**NOTE: Please read the blog before you watch the picture movie so that it makes more sense. Thanks.******
Check my math for me Readers, as you know I am admittedly bad at 'rithmetic, but Lesson 94 (plus 3 more) equals 97, correct? Good. Because that is how many years Eloise's grandma lived to be. She was called home to be with our Lord this morning, and tonight I am remembering her on this blog.
Had my surprise baby, my third born Sam, been female, his name was going to be Millie, after Grandma. My last baby was born with plumbing on the outside though, so he was named after his Grandfather Sam instead. Not to leave Grandma in the dust, God gave Sam a piece of her--this nice inherited trait of stubbornness.
How much is it that we inherit genetically that makes us what we are? How much of it is environment? It is what Eloise has been pondering the last few days as I've watched my Grandmother live out her full life cycle. I got to witness this twice in my life thus far as my paternal Grandmother also lived to be 96. Each woman took her last breath in the same Assisted Living home in nearly the same bed, leaving the earth much as they came to it; curled in a fetal position and wrapped in a blanket. Both of my grandmothers lived full lives and died of old age without pain. What a blessing.
Nature versus nurture, the great debate. Is Eloise more like she is because of a genetic crap shoot, or is it because of the hands who raised me? It's brainless to say "both" as we know both play a part, but I am leaning more on the side of "environment" when the discussion turns to the shaping of the person you are.
As far as physical stature, you'd never pick my teeny grandmothers out to be my own. Each just barely over five feet tall, and in their day not much over 100 pounds, I towered over both of them. I suppose if you picked me apart feature by feature, I do bear some resemblances to them, yet I am not volunteering for that now that I am 40. However, my interests, no doubt shaped through their influences, are definitely similar to those of my grandmothers. Tonight I will share with you the ways in which I am most like Grandma Millie.
My Grandmother loved to take pictures. She had millions of them in boxes that we found and saved when she moved from her home to Assisted Living several years ago. My mother, who is not a saver by nature, had the daunting task of sifting through all those pictures to find the ones that best marked the dots in the timeline of Grandma's life. I walked into my mother's kitchen one day to find the table stacked thick with pictures. There seemed to be somewhat of a sorting pile going on. "Save and Toss?" I asked. My mother nodded and then asked, "Why on earth would a person take so many pictures of flowers?"
I looked through that pile, and sure enough, there were pictures of her garden flowers, her dogs, her tomatoes, bowls of raspberries. Given they were taken on a Kodak Instamatic, you can only imagine the picture quality. Grainy, off-center pictures of pets and vegetables. It made me laugh not only at my own mother's annoyance, but that I understood. As you will see from the picture movie (when you are DONE reading this, don't cheat and skip to it), I do the same thing.
Grandma had a big garden out at her place on Station Road. The big plot of land was divided into two parts; one for my Grandfather's vegetables and another for Grandma's flowers. She planted rows upon rows of tulip bulbs that would come up every spring. The garden was lined with raspberry bushes that my cousins and I would stuff on our thumbs and get poked with the itchy thorns in the process. Out in front of her house she had a big Mulberry tree. I found a Mulberry tree several years ago on my Uncle John's property in Cleveland. I recognized what it was right away and plucked an odd looking fruit from the branch and popped it in my mouth. It wasn't quite ripe yet, but as the saliva flowed into my mouth I instantly remembered my childhood---not wanting to wait for those mulberries to ripen and eating them too soon with the impatience of a Kindergartner.
My worst day was when that house was sold to Behrend, a branch of Penn State. I had hoped that the college officials would turn the house into offices for the faculty and made myself believe that is what they would do with it. One day I drove by to see a big heap of boards. It was flattened, as was my heart. It was as if a part of my childhood went away with that wrecking ball. It took me a long time to drive by there again and not be bothered by the empty space that once held so many of my childhood memories.
But God makes it so that time takes away the hurt. In time I was able to go back there without a lump in my throat. In fact, I took my children to the very spot my Grandmother's house was, on a geocache (hobby outlined in blog #78). There was one hidden along the creek that my sister and cousins and I used to play in. The creek was lined with Tiger Lillies that bloomed every June.
How odd that I built my house along a creek and I lined it with Tiger Lillies. Odd. Not so much. A shaped preference from my childhood environment? Most likely. This summer Grandma was really beginning to show signs of age. She was sleeping more and able to get out of her chair less often. You had to shout for her to hear you, but she could always respond back. She kept her wits about her to the very end. I knew she was going to die soon, and I would talk to God a lot about her on my jogs. I told Him to make sure she knew how much she's meant to all of us and to make sure she knew she was loved. On my return from one of those jogs, I sat by the creek and put my hot, sweaty feet in the cool, creek water and thought of my Grandma. I looked up and noticed that all the tiger lillies had died, all except for one. You can tell by the pictures the others were long dead--only tan sticks remained, without a single green leaf or wilted flower left on them. Then there was this one tiger lily in full bloom. It was beautiful and bright orange and it looked like it had it's mouth wide open with a roar coming from it. I grabbed my camera and said, "Thanks for the message, God. I'm naming this one Millie." Millie hung on for 12 days beyond when I first saw her. Every day I'd jog by and thank God for the message he was sending me. That is how God answers my prayers--he sends them through nature. I see them all of the time. Begin looking for them yourself after you ask God a question. You'll see them too.
