Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Tribute to my Memere

My childhood hero died today.

And I think I would be remiss to not mention her life. I think when some people think of their grandmothers, there is this vague feeling of some older person that you know is related to you, but still feel quite distant from. But to those of us who grew up around Mémère, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. My cousin Peter wrote something a little while back for her 100th birthday, and he wrote it so well, that I hesitated to even post something like this - still, I felt to add on my little portion, to share my heart, to continue the conversation. For my parents and siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles… who share many of these same memories, and for myself, to remember – to pass down someday, when my kiddos are old enough to begin to ask questions …
Growing up, there were few things more anticipated than the long holiday weekends when we would visit Mémère’s house. The 3-hour drive usually ended with a maple walnut ice cream cone, or a freshly made chocolate cupcake with white frosting and jimmies, or a root beer float, when I got old enough to tolerate the “fizzies”. There were lots of visits with cousins and uncles and aunts, often over a meal of shepherds pie. There were trips to the pond (where Mémère loaded the coolers with salads and cookies, always homemade). And no trip would be complete without several visits to the not-so-hidden away candy jar with the pink mints. And there were the Chinese checkers games, the never ending card games, crowding around the TV for the Macy’s Day Parade, and the occasional backyard game of tag or touch football. Skip-bo came later.
Eavesdropping in on her late-night conversations with my mom made me decide to learn French. Peering in on hands shuffling and passing cards a hundred times over made my preteen brother and I decide we needed to practice games like Canasta and Hearts, so we could join in with the big guys. And when at age 5, she offered my cousins and I $300, if we could stay away from alcohol until we were 18 – it cemented something in my heart about keeping myself pure. I took up her challenge, as many of us did, and on my 18th birthday, the check arrived in the mail.
She taught me that cookies stay soft with an old slice of bread added to the jar, celery tastes best with cream cheese down the middle, and cream whips best in a cold metal bowl. When we would pack out her tiny apartment on Thanksgiving, the most common phrases heard were, “don’t be bashful” – by Mémère, as she circled the room for the 12th time, making sure everyone had enough, and “sit down, Ma” … from all her children, because in truth, she hadn’t sat down since she had put the turkey in the oven at the crack of dawn that morning, and we were all eating 2nds and 3rds, before she touched her plate.
But there were deeper lessons too. These days, if we do some great event, or host a big gathering, many of us are posting about it on FB for all to see, or complaining about how hard it was or how much time it took. With Mémère, this is just who she was. She’d host 30 people without blinking an eye. She took my own family of 4 -then 5, then 6, then 7, in frequently - with joy, doing our dishes and cleaning up after us. There was no complaining. There was no boasting. If you cornered her after a long day, she possibly may admit she was tired – maybe – but then she’d stay up and talk with you for another hour over a cup of tea.
When my family chose a different path than the Catholic upbringing that my mom had received from her parents, Mémère never treated us any differently. If she was hurt or disappointed, she never indicated it, and always made every effort to make sure we got the same gifts or money or time spent as anyone else would have. And when I grew up, and again made a few choices that she disagreed with, Mémère wasn’t afraid to come to me and my new husband and ask questions and talk things out together. Though we disagreed on some points, I think we all walked away with a deeper respect for each other, just because we could talk something out together. So often these days, we put forth our opinions and ideals and beliefs and doctrines, and think anyone who believes differently is obviously an uneducated fool. But Mémère wasn’t like that. She had that old fashioned respect. Respect for morality, respect for character, respect for a good conversation and conviction. And the idea that two people could disagree on small things, but still hold a deep love and care for each other.
She arrived to help when my little sister was born, and the next little sister, and when my mom broke her leg, and when the little brother was born, and when my big brother died. (She probably came after Jon and I were born too, but I don’t remember that). She made the 3 hour trek - to do the laundry, and the meals, and keep the house going smoothly. My mom has now done the same for all of us, and her 7 grandchildren.
She was strong, but always kind. Full of love, yet thinking nothing of herself and seemingly expecting nothing in return. Full of opinions, but always respecting one that was different. Giving, giving and giving.
And we love her. I think all of us, her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, we really have a deep love for her. Because she first loved us.
Last week, my family and I made our way to her apartment. It was the first time I remember visiting and her not meeting me at the door. I’ve been to a few bedsides of those about to die – and I thought for sure, she was about to die any moment. And yet, as I walked in with my children, only 5 minutes later, all of a sudden, her eyes brightened, she sat straight up in bed, and she knew who we all were. We sang songs together, we prayed together, we shared talk of her family, her young days as a mother, and her hope for the future. “I just want to follow God” she told us several times in our last days together. “I’m ready, I want to go be with God, and ….” And she mentioned the names of several others who had gone on before her.
And when my three kiddos came into say goodbye – not just a physical good-bye, but a good-bye in this world … Gabriel gave her a hug, and said kindly, “bye”, Karis, a sweet hug and and picture, and Geo, well, his two year old brain only knows that Mémère is great because she has a candy jar that he can reach (he asked today to go to her house again and get some candy from her candy jar), …so, Geo gave her a very strong high five. But her 100 year old body, though weak and frail, didn’t seemed phased in the least, and she grabbed hold of his hand with joy. “I’m praying for you” she told each of the kiddos as she left … and I believe she did.
There are too many memories, too many stories, with a love that is too deep to express through words. This last visit with Mémère only made me love her more. I thank God for her life. I thank Him for her 100 years. I thank Him for her clear mind, even in these very last days of her life, and I thank Him for the fellowship and sweet sweet times we had together when we visited last week. “God be with you til we meet again” I told her, as I kissed her and hugged her good-bye.
Until we meet again …

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