Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A tribute to my Grandmother

Well, today is the day when my Grandmother Helen Leslie was born.  She passed a few years back, but if she had lived, today would have been her 102th birthday.   I always teased her that she would be on the Today show for people who were celebrating their 100th birthday.  That didn't happen, but I'm sure Jesus is celebrating her life in a much better way.  Since it's her birthday, to honor her, below is a tribute to my Grandmother. 

Helen Leslie was the most wonderful, ordinary person you would ever meet.  I hope you don't think I'm being insulting by calling her ordinary.  Quite the opposite.  I found this one of her most appealing qualities.  My grandmother was not a trend setter or someone who was going to change the world, but she cared about me and that made her ultra special.

So let me introduce to you to my grandmother.  She was the youngest of 13 children.  She was born and raised in Brooklyn New York and I loved hearing her stories of growing up.  She described her mother as a kind of 'proverbs 23' kind of women - hard working - frugal - independent and successful.  She described how her mother would wake at dawn and bake several loafs of bread.  She would put together the grocery order and send my grandmother to the market to hand it to the grocer.  The grocer would pick all the grocery items off the shelves and a delivery boy would bring the order to my great grandmothers home at a later time.  If the grocer sent anything less than the best of his inventory, my great grandmother would transfer her business to another market.  As a family of 15, the grocer did not want to lose their family as a customer.  Smart woman.

So, back to my grandmother...... My grandmother was kind and gentle and humble.  She was excellent at needle-crafting, loved to do jigsaw puzzles and read.  She played card games with us kids all the time.  My favorite game with Grandma was Canasta.  She taught me to play and I won - often - most likely thanks to her humble, gentle personality.

She lived at a beautiful home near a lake when I was really little.  They had a pool with a slide that my sister and I spent many hours in every summer.  When I was older (maybe 10 or so) they moved to a new house that was about a mile from my home.  When they lived at their Hanover Street house, I would very often walk to my grandma's house on a Saturday or after school.  I would go there at least once a week as a pre-teen and I wouldn't call ahead or anything, but my Grandma was always home.  She would have Sara-lee brand pound cake or those tins of butter cookies for me.  Grandma wasn't much of a baker, but boy could she buy some yummy sweet treats.    She did make one wonderful dessert.  It was lemon meringue pie.   I loved that and whenever I eat it (not often) I think of her.

When I was sick and had to stay home from school I went to Grandma's house.  One story goes that I was taken to grandma's when I was like 4 years old and I was crying when I arrived.  After my mom went to school (she was a teacher), my grandma asked me what I wanted and I said I didn't like the outfit I was wearing.  My grandma then drove me home, let me change into my favorite outfit and then took me back to her house.  Yup - grandma spoiled me big time.  Usually when I went to Grandma's house when I was sick, she would take me to Caldor's.  Caldor's was the Walmart of her generation. I would usually get a coloring book or candy bar or both.   My grandma knew I was really sick if I couldn't muster the energy to go to Caldor's.

My grandmother took great care of her older sister Gertrude.  Aunt Gert was quite a bit older than my grandmother - probably 15 or 20 years older.   That's her in the picture in the blue shirt. All growing up I remember Aunt Gertrude living with my grandmother.  In her generation, single woman didn't live alone so it was very kind of my grandmother to take her in.  I have heard that Aunt Gert was very generous to my grandmother and grandfather also, but I can't imagine having someone (almost old enough to be my mother) living with me all during my married life and Aunt Gert was a little particular and controlling.   She was my first experience with death.  I think I was about 12 or so when she died.

I remember often going to Grandma's house after church.  We would stop at the local German Deli/Bakery and pick up crumb cake, jelly donuts and hard rolls.  I hated jelly donuts (I have no idea why) but loved the crumb cake or even just a hard roll with butter on it.  Some other funny memories about my grandmothers 'Hanover Street' house.  She had an intercom.  Boy was that cool.  I loved buzzing the intercom, just to see if it worked.  She had a big turtle candy jar that my grandfather made in his ceramic kiln.  In the candy jar were hard candies, mary janes and/or black licorice.  Behind her house was a HUGE area of woods.  We tried to build a little tree-house out back. It was mainly just a board of wood wedged between a tree with split trunks but I spent hours back there imagining all kinds of cool princess scenes.

My grandmother always cleaned the kitchen top to bottom after the meal was served.  She had two kinds of placemats.  Plastic ones that we would use when we ate and fancy knit ones for decoration.  After every meal, the fancy placemats would go on the kitchen table along with a bowl of fake fruit.  And Grandma always served tomato juice in a fancy cut juice glass on Thanksgiving.

