My grandmother died early Thursday morning. She was born on September 3rd 1912. That year the Titanic sunk. She grew up in Lackawanna and watched the Basilica go up. She went to school with the son of the Italian artist that was brought here to paint the ceiling and they used to sneak in and watch him paint.
She remembered the marble being delivered. She was given her first communion by Father Baker, was confirmed by him, and was the first graduating class from his school. Her father ran an A & P and Father Baker would come in looking for vegetable donations for his boys.
She learned to drive on a model T and described how hard it was to crank the car to life in a field where she would practice her driving. She saw the invention of the television, cell phone, computer and the first man on the moon. She remembered the men coming home from World War One that had been hit by mustard gas. She lost relatives in World War Two and her three brothers, George, Doug and Tom came back from that war after defeating Hitler. She lived through the Korean War, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and I’m happy to report she wasn’t aware that we were attacked on 9/11.
When she was four years old a start up car company came to life …. General Motors… the steel industry was born…. She lived through yellow fever, influenza…the inventions of sulfa… penicillin…the polio vaccine and the polio epidemic and the cotton gin and the airplane… saw the Hoover Dam built… social security and the welfare state. She was 6 when 33 women were arrested for picketing Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. They won that right for us. How disappointed they would be in all of us women who don’t take the time today to use that right.
She saw the crash of the stock market and the Great Depression… learned to save her pennies and made lemonade as often as life threw her lemons. That was what people of her generation did.
Her and my grandfather used to drive to the Bemus Point Dance Hall and take the Ferry to Crystal Beech to dance.
She had two daughters and was a widow by the time she was 58. She loved her family. She helped my mom whenever she asked for it and my mom always knew she would come if she was called. Sometimes she just showed up and my mom wondered how she knew. My mom told me she was like an angel.
Every summer she would can dill pickles and my brother would secret away a private stock to his black safe so his jar would be the last in the house. She had a room in her house that I would stay in when I slept over and she would always let me go through her jewelry and try it all on. She paid attention to me when I was there and loved to hear me play the organ.
They had a cottage on Lake Ontario and the Pinochle games were legendary and ran late into the evening where we would all cram into bunk beds, couches and floor spaces to be together.
For a girl from Lackawanna she went many places Spain, Portugal, Ireland, England… many times, France , Germany, Luxemburg, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, through the panama canal, Jamaica, Venezuela, turkey, Greece, prince Edward island, Mexico… and took many cruises…. she was always planning her next great adventure. When she could no longer travel she would tell you all about her past trips and somehow tie it in to the current conversation.
My grandmother always told me I was a lot like her… my mom said that too. She loved how spirited I was and feisty… she was too.
She moved from a ranch house to an apartment and then another apartment and then another…I think she thought she was nearing the end of her life. People only lived to 65…. 70 if they were really lucky…
Then on to assisted living and finally a nursing home, then another. In the end she was down to very few earthly possessions. But we were all around her. Family is what mattered most and she was the head of a beautiful one and we were all there for her like she was for us.
Over the last few years I often questioned God’s plan for her because she had no quality of life that I could see. The last year she often didn’t know who anyone was and wasn’t getting good care. My mom would leave the nursing home crying and come home not knowing what to do and knowing she couldn’t do anything except schedule another useless meeting with administrators.
She just wanted to scoop her up and bring her home. But she couldn’t. Then one day she woke up and knew she had to bring her mother home to die.
She couldn’t die alone. She didn’t know if she could do that or not but called Hospice. It was so easy. Death was something that they are experts at; peaceful and painless death. It was the greatest gift God could have given our family. It was like a wake… but everyone came into town and held her hand and visited and then said goodbye. By Monday, we couldn’t believe she was still alive. She hadn’t had anything to eat in a very long time and couldn’t swallow water….. but her heart kept beating.
I guess when you live to be 96 you have good parts. Then Tuesday came and went. My son Pat didn’t want her to die on his birthday and I prayed on that one. Thursday morning the Kathleen Drexel candle that my parents always have burning was out and they checked on her and she had just passed. When I got there she was still warm and she looked so peaceful.
My mom had loved her and cared for her until her last breath. All of my children had said their goodbyes and had seen how families are supposed to be connected. How families are supposed to love everyone… no matter how “useful” society may deem them. A phone call would never have been OK and would have left a much different legacy than the one we have in our hearts now. I’ve learned so many things over the last week.
I’ve learned that God’s timing is always perfect. Not always convenient. That gifts from Him come in many different forms… sometimes it is a look, a stranger who helps you, kindness offered out of the blue, sometimes it is the time He gives you to wrap up any loose strings in your heart.
I’ve learned that one of the best things we can give our children is their faith. My mom says that is the one thing she is so thankful to her mother for. Her faith. My mother multiplied that so many times and gave it to me. My grandmother’s love for my mother now lives on in my children.
I learned that you don’t have to have two people talking to have a conversation. Gram and I had many and she just listened. I have to try to remember that when people are trying to talk to me. Listen more…. talk less…. that will be hard.
You take nothing with you when you leave… my dad’s famous quote…”Katy… I’ve never seen a Brink’s truck at a funeral” is so true, but you can leave so much behind in the people that you love. That is truly where you live on, in the hearts of others. You can also leave behind chaos and sadness, turmoil and heartache, and it really is an individual choice as to what you leave behind. No excuses… your choice.
People will, most likely, when they talk about you not remember what jobs you held, what you wore, what you purchased, or what kind of house you lived in. They will remember how you made them feel when they were around you. How you looked at them. Things you said and things you didn’t.
Leave a legacy of love when you leave this world and you will have left it a much better place. You will have left people who will carry that love to the next generation and it will multiply over and over and over…. What a tremendous world we’ll have.
Our country is crumbling right now. It crumbled before and people like my grandmother had nothing and built our country back up. They made it. They raised good children who loved their country and worked hard and had large families and lived moral lives. The question is can we refocus. Can we get back to what is really important … each other… our families…. and do without all of the material things? We are headed for a financial meltdown…… another crash…it’s happening now. We need to rise up to meet the challenges like my grandmother’s generation did. 42% of our debt is owned by foreign countries and we will try to go in deeper to get out without pain. Not possible. We owe it to her…to their lives of determination not to let this country be ruined.