My Grandma loved to garden. When she couldn't do so anymore, I'd pick my own vegetables from my tiny little garden, throw them in a bowl, and take them down to the Rest Home to show her. They always made her smile. Now don't go thinking that Grandma was a health nut like myself. How the woman survived 97 years on pickles, Cheeze Nips, and Genesee is beyond me. Five fruits and veggies a day? No way. Well, unless pickles count.
What Grandma really loved to fool with in the earth was flowers. She knew the names of all of them. There were all kinds of them in her yard when I was a little girl. While we sat side by side on her outdoor glider, I asked her once what he favorite flower was. She told me it was the daisy. Grandma even named one of her dogs Daisy, and I am sure that is why, and I'll bet I'm the only one who knows that. Grandma also showed me how to pluck the petals off a daisy one by one reciting, "He loves me. He loves me not." We'd have to say a boy's name--usually someone out of our elementary school class, and we'd pluck the petals. More often than not, the recitation would end on "He loves me not." We'd look at Grandma and wait for it. She'd say, "Oh, he was probably a Kook, anyway," and she'd pop the yellow center off the stem like she was popping his head off.
You can see in the picture story that I love daisies, too. I never really thought much of why until this summer. I am sure it was the time I spent with my Grandma in my early childhood. A couple of my journals have daisies on the cover, and although I wasn't conscious of this fact upon their purchases, I look back now and know exactly why those books came home with me.
My Grandma was a journal keeper. She used to have these cool 5 year diaries that she would sit by her telephone in her kitchen. They had little places where she would write things that happened that day--family member's birthdays, when babies were born, engagements, the weather. These little diaries, I remember one being turquoise blue, had just enough space for a few short sentences. She never minded when I would snatch it from its resting spot and turn to the date and look back at what happened the five years prior to that.
So, too have I become a journal keeper. You can see a few of mine on the movie. In my younger days I was a diary writer. In my inexperienced youth, I probably wrote too much juicy information which is why my sister and friends were in constant search of where I hid them. I'd get to the last page and torch it in my father's incinerator out in his barn. Now that my sister just saw the pictures of the covers, she's licking her chops to get into my house to find them and see what lies within. Not to rain on your parade, Karen, but I now display them like Grandma did. They sit on my kitchen counter next to my phone, too. You are free to look at them anytime (that just takes all the fun out of it, doesn't it?). Besides, if I write about you Sis, it is in my diary called THIS BLOG, and that is open for the whole world to see---even in Slovenia, so you better be extra nice to me from now on.
The very best thing about my Grandma is that she was sentimental. She loved her family. You knew it by all the pictures she saved of all of us. Grandma knew every one's birthday even up until this past summer. She could even get the birthdays of her great grandchildren down to the month, which was pretty impressive. "Is Sam's birthday March 31st or March 27th?" Grandma asked me this summer. "The 27th," I replied. She nodded and said, "Oh yeah, that's right. Your parents' anniversary is the 31st." Pretty impressive for a 97 year old, wouldn't you say?
The very coolest thing that illustrates how sentimental the woman was, was something I just found hours ago and never knew about. I can't believe my mother never mentioned this to me before. My grandmother saved some letters my Grandfather wrote to her. My Grandfather died New Year's Day of 1984. They were in a simple white envelope marked "Roger's letters."
The letter I've shown on this blog is the first one written from my thirteen year old Grandfather to my thirteen year old Grandmother in April of 1930. The letter is addressed to "Dear Friend." My Grandfather had taken an obvious interest in my Grandmother, yet he was too shy to tell her in person. If you look closely at the zoom of page two, my Grandfather states, "There are a few reasons why I did not have the courage to write to you." He goes on in the letter to state that he was too shy to tell her so, and that she seemed disinterested in him. I guess that wasn't the case.
I loved the penmanship of that letter written on plain, Depression era paper in pencil. The formal tone to it also illustrates how very serious he was about her. My favorite part was the closing: "Goodbye. From Your True Friend, Roger Heasley." Isn't that what we all want, folks? To marry your True Friend---even the one who lacks courage to talk to you, but eventually sends you a note, even when he was only thirteen. Beautiful.
My Grandmother's belongings were down to the size of a shoe box. She didn't often get out of her nightie anymore, and gave away most of her trinkets and jewelry. But what did she save? Pictures of her family and the first letter from my Grandfather. The things she kept with her until the very end were the things she loved the most.
So, like Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton sing in the photo story, "when I get where I'm going, on the far side of the sky, the first thing that I'm gonna do is spread my wings and fly," that is how I will picture my Grandmother. She'll be on the far side of the sky. I won't have to look hard to find her and I won't need a compass. She's right here with me; in my tiger lillies, in my daisies, in my diaries, and in my garden. But most of all, she is here with me in my heart. And that is the place I will always look for her.
Brad and Dolly sing it better than any of my above words could ever say, however.
But when I get where I'm going,
and I see my Maker's face.I'll stand forever in the light,
of his amazing grace
Grandma gets to meet her Maker, and for this I am truly excited. Enjoy the light, Grandma.