tribute to her I delivered at her memorial service on February 27.

Grandma lived a full life and what is so wonderful about her life is that she was able to enjoy it for all of her 93 years. Three weeks ago today, Barb and I had what would be my last visit with her. Barb made Italian wedding soup and some pasta, and we enjoyed lunch with her in her sunny dining room. We talked about our adventures learning how to swim and training for our upcoming triathlon. Training for a triathlon requires a lot of training and endurance - much like life. Grandma had 93 years to perfect life - or perhaps we can look at it through the lens of her life in 3 events of 31 years each.

I, of course, wasn't around for the first 31 years, but I know one thing - she did something right in marrying my Grandfather or I wouldn't be here. she unselfishly didn't complete her last year of college so she could care for her new baby, my father.

The next 31 years is where I come into the picture. I became her first grandchild when she was 50 years old, which now that that age doesn't seem so far away, is amazing to me. When she was my age, she had already raised 3 children and I haven't even figured out how to keep the plants alive - something she pointed out to me the last time she visited and wondered how come the lovely live White Flower Farm flower she had sent me was now a dried flower arrangement.

The memories of the grandchildren playing in the yard of her Meadowbrook home are fortunately forever captured by my Grandfather. If you want to see the video, there are 2 hours worth of me, and 2 minutes of the last grandchild - sorry Matt.

The last 31 years - when I was an adult - are my best memories. One of my favorite memories was the Carnival Cruise that Grandma and Grandpa took us on to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Now my cousins and I were teenagers, and we thoroughly engaged the freedom a cruise ship had to offer us since we couldn't go very far. Thanks to Barb winning the "warm bra" contest, we won a free bottle of champagne.

A month after the cruise and back at Gettysburg, I met my future husband. When Mike and I were dating, we stopped in Atlanta to visit them during a drive from Florida to Connecticut. One of my favorite pictures is of us celebrating New Years Eve with them - which was celebrated at noon rather than midnight at their retirement home. I had the good fortune of commuting to Altanta for a project for 9 months and enjoyed a lot of fun sushi dinners with my Grandparents.

As Mike and I bought and renovated our home in Connecticut, Grandma took note of everything. I was amazed once when I was speaking to her on the phone and describing the renovations we were doing, and despite not having visited for some time, she asked if we were going to move the bed from its current location to an opposite wall in the bedroom since that would open up the room so much more.

After Grandpa passed away, I admired how grandma continued to live a full life. She took up painting for the first time at age 89, proving you are never too old to learn something new (so there is hope I will learn to swim for my triathlon). My most treasured piece of artwork is a picture of the Edgartown lighthouse that she painted for Mike and me and presented to us at her 90th birthday party on Martha's Vineyard. One of my favorite photographs is of her sitting on the beach, all decked out in her Black Dog socks.

It was only a couple of years ago that she came to visit and we took her to see a show on Broadway in New York City - The Fantastiks, which is the older running Broadway show, but Grandma had everyone beat as the oldest running audience member.

A year ago Christmas, I wanted Grandma to teach me how to bake stollen so I could continue the tradition. I purchased all of the ingredients before she came, but she showed up with better ingredients and quickly put most of mine back in the cupboards. It was quite an endeavor, I learned - a 3 day process, in fact. Everything was going quite well until we kneaded our 4 loaves and then realized we didn't have the right setup for optimal dough rising. We dismantled the ceramic Christmas tree for a warming light and precariously propped up our dough through some make-shift contraptions. In the morning, she checked on the dough and was quite distressed that it hadn't properly risen. We ultimately had no choice but to continue with the process if we were going to have the stollen this Christmas. The rest of us all thought the stollen came out just fine, but her pallet kept reminding us over the next few days that the dough just didn't rise like it should have.

She lived all 93 years with the endurance and mental acuity of an athlete. She travelled great distances, saw the world, and loved and cared for her family. Never one to forget anything, when I spoke to her last Sunday for the last time, she remembered to wish me a happy birthday. It was a perfect ending across the finish line.

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