Monday, March 12, 2012


Today marks one year since my Grandma  passed away.  I can't tell you how often over the last year I have laughed over something the kids did and thought of calling her or sending her some pictures.  Going home and not stopping in to visit her several times leaves a palpable gap in our days.

And yet, I know the last two months of her life were painful and that going home to God and to her beloved husband was a well earned release for her.  We'll all be together soon and forever; the time apart is insignificant in the grand scheme.

I've been meaning to do a tribute post of some of my favorite memories or pictures of her.  I am still not sure I'm able to do it any kind of justice.  Most likely I'll miss and offend more than honor.  This is my nonsense, but here's a start.

First of all, let's all just agree that my great-grandparents, Harley and Minnie, were a dashing couple.  Yes, Great-Grandpa's ears are the stuff of legend and re-appear in each generation, but that's my family.  We do ears and noses with gusto.

They were married around 1908 (as noted on this picture) and had two daughters; Grandma was born in 1925.

I know precious little about her childhood.  I always wanted to ask, but somehow it felt like "quick, tell me stuff before you die!" and so I never did.  And now I can't.  Go talk to your family and document stories.  Go.

I do know she lived in St Marys, the next town over from my hometown of Celina.  Our high school sports teams are rivals and we have a lot of good-natured trash talk between the towns, and I gather it was pretty well established even then.  In fact, there's a legend in our hometown that the local man-made lake's naming rights came down to a gambling game between two men from our respective hometowns.  The man from St Marys won the rights and named it "Grand Lake St Marys", even though Celina makes up the majority of the coastline.  To this day, most Celina people refer to it as simply "Grand Lake" while most St Marys people use the full name.  This is the stubborn blood of my people.  Grandma ended up living in Celina for the last 25 years and 8 of her 10 grandchildren went to Celina schools, but she still seemed to prefer my brother-in-law who graduated from her alma mater of St Marys.  Loyalties.

Grandma did tell me stories of going ice skating with various groups of friends in the winters, riding around and goofing off, being a good student, and "sparking" which elicited a lot of laughter from my grandpa.  She positively lit up when she talked with or about him.

Grandma, around age 7
Around age 19
They met young and married fast. She was just over 22; he was just home from the war after his time in the army.  They met at a roller-rink-turned-dance-hall-at-night in Celina where Grandpa swept the floors of sawdust and caught Grandma's eye.  Within weeks they were engaged and she liked to joke about how they didn't have their first child for nearly 15 months which nicely shushed up a whole lot of noisy relatives.

Wedding: July 19, 1947
Aren't they adorable?  And if you know my dad or brothers at all, you'd swear that was one of them standing in that snazzy suit and striped tie.  I told you we do noses and ears with gusto and all sides of the family are strongly contributing.  Doesn't grandma have great shoes?  She had recently graduated from Dr. Browns School for Technicians in Columbus, Ohio and worked as an x-ray tech; grandpa had driven a truck in the war--specifically he often drove an ambulance.  I wonder if some early conversations involved their shared experience in medical settings; neither spoke much of it later.

Grandma worked at the hospital in town and Grandpa worked late at his job.  They lived in the 3rd floor apartment above a 5-and-dime on Main street and on hot nights she would sit out on the fire escape and watch for him to come home.  Some nights he would show up with ice cream cones and they'd sit outside enjoying the fresh air while the apartment cooled off.  By the time they had kids they had moved to a house in another small farm town ten minutes south.

These two.  I'm sure they had their rough days.  They certainly had their share of difficult times with job changes and losses, four children, moves, and illnesses.  Grandma had breast cancer early on (1960's) and beat it.  They had three boys and a girl who still seem to delight in being as ornery as possible as often as possible.  This is also a family trait.
1968: Dad graduation
1968: Dad at boot camp

1988: Dad and Grandma goofing around

My dad and grandma had a special relationship.  My dad would tease her endlessly and they would both laugh.  To all the world they would sound like they were fighting when they were both smiling at each crack.  She would sigh and shake her head and say "Oh, Tim." in a way that was just bursting with love and pride while trying her hardest to sound frustrated.  They were good friends and truly enjoyed each other's company.  They could drive each other nuts, but that was the beauty of it all.  I think my dad reminded her a lot of her husband: contrary, loyal, handy, and always quick with a witty come-back.  Dad and Grandpa were very close, too, and we visited them every weekend even when they lived an hour away.  They moved to our hometown area in 1985 and we visited weekly but also stopped in throughout the week.  Dad and Grandma supported each other through Grandpa's illness and death and maintained that close friendship for the next fifteen years.

