(My grandmother passed away in January after a brief battle with cancer. She was one week shy of her 84th birthday. Our family gathered in Milwaukee last month to celebrate her life, and each of her four grandchildren spoke at her memorial service. My remarks follow.)
I was probably 7 or 8 years old when Grandma and I went alone to Betty & Gordon Heup's house for a party. I don't remember why it was just the two of us, or what the event was for. But I do remember that we were sitting at a dinner table, and I'd seen one of the older boys (since he's here, we'll blame this on Tim, though I have no idea who it actually was!) flick his finger through the candle flame. Intrigued, and realizing that my parents were nowhere near, I did what I'd seen the older boy do, and passed my finger quickly through the flame. It was the only time in my life I can remember Patsy actually calling me Richard Parker. (And not in a good way!) I straightened up, apologized, and promised her I'd never do it again. She loved me, that much I'd always known. But she wasn't going to let me get away with misbehaving. In a strange way, that felt even more special than if she'd ignored what I'd done. (Boys, don't even think about trying this, by the way.)
In high school, I had a history teacher named Winslow Smith, who claimed that he taught because the way to become immortal was to live on in the memories of others. Winslow was playing a numbers game - if you teach enough students then one of them's bound to remember that thing you said in AP history in 1986. But the only number Grandma cared about was 2: her 2 sons. her two successful sons: the wine guy and the toilet guy. She was so proud of Chris and Dad - of their obvious success in their careers, to be sure… but her real pride she saved for the families they'd built.
Speaking of family, I remember Patsy's mom, who I knew as Nan-Nan. I didn't get too many chances to spend time with her, but as a young boy I remember that she was the really nice lady who cried whenever she saw us. I understood it wasn't because she was sad - I think now it must have been tremendous pride to see what obviously handsome and well-behaved great-grandsons she had. And though Grandma showed the same pride in her family that her mom did, she wasn’t a crier - what I remember whenever we saw her was her laughter.
|Grandma and Grandpa meeting me for the first time|
|Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day, 1947|
|Grandma and Granpda with Richard #6 :)|
|(Great-)Grandma and her great-grandsons, 2006|
|With the kids in front of the Eby clock|
I miss Grandma. I miss our long phone calls when I'd call her on my drive to work. I miss hearing her take such incredible interest in how the kids were doing, and her absolute delight at what a strong-willed great-granddaughter she had. I miss her scolding me if she thought I wasn't showing Robin enough gratitude for being such a great wife and mother. But mostly I'm grateful for the incredible amount of time we did get together. I've thought a lot about my old history teacher's comments, and I think he had it a bit wrong. It's not the memories themselves that we should be focused on. Sure, the memories are important. It's not so much that Grandma lives on through our memories, it's that we will honor her memory by embracing who she was, and carrying that with us in what we do. We'll remember to laugh louder, smile a little wider, trace the kids' faces at night, respond "I love *you* more" when someone tells us they love us, or recite one of the many poems she left behind to brighten our days. If we do *that*, we'll continue to make her proud of us.
On the plane ride here, Ricky told me quite seriously: "Dad, it's kind of sad that we're going to Milwaukee, but I think it should be a celebration. Not that she's dead, I mean… but that she had such a happy life." I think he's right. She lived a long, happy life - and as she left us, she knew that she had much to be proud of. I'm grateful for that, and am so glad we've had this chance to honor that memory as we celebrate a long life well lived. We know you love us, Grandma, and we love you more.
|Grandma with me and my kids, October, 2009|