Friday, July 10, 2009

A tribute to my grandma . . .

I was asked to give a tribute to my grandma, recently, at an event where they were honoring several women, age 80 and older. Here is what I said:

My grandma became the grandma that she had always hoped for as a child. I realized this, while chatting with my grandma a few weeks ago. We were sitting in her living room, me sinking next to my sister in the comfy leather couch, my grandma perched in her usual chair, and my mom across the room in an armchair.

My grandma mentioned spending time with some of my cousins, and how they had told her that they had always called her the NICE grandma. She seemed a bit surprised by this, and, in her characteristic way, didn’t focus on it, instead moving on to a snippet of story about how, growing up, she had always wanted a grandma. She had always pictured a grandma as being grey-haired, a little plump, and nice. And when she got to high school, she had an English teacher that fit this description.

When I heard this story, two pieces of my grandma’s life snapped into place in my mind, making my sense of Grandma more complete. First of all, I saw this English teacher, who my grandma had always described as encouraging her to learn and love literature, as more than a teacher; I saw her as a grandma. And then I understood that my grandma had deliberately chosen to become the grandma she had always wanted in her own life.

It was a choice. A choice that influenced not only her five children’s lives, her 24 grandchildren’s lives, and her more than 44 great-grand children’s lives, but which also influenced those in her ward, in the places she worked, the hospitals she volunteered in, her friends at dialysis, and those who knew her as Mom H--, because she cooked the food in the RV kitchen for everyone (and “everyone” is no exaggeration) at the dog shows she and my aunt traveled to.

My Aunt J-- says that my grandma has all of the attributes of the ideal job candidate: she’s dependable, loyal, and dedicated. She’s one of those rare people that goes above and beyond, without drawing attention to the fact that she’s doing it. For the many years that my Grandma volunteered at L-- and A-- hospitals she earned award after award for volunteering the most hours. When they asked for 4 hours of service, my grandma gave at least 8.

I know that for years my grandma always signed up to make food for ward functions or to deliver to someone who had had a baby or wasn’t well. And, like in all aspects of my grandma’s life, she offered quiet service in her various church callings, including the nursery, where she worked alongside my grandpa, for so many years that when my grandparents were released, President K-- said that they had taught all of his children, up to that point.

My Aunt J-- is a lot like my grandma in that she can cook a mean meal, full of flavor that makes you wish she were your personal chef. Don’t try to make any of my grandma’s famous recipes like chicken and noodles from the recipe card itself. It won’t work. You have to watch my grandma add in the extra amounts of the best tasting stuff like butter and cheese.

When my sister, J--, had to write a college essay about her experience with learning, she wrote about Grandma. My grandma has always loved to read, and the rows of books that lined the built in bookshelves in the kitchen, showed us kids how important books were. Often we would walk across the street and borrow encyclopedias or books on Ancient Egypt to complete our elementary school reports. That was until we got our own encyclopedia set, which was never as exciting as borrowing from Grandma. And grandma shared with us whatever she was learning, too. Like the time she learned that it was important to hug people, so she started hugging us every time we left from a visit.

For me, my grandma is a woman of immense generosity. Generosity of goods and of spirit—those qualities to an eleven-year-old kid meant the world. When I needed someone to talk to, I would visit my grandma. I’d sit on one of the red bar stools at the kitchen counter, with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream in front of me. The ice cream was usually served in a heavy brown wide-rimmed mug, and the serving was always generous. My grandma would listen to me, without offering advice or trying to fix things. She’d just hear me, and talk to me. She’d let me be me.

My family sometimes jokes that it’s my sister’s 13 year old tiny toy poodle, Z--, that takes the most after my grandma—in that even though she’s lost most of her eye sight, she continues to live as someone who sees everything; in that she loves everybody, individually, and wants them to just be themselves; and in that she has this amazing zest for life, this joy for living, that makes her wear happy ladybug shoes and fun socks to her various doctor’s appointments, that makes her care about those around her, even through the pain, the dialysis, the days.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand how a person can be that strong. When life gets difficult, and I think that maybe I’m not going to make it this time, I think about my grandma.

She’s made it through over 91 years in a most beautiful way, and so maybe I can too.