I would be willing to wage a bet against any challenger. My grandmother is way cooler than yours – hands down.
She and I have been very close my entire life. My sister and I are two of more than 30 grandchildren, and it could be easily speculated that we are her favorites. She practically raised us. She bought our clothes. She fed our never-ending appetites with homemade pies and noodles. She attended countless games, ceremonies, awards, dinners, birthday parties, concerts and musicals to watch us.
She wears belly shirts and glittery lotion in the summer. She plays Elvis Presley on her vintage organ, which is always per my request, and she loves a nice, cold Coors Light every once in awhile. But not draft. Too watery, she says.
She’s 88 years old.
She was born before the Great Depression. She was a “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II, manufacturing weapons for the war effort. She raised four children and was married three times, with her first marriage ending in divorce during the 1940s. She was a pioneer, at that time. She finally retired when she was 83 years old.
The wisdom gained throughout her years of experiences is unmatched, and perhaps what I enjoy the most about our time together are the stories she tells and the lessons she teaches. They are not always taught purposefully.
This past weekend, her long-time companion passed away. They met in 1957 when she was selling Avon door to door. Bill was married and Grandma was married to her second husband. She and his wife immediately hit it off, she recalled. The foursome became close friends and spent countless weekends at the Ohio River together over the next 40 years.
During the late 1990s, Grandma’s third husband and Bill’s wife passed away three months apart. Next thing we knew, Bill and Grandma were a pair. The grieving had brought them back together but in a different way.
They could not be separated until a few years ago, when Bill was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and placed in a home. Still, she visited him often. Sometimes, he didn’t recognize his own daughter’s face, but he always smiled when Grandma bent down to kiss him goodbye, and responded with an “I love you, too.”
As we spoke on the phone, discussing the logistics of the viewing and funeral, I was expecting her to cry. But, she didn’t.
She laughed. She giggled. She told me stories, and I could practically envision her squealing in her chair as she narrated her favorite moments.
He proposed to her when they were about 80, she confessed. It became a mutual decision to continue their courtship and avoid the messy details, so wedding bells were not rung for the fourth time for Grandma.
“He told me he wanted to propose so that I knew I belonged to him,” she recalled on the phone. “But, I already did.”
It didn’t matter what they were doing, as long as it was together, she continued.
I remember walking in the back door to find them sitting on the couch holding hands. Their heads lied against each other’s to form one ball of white hair, and “Wheel of Fortune” was cranked up loud enough to be heard blocks away.
Other times, they enjoyed their much-deserved retirement by traveling. Grandma’s bedroom is a shrine to these trips. The walls are covered in pictures taped together. Sometimes, if they were sitting across from each other, they would take the other’s picture. Then, Grandma would cut the copies and tape them together to make it look like they were sitting together in a single frame.
They were like high school sweethearts by the way they gripped onto one another while dancing at my sister’s wedding in 2008. Only, they had known each other for 60 years.
My grandmother does not complain or whine. I have never heard her echo “woe is me,” and while I attempted to restrain my own tears while she laughed through hers, I respected her in a new way.
Grandma is a fighter. She overcomes obstacles. She adapts, as she and the other Rosies showed in the 1940s.
“We Can Do It.”