My grandmother passed away this weekend. Her funeral is today. She lived 95 years, all but the last couple very healthy.
My grandmother was an amazing woman. She was the oldest of four kids, born just before the depression. Her father did odd jobs after coming to the US and sometime before she was a teenager he bought a junk yard with some partners. Within a year the partners reneged on their deal and her father had to go to loan sharks to keep the business going.
Everyone in the family helped out in that business. My grandmother, a very independent woman, did bookkeeping, tore cars apart, worked the counter, everything. Today it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal but in 1930 that was still pretty unusual.
She learned to drive (I’m sure before 16) and took care of everyone. She met my grandfather at age 18, married at 21. They literally spent a lifetime together (72 years!) and she always remained independent.
My grandmother took care of people. She helped the old folks who couldn’t get out, she started the gift shop at the synagogue. Her father died of a sudden heart attack very early (he wasn’t feeling well, went to the doctors on the way home from work and had a heart attack while in the doctor’s office. Dead.) Everyone had to pick up the slack. My grandparents, who had moved to a city nearby, came back to Massillon to run the family business.
They had three kids together, six grand kids, and nine great grand children, so far. My grandmother always seemed to have food available. She always had some food ready to whip out for us kids, more than willing to make matzah brie for a noontime lunch or quick with some chicken dish she seemed to prepare in 20 minutes but tasted like she had been working on it all day. Wanted a little something in the car? There were pretzels in the backseat.
They were in their early 60s when they bought a lake house and spent their summers on the water, skiing, gardening and doing the things lazy summers are supposed to be about. In their 70s they moved to a new home and lived in it, independently, for over 20 years.
A couple of years ago my aunt died of cancer. My grandmother had a hard time after that. Her health started to slip, dementia started to creep in. Two years ago my grandfather passed away, just a week short of his 93rd birthday, and grandma couldn’t be on her own anymore. She was done and basically, over the next two years, willed herself to death.
My grandparents were very important to me. They were role models for business, for life, for marriage and responsibility. While it is a sad day, this is also a day that I feel very lucky. I’m lucky because I got to know my grandparents into my late 30s, because they got to know my wife and my children.
I came to town a few weeks ago to see her one last time. She was very weak, could barely roll over in her bed to talk. My dad told me she wasn’t talking much, a few minutes maybe. (Again, I feel lucky. I was able to talk with her for 20-30 minutes each the next couple of days.) My eldest daughter came with me, more to see her grandpa (my dad) then to see her great grandmother. On the first day we stopped in to say hello.
My grandmother got a huge grin on her face when she saw Laura, aged 7, recognizing her immediately. It was her last smile.