My grandmother, Eleanor, passed away last week on April 21st. It's very hard for me to accept that I lost both of my grandmothers in less than 6 months. I know that I wrote about Dorothy last year. Below is what I read at Grandma's funeral:
One of my earliest childhood memories involved making Jell-O with Grandma in the kitchen. We were stirring the electric colored sugar crystals in the water when the phone rang. Grandma went to answer the phone in the bedroom hallway and came back with the good news – I was a big sister. My mother had given birth to my baby brother Harper. I remember the excitement in her eyes and voice. We talked about it briefly and then went back to stirring the Jell-O, pouring it in the pan and waiting for it to set.
Most of my memories of grandma are like this. Simple yet significant. Not that she was a simple woman. She was a devoted sister, loving mother, doting grandmother, and compassionate friend. When you spent time with her, you always felt that she was present, listening, responding and laughing. She was an amazing storyteller, sharing experiences from her life as a child on the family farm in Southern Virginia, her time in the city as working girl in Richmond, and her travels with her husband and children through towns and states in post-war America. Along the way I can imagine that she easily made friends with neighbors and was loved by many.
Time spent with grandma was always very busy. Looking back I can see now that she was teaching us but it seemed so much fun that we never even noticed. On visits to neighbors, like Mrs. Beaman, we learned manners, patience and charity. Working in the garden, we learned to care for our surroundings and how to enjoy the smell of fresh air. In the kitchen while making biscuits, fried chicken and Jell-O we learned to measure, count, read and follow directions. While playing cards we learned analytical skills and the value of quiet, self-entertainment. And finally, when we knit, crocheted and sewed we found satisfaction in our ability to create something functional and beautiful out of scraps of string and thread.
All the while, we told stories, laughing until we cried. Or, in fact, I think we told stories and tried to act funny until we incited her laughter and her eyes lit up with delight. Her laugh was so full of joy and love that hearing it made us feel heard and appreciated. She would always talk about how bright, sweet and funny her children and grandchildren were even if their actions seemed a bit on the devilish side!
When I teach knitting and sewing classes, I am often asked how I learned needle arts. I tell of how on rainy days, grandma would hand us needles and yarn and with great patience she would teach us to make a bookmark or a cap for a baby doll. Of course, I know now that she was just trying to get us to sit still for a while so that she could rest! My very favorite story of creating with grandma is when she decided that we would sew her an outfit over the weekend. She took Harper and me to Hancock’s over on 23rd. There we picked out the patterns, fabric and notions needed to make her a skirt and shirt. We spent the weekend cutting, pinning and sewing. She sat patiently with us as we guided the fabric under the needle of her machine. Harper was the most diligent, being sure not to make a mistake. By the end of the weekend, grandma had a new skirt and shirt. And she wore them both with great pride to work the next day and told us how impressed all her co-workers were with our handiwork. That weekend was such a gift for me. I only hope that I will be able to have the level of creativity and patience with my own child and future grandchildren.
In so many ways, for me, Grandma was the quintessential grandmother. I tell her stories with great pride. My hope is that as a family we will continue to honor her spirit through creativity, laughter and love. In doing that, she will be missed but never forgotten.