17 August 2015

For Grandma

Of my grandparents, my dad’s parents had the less kid-friendly house by far.  They didn’t have cable or toys or Disney movies like my mom’s parents did.  Grandma Newman’s house was the kind of place that was full of discussion and politics and good posture.  It smelled and felt classy.  I remember sneaking into my grandpa’s upstairs office and creeping around it like it was the west wing in the Beast’s mansion.  There was an enormous desk and bookshelves and it felt like (and probably was) forbidden territory.  It was clear to me from a young age that my grandparents' house was a fancy place where you treated things carefully.

My grandma did what she could to make us feel welcome.  While the adults would talk politics, she would sit on the floor with the kids and play cards.  She taught me Old Maid and played endless rounds of Go Fish and Rummy and War and any number of other games I can’t remember the names of anymore.  She was a master of cards, and a master of making sure that everyone, everyone, felt welcome in her house.

She was an intensely spiritual woman, who spoke openly and often of her love of Christ.  Most of the gifts I ever received from her were linked in some way to developing my spirit - music and books and tools to surround myself with and to grow with.  There are two exceptions that I can think of: 

The first was a book.  When I turned nine, she sent me the first beautiful book I ever owned.  It was a large, faux-leather bound book with perforated pages that smelled delicious.  It was a copy of Heidi, along with a card telling me that it had been one of her favorite books as a child and she hoped that I would like it too.  I did.  I devoured that story over and over again until milk from a bowl and a hunk of bread and cheese were my preferred lunch option.  It was the book that got me going to the bookstore.  I wanted more pretty books.  I didn’t want just any copy of Little Women - I wanted the beautiful hardback version with the ribbon and the soft fabric on the cover.  I've often thought that when you share a favorite book with someone else, you're sharing a piece of your soul with them.  I think I took good care of that piece.

The second gift was a quilt.  Last year, she gave each of her seven grandchildren a hand-made quilt.  She’d never quilted before, but she wanted to learn how.  She called each of us and asked what our favorite color was (but wouldn’t tell us why she wanted to know), and spent hundreds of hours sewing and tying these quilts.  She even enlisted the help of my grandpa, to the surprise of everyone, who, so I’m told, was obsessed with making sure the quilts were perfectly square.  She wrote each of us a letter to tell us what she thought about as she made the quilts for us, and shared her love of the gospel, as she always did.  I think it’s one of the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen.  It isn’t the most technically intricate, but it was infused with hundreds of hours of love and care.

My grandma had a hiccup that was loud enough that everyone in the house could hear it. 

She had a laugh that lit up her entire face and shook her whole body with mirth.  It wrinkled her nose and her eyes and left her breathless if you really got her.

She had an impeccable sense of fashion.  She took great care of herself.  I never saw her without her toes painted and her hair done. 

She was an incredible cook.  The only thing she didn’t really trust herself to make was pie.  The last time I saw her, I taught her how to make a lattice crust top for an apple pie.  The pie tasted absolutely amazing (thank goodness).  She followed me around for every single step of the pie, studying carefully so that we could make them again this Thanksgiving.  (I promised we’d make more than one for Thanksgiving.  I'm really sorry she's going to miss out.)

I will never forget her courage.  The day of her son’s funeral, she and my grandpa announced that they were going to serve a mission for the church.  They’d been called to go to Austria.  My grandfather spoke German - my grandma didn’t.  Now, only a few short months after the tragic death of her son, she was going off to a foreign land far away from the comforts of home and family to serve the church and the Lord she loved so much.  It was so telling to me that in this time of grief, she looked outward.  She always looked outward. 

The only time she ever got mad at me that I remember was the last time I went to see her.  Grandpa covertly asked me to vacuum the guest rooms before I left because it tired grandma to do the job, so I did.  As soon as she heard me vacuuming, she came hustling in to the room.  

“You stop that!” she said.  

I shrugged.  “Sorry, grandma.  I have my orders.”

“You stop that!” she said again.  

I ignored her.  She wasn’t happy.  So she insisted instead that she make me a hot breakfast before I drove back home.  It was so typical.  She couldn’t let any act of service go un-served. 

I’ve never seen her more beautiful than when I sat down the row from her in the temple the day my brother was endowed.  Dressed all in white, she simply radiated light.  It was all I could do not to spend the service just staring in awe at how lovely she was.  

My grandma made everyone feel loved and wanted.  You can tell just by looking at her picture that she was pleasant and happy.  People who never met her see her face and know right away what kind of person she was. 

She loved her flowers.  Even after she moved to the desert of St. George, she took care to plant whatever she could that would grow.  Her yard always looked lovely.

She loved her Yorkies.  She bemoaned that her dog Lexie would listen to grandpa but not to her, but she loved the little butterfly of a dog anyway. 

I remember the tears of joy on her face when she watched my dad run his first marathon.  I remember her anxiety while he was still running.  She was worried about how he was doing and nervous to see him finish.  She kept talking about how nervous she was and trying to see him through the crowd, which was hard, because she wasn't an extraordinarily tall woman.

I remember watching a Gilmore Girls re-run at her house once.  It was the episode where Richard has retired and Emily is freaking out because she isn’t used to being followed around by her husband all day.  Grandma laughed the entire episode, remembering how hard it had been for her to adjust to grandpa’s retirement when he first retired.

I remember watching her and grandpa hold hands.  I loved seeing the pride and love on her face when she showed me the roses he bought her for their anniversary, or the cutting board he’d given her another time.  She loved my grandpa fiercely and unconditionally.  

She probably wasn't perfect, but if you asked me to name one of her faults, I couldn't do it.

I think it somewhat fitting that she died before she was too old to take care of other people.  It would have been so miserable for her to not be able to help people around her.  She epitomized the words of the hymn “Have I Done Any Good” - she did good in the world every day.  She helped those in need, she cheered them, she lightened burdens, she always approached life with an attitude of doing more.  She saw chances and opportunities to help all around her, and she did something about it.  She lived a difficult life at times, but she filled it with hope and with love and with confidence in the Lord.  I will miss her terribly.  I will miss her cooking this Thanksgiving.  I will miss her laughter.  I will miss her sweet singing and unconditional love and confidence in me. 

I can’t be depressed - she’d think I was being ridiculous if I were.  She is in a place where she is surrounded by like-minded people.  She is working hard doing what she always did in this life and spreading the love of Christ wherever she goes.  She is happy.  Like Paul, she finished her course.  She fought her fight, and now there is peace for me (and for her) in her righteous doing.  I am so proud of her.

I love you, Grandma.