1974, first grandson Aaron
Those four children eventually gave them ten grandchildren who have (so far) added nine great-grandchildren.  Grandma saved her biggest smiles for children.  She loved all of the grandkids so much it was sort of ridiculous. We'd quietly compete to be her favorite but at each visit she'd spend most of the time bragging on and on about what our cousins or siblings or nieces and nephews were doing.  She kept stacks of photos within arms reach and was quick to pass them out to anyone who dared to ask about anything that provided an opening to brag on her babies.

2005 with Katie, her first great-grandchild
At her funeral, I was talking with my aunt who commented that at the hospital she had been wearing a bracelet that was given to her by one of her grandkids and that she really cherished it.  I noted in return that while it was a really lovely bracelet and no doubt she did cherish it, Grandma was also just the type that was profoundly thankful for small things and any token of love.  It wouldn't surprise me in the least to have her equally cherishing a worn out sock left by a grandson or a dirty paper towel if it was presented as a gift.  She had home-made ornaments on her Christmas tree that were fifty years old, made by her own kindergarten aged children hanging next to heavy salt-dough ornaments made by my children.  A collection of stuffed animals with a collection of stories sat on a rocking chair in her bedroom.  A simple fleece blanket I made for her a decade ago sat on her couch.  Each time we'd visit, she tell me how much she appreciated it.  It sits on my couch now and each day reminds me of her. Katie curled up under it today.

My grandparents did not have much.  They lived very simply and enjoyed their life just as it was.  They never seemed to be caught up in the desperate race to have just a bit more to match those around them.  They worked hard, for sure, but they lived within their means and made do; they appreciated everything and took care of what they had so it would last.  This is also a family trait; if we remember to use it.

My First Communion; 1985
My senior year 4H project dress; 1994
Our Wedding; 2000

Grandma rarely missed a chance to be with the family, especially if it was something for the kids.  As we sorted through images for her slideshow and photo boards we found pictures of her holding each of us at our baptisms, standing with us at First Communions, hugging us at high school graduations, and for a lucky few of us, beaming with pride at our weddings.  In her later years she suffered from a lot of physical pain and was less able to get around but would still make a huge effort to participate in our lives.  Knowing she wasn't able to get to us, though, we all rallied to be with her and made it a habit to call or visit often.  She was the great keeper of all secrets.  Everyone confided in her.  And we knew they did because she then told everyone else!  But she always kept the heart of the confidences private and would not hesitate to give her opinion on the matter in a frank but loving way to you or anyone else.  She leaked important information in gentle ways to those that needed to hear things, and squashed any poor choices with a single look.

2010: with Katie, August, and Jorge

She was dear to everyone that knew her and in a small town that's pretty much everyone.  The last time we saw her was over our Christmas visit in 2010.  We were in and out of her house several times that visit and stopped by on our way out of town the last day of our trip.  As we sat and chatted for an hour or so, we talked about cousins, nieces, nephews, her step-grandkids and great-grandkids, the weather, the holidays, the kids, their school, August (who was a chunk of cuteness at 4.5 months old), babies, and life in general.  As we were winding down the visit, a knock on the door brought in two old family friends: Ted and Ken.  They were brothers who had lived down the street as boys and were friends of my dad's.  Ted had been Grandma's mailman for a decade or more and it was a family habit to put "Hi Ted!" on the envelope when sending Grandma a card.  When Grandpa died and she became less mobile, he switched his routine to deliver the mail directly to her door rather than the community mailbox area and always stopped to say hello and see how she was doing.  The brothers had stopped by that afternoon just to wish her a merry Christmas and visit a little.  We all talked for a bit and then Rob and I bundled up the kids and said good bye in a round of hugs and kisses and Merry Christmas-es; leaving her with her next wave of guests and chances to brag on her babies and ask about theirs.

This is how I most remember her.  Always sharing stories and pictures, laughing, chiding, and absolutely loved by everyone who knew her.  Thrilled to get a simple box of chocolate covered cherries even though she shouldn't eat them.  Fondly reminding someone that the simple token of love from a decade or from five decades ago was still much loved.  She never forgot a kind deed or a gesture and appreciated each gift, each visit, and each person as the treasure they were.  With any luck, that's a family trait, too.


  1. thanks julie

  2. I've wished I could have known your grandma, and through this, I feel like I do a little more. What a remarkable woman she was. I'm sure you know how much she adored you, I can hear it in your memories.
    So much love to you and many prayers of comfort and hugs. Always hugs.

  3. Oh you hit the nail on the head. We all miss her so much!