Those of you who waste time connect with me via Facebook know that over the last 3 months I was blessed to celebrate my grandmothers’ 95th birthday. Both of my grandmothers, actually. In August, my paternal grandmother rang in her birthday surrounded by 11 of her 12 great grandchildren and 4 of her 5 grandchildren, in addition to other friends and family. It was a beautiful celebration of her life and the joy she brought to the lives of so many.
What I did not share on Facebook or any other venue other phone calls to close friends, was that following the party my grandmother took a turn for the worse. And it was 2 weeks ago that she left us to join my grandfather, whom she started dating at the ripe old age of 14, in Heaven.
To some it might seem impersonal to share these things through Social Media, including this blog. While I didn’t feel comfortable putting it out there on Facebook, I do feel this blog has been a place for me to explore the good, the bad and the hilarious of raising two children while still growing up myself. Death, and all it entails, is a part of growing up.
Because we were blessed to live in the same city as Grandma Alice since we were small children, it was a without question that my brother and I would share a few words at her funeral. When I sat down to write about her life and its impact on my own, it occurred to me that so many people have no experience sharing their day to day lives with extended family. I was once again reminded how truly blessed I was; and that maybe the world would be a better place if it was a little more “normal” to grow up with your Grandma nearby.
These are the words I shared in honor of my Grandma Alice:
I know my family is not “normal” according to today’s standards. It’s not “normal” to have the majority of your family live within a 20 mile radius. It’s not “normal” to spend nearly every holiday and even random Tuesday nights in one another’s homes. And it is certainly not “normal” to pack your kids in the car on a cold and rainy February afternoon just to secretly drop Valentine’s on Great Grandma’s doorstep. But for me, this was my normal.
Growing up with 4 grandparents in town was a blessing I will never fully appreciate, I believe. Like so many things in life, it’s easy to take for granted the things that just “are.” They happen so naturally, you never seem to think about how it came to be. I grew up with 4 grandparents at every holiday table. I celebrated every birthday with hugs and kisses from each of them. I gave no thought to how they arrived at that table, they were just there- a permanent, reliable fixture in my life.
My Grandma Alice was there for every graduation, every celebration, every accomplishment. My highlight reel is littered with images of her. Long days at the beach with her and my Grandpa. Trudging to the yellow VW Bug where we ceremoniously washed our feet in the brown bucket he kept in the backseat. We could never set foot in that car with sandy feet! To this day I can still remember the smell of that car- a beautiful mixture of vinyl, salty air and the undeniable scent of my Grandpa. But as fun as a day on the beach was, nothing beat coming home. No showers were necessary, according to Grandma. A quick jump in the pool was enough to remove the saltwater and sunscreen. And then it was time for Happy Hour.
As an almost-40 year old woman and mother of two boys under 10, I can appreciate a good Happy Hour. But no one did Happy Hour like my Grandma when I was a little girl. “Charlie, it’s Happy Hour,” she’d say. And my Grandpa, like the dutiful husband that he was, set to making the perfect 7 and 7. Meanwhile, Grandma gathered bowls of popcorn, plates of Hydrox cookies (because she’d never buy Oreos) and whatever animal-shaped chocolate she had on hand- turtles, bunnies, turkeys- depending on which holiday most recently passed.
We’d settle in at the picnic table in the backyard or the chairs on the front porch to enjoy our treats, share some laughs and play with the neighborhood kids who would partake of Grandma’s Happy Hour as well. In fact, they religiously came to the door at 4:00 every day. But if my brother and I were not visiting they were turned away because “Happy Hour is on only when my Grandkids are here,” she’d tell them.
In this day and age when we are so busy going from one place to another and trying so hard to make “good nutritional choices” I learned a valuable lesson from Happy Hour with my Grandma: sitting down with a good drink, some good snacks and great company is the best way to end the day.
Childhood memories of Happy Hour or getting my turn to drive with Grandma and Grandpa in the big brown Ford with the fancy white leather seats on our way to Lake Tahoe in the summer are not the only memories I have of my Grandma. My Grandma’s presence followed me through high school when we celebrated Grandparents Day. I realized at those times that my “normal” was someone else’s “extra special.” Most of my friends didn’t have grandparents in town or even living. It was never a possibility for them to come to Grandparents Day. Good thing I had grandparents to spare. Taking 4 elderly people around your high school campus was no easy task. But my grandparent-less friends were eager to help every year. They loved my flirty Grandpas and my Grandmas who praised them for being so polite and pretty. For a few hours each year, they got to experience my “normal” and I got to appreciate it that much more.
You’d think that my relationship with my Grandma would have tapered off in college; and to a certain degree I guess it did. We didn’t see each other as often while I was away having fun, oh and getting an education of course. But that didn’t mean we lost touch. We still spoke on the phone every other week and the cards that appeared in my mailbox with $20 saved me from another night of Ramen and allowed me to do laundry on more than one occasion. Cards arrived for every holiday- I’m not kidding. Every holiday- Labor Day, Halloween, Birthdays, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day. And no, I’m not Irish. But that didn’t matter. Those cards were her way of letting me know that even though I was far from home, I was still on her mind.
When it was time to come home and be a grown up, my Grandma took on a new role in my life. She’d been married for almost 60 years when she lost my Grandpa. And she’d raised three boys in Brooklyn. The woman had wisdom to share. And share, she did, during our Sunday phone calls. When The Hubs was doing things the way I liked or it seemed he worked endless days or the kids had me the edge of sanity she’d remind me that “That’s just life. You gotta push through, you have to love one another and you need to remind those boys who’s boss. And you hug that man of yours, Little Vicky. He’s working hard for YOU.” She’d always tell me how proud she was that I made an effort to “stay busy” and have a life outside my family. “Your family is everything, Little Vicky, but it’s OK to have things for yourself. It keeps you young and keeps you out of trouble,” she’d say. “Time goes by so fast. They grow up too fast,” she’d remind me; although to me it often felt like they were going to live with me forever!
When Grandma left us, it was so clear that she was not a fixture in only my life or the lives of her children because we did not grieve or celebrate her life alone. There were countless phone calls to be made, emails to be sent and condolence cards to be read. My Grandma’s laughter and presence was “normal” for so many people who knew her. I had to call many childhood friends who knew her as their own Grandma and they mourned with us. These were friends who sat at our holiday tables, called our house “home” during college vacations and shared their lives with my Grandma, filling a void for many of them. She was everyone’s Grandma.
It’s easy to only remember the most recent years when someone lives to be 95. But my grandmother was so much more than an aging woman. She was love, laughter, joy, hospitality, parties and a symbol of life lived exuberantly.
My family most certainly is not “normal” my today’s standards. But in a time when we are all moving so fast, are so incredibly busy and rarely find time to connect with friends and family, maybe this world could use a little more of our kind of “normal.”
I loved my Grandma and she will be missed.
That’s just my normal.