Saturday, June 25, 2011

a birthday tribute

My Grams turned fifty the year I was born.  It was a handy piece of information when I put that together as I never have to stop and wonder how old she was.  As long as I can remember my own age, I can get to hers.  Today she turns eighty-two (which means, incidentally, that I'm thirty-two in case that math was too much for you).
(The birthday cake I made her in 2006)

Friends of blog will recall that I posted pictures from Grams's birthday last year but did not do the full five-favorite birthday treatment, a fact I intend to remedy today.  I have found that it is sometimes tough to write the five-favorite posts about the youngsters in my life because I've known them such a relatively short amount of time and don't have years of shared experiences and memories from which to draw.  The difficulty I find with writing these posts about the adult-types in my life is that there are too many stories and characteristics, too much specialness to narrow it down to five.  So my favorites may be deliberately broad here so I can cram in as much Gramsy goodness as can be managed.
(With the first 8 great-grands in 2007)

5.  Most every childhood memory of my Grams is wrapped up in food.  Faithful readers may recall that I have occasionally mentioned my moma's cooking as the standard for all great things in the world, and she came by that skill quite honestly.  My Grams is the mastermind behind the way I think Thanksgiving dinners ought to be.  Her way of cooking a roast is the best way.  And though my moma cooks many things just like her, there will always be dishes that are Grams's signature dishes, things that no one can do as well as her, like baked apples (which I foolishly didn't even eat as a kid) and banana pudding and chocolate pie and fudge and Sunday night popcorn.  And cornbread--I could cheerfully eat her cornbread for every meal for the remainder of my life.  The summer I was learning to cook like a grown-up, I tried to get Grams to give me her recipe for deviled eggs.  The only exact measurement in the whole thing was the number of eggs to use--and even that was dependent upon how many people I wanted to feed.  It was years before I worked up the nerve to try and make them on my own with a little of this and just enough of that.  Of course, they were nothing like as good as hers, but I'm going to keep trying. I'm sure this idea came down the generations long before my Grams entered the picture, but she's the place where I learned it:  feeding someone, taking the time to prepare meals and making sure that everyone gets their favorite is one of the purest expressions of love.  Food fuels the body, but my Grams's food and the memories of meals at her table (even the card table in the utility room) will feed my heart for the rest of my life.
(With my moma last summer)

4.  My Grams is careful and meticulous.  In this day and age, folks would look at her organized cabinets and storage solutions and mention OCD, but that's not really it.  She has just always been a person who likes order and never had enough money to be wasteful.  So she re-purposed things that others would discard and made lists on the insides of cabinet doors so you could find what you needed at a glance.  In case you were wondering, while this is a trait that she passed down, I didn't get a drop of it.  Michelle took all that organization and attention to detail and love of order and left me with the haphazard sloppiness of some other ancestor, but I can still admire the clever ways that Grams has of keeping things orderly.  The one time she helped me move, I put her in charge of lining the kitchen cabinets and drawers.  She measured and cut perfectly straight lines and lined everything with such precision that I was shamed into keeping everything orderly just to honor the lining. I can remember when she helped Michelle pack up to move one time, she had to clean the glass on every picture frame before wrapping it flawlessly in newspaper.  The woman was born for detail work, and though I often lament that more of this trait didn't rub off on me, if I ever have a moment of ingenuity or an organizational breakthrough, it makes me feel like her girl.
 (Christmas 2010)
3.  My Grams is a woman of faith, and that is truly something she leaves as her legacy.  My childhood memories of Grams and church are completely intertwined from her forceful, strong singing voice to her mispronunciation of Matthew to her unabashed arguments in Bible class.  Her devotion to the study of Scripture has always been an example to me--and not one that I come close to living up to.  If she'd been doing Project 4:4 last year, she wouldn't have quit in April.  I always remember my Gramps as the spiritual leader of our family, but the truth is without Grams, he wouldn't have been.  And while I sometimes think Grams and I don't see eye to eye on all things theological, she's such a huge part of why I believe at all, and her steady faith is a constant comfort to me.
(Fall 2010)

2.  When my Gramps was alive, I think he overshadowed Grams a little.  He was such a charmer, with such a big personality that it was easy to be drawn to him, and in my memories she was always stricter, more serious, the straight man to his comic.  But they worked together as a team gloriously.  Maybe it's just because I didn't know them until they'd been married for over thirty years, but the two of them fit together in a way that made perfect sense, which is not to say that they always agreed or got along perfectly.  But when I think of them, I can remember how when she was exasperated, he just smiled and those blue eyes twinkled, and when he was frustrated, she soothed.  Maybe that's selective memory, but that's how I want to remember them.  They took care of each other in a million little ways, and so much of my idea of what marriage is supposed to look like comes from them.  When I was in the fifth grade, I started riding the bus to their house in the afternoons to hang out with them until my moma got off work.  When I think about them together, that's where I picture them--in the living room watching Club Dance or sitting at the kitchen table with their afternoon coffee (and if Gramps and I were lucky Twinkies), with their everyday, ordinary conversations and teasing and occasional bickering.  In the fourteen years that I've gotten to know Grams without Gramps, I've come to appreciate her humor and personality a little more, but I also always think she's just a little incomplete, a little less than she was with him.  That idea drives my vision of heaven as a place of reunion.  I need to believe it will be for the two of them.
(A four generation pic with MacMac, CST1BF, and tiny Elijah)
1.  One of my favorite things to do over the past dozen years or so is to watch Grams with our babies, the great-grands.  She's got ten at the moment with number eleven due to arrive in November, and she adores those babies.  Seeing her dote and laugh and fuss and fill up with pride over these kiddos gives me flashes of my own childhood, and I know that she doted and laughed and fussed and burst with pride over me (and the other seven grands) just as she does for them.  It's the same kind of love she has for her three girls, and it's the basis for all the love that we all give back to her.  It's continuity, linking us to the past and stretching us into the future, a love that will outlive her and someday me.  It's a love that is making this last long good-bye the easiest thing to do and the hardest, both triumphant and heart-breaking.
Happy Birthday, Grams!


  1. Ellen, this is a very warm, loving and touching tribute to your Grams. I know she is proud to have your as her grandgaughter.

    I will always be thankful for the time Lydia and Ruth were in my life and the wonderful things they did for me.

  2. I love it. But you make me cry entirely too often. I'm not sure we can continue to be friends.


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