After my grandfather passed away (in his 60's) my grandmother moved to a senior condo development.  She lived alone there for many years.  At that time, I was married and living in Florida.  I would visit her, sometimes alone, sometimes with my husband.  Her pace of life was so much slower than mine at that time, but I really enjoyed visiting her, bringing take out chinese food and showing her pictures of our home.   She had trouble hearing later in life so she didn't enjoy noisy places, so we would accomodate her and bring food in and enjoy it in her kitchen.   Later when I had Sarah, we would both visit and Grandma was content just holding baby Sarah in her big comfy lap.    Then, her health started to deteriorate.  My father was living in Arizona, my aunt in Vermont and she was alone.   Even though she was kind and gentle, she was also stubborn.  Both my dad and aunt tried everything to get her to move closer to them, but she wouldn't consider it.  It became obvious that she needed to move to an assisted living center.  My father and Aunt did all the pre-work of the move, but I was there at one of the visits to finalize the move.  At this point everyone knew it was best for her to go there and I think I took her to the facility to look at the apartment she would get.  She was very pragmatic about the whole thing.  She really didn't want to move from her home, but knew there was no other alternative.  She didn't cry.  She didn't complain and we talked about her new life in the 'semi' assisted living area.  When she first moved there she had her own apartment (1 bedroom) and they provided dinner in the dining hall.  Eric always talked about her as 'the grandma that lives in the hotel' because with the lobby and restaurant it looked just like a Holiday Inn.  One thing I found very funny about that place was that they had this BIG room that was a bar.  I don't remember ever seeing anyone sitting at the bar drinking, but my grandmother thought that was a big plus.   Funny!  Senior citizens in assisted living hanging out at the bar.

Another thing about my grandmother is she never had any 'stuff.'  Whenever she moved she had no problem downsizing.   The only things she ever kept were her hummels and her framed needlework.  It made moving and cleaning very easy.

When she moved to Goshen (upstate NY) I was living in Boston and was 4 hours away.  I tried so hard to visit her several times a year, but working and raising a family made it hard.  Often I would drive on a Friday afternoon, spend the night and visit her Saturday, then head home.  Later when I was working 30 hours, I would sometimes drive on a Tuesday, visit on a Wednesday and again head home.  It was brutal to drive 8 hours for a 2-3 hour visit, but now in hindsight I don't regret it one minute.

She had some ups and downs with her health in her last years and I had a really nice visit with her the summer before she passed.  At that point she was in the nursing home part of the facility and they had a day to 'make a shadow box' with your family.  Well, since I'm the paper-crafter of the family, they offered me the option to go.  It was really inconvenient to go.  Isn't it always?  There was another thing going on (a party with Bob's family) but I knew I wouldn't have too many opportunities with my grandmother, so I skipped the other event and went.  We had a nice day.  The whole family cracked up at what we put in the shadow box.  Grandma, remember she was quiet and humble, didn't say a word when I found a great picture of 'the boat' that her and grandpa had when they were younger.  We put the boat picture front and center of her shadow box.  Later everyone said 'grandma hated that boat.'  But that was my grandma.

It was also very interesting to meet the other people in the nursing home.  They all had very exciting lives.  One woman was a performer from NYC.  Another man was one of the first commercial pilots.  When I met them they were all very old and very feeble.  The shadow box gave all of us a chance to see who they were in their prime.  That was pretty cool.  Another fun thing about those visits was that I would always bring my dogs.  Tank was just a puppy then and I had him in his crate and all the residents loved him.  Of course, yes, I brought Joey too.  The residents loved them both.  I found out later that they had a 'nursing home' dog and that a therapist woman would bring the trained dog to the nursing home every week.  I thought that was great.  It was good therapy for the seniors - especially the dog lovers.

When it became clear that Grandma's days were numbered, I drove down to be with her.  I arrived on September 9th and just sat in her room with her.  She was only slightly coherent during my visit - more aware at first - and much less aware later.  I held her hand.  I talked to her (not sure how much she heard) and I crafted.  I had some stamp projects and set up a little work table next to her bed.  She slept and I whiled the hours away coloring and creating.  As she came in and out of consciousness I would stop my crafting, hold her hand and talk to her.  My dad had booked his flight to come in when he heard she wasn't well.  I took an extra day off from work to stay another night, but planned to leave on September 11th to get home to my family and responsibilities.  No-one really knows how long someone has at the end so it could have been a few more days or a few more hours.  I knew we would need to get the whole family together for the funeral.  We all knew her time was coming, it was just a question of when.  My only regret that day was that I left before she passed.  I left about 4pm.  My Dad was scheduled to arrive at 7pm  She passed sometime in between.  I don't think she was conscious during her last minutes but I do wish I had been there when she breathed her last.  But, I am so glad I went to visit her those last years and I was so glad to be with her during her last days.  I treasure those times.

I hope today's post wasn't too somber for you.  I like my post to reflect the reality of life and like it or not, death is a reality of life.  I love reflecting on the life of my grandmother and reflecting on those last days with her brings me joy.  It was a surprisingly joyful time - being there with her during her last days.  Of course that is because she lived a full life and died of natural causes.  It's quite different when it's the sharp stab of pain from a short life, but her situation wasn't like that at all.

Does death bother you?  Well, of course it bothers us, but does it bother you more than it should?  If it does, is it because you are not right with God?  I really encourage you to click the link below and  discover how easy it is to become right with God.  I feel confident (from my opening paragraph) that my grandma is with Jesus in heaven, but really it is a very personal matter and frankly only you and God know where you stand.  Get right with God and thank you for joining me as I remembered the wonderful person that my Grandma was.

get right with god 

If you knew my grandmother and have your own memories of her, please leave them in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by today.  I'll have something crafty for you later this week.


Karen said...

What beautiful memories of your Grandma, and how wonderful that you have them... It's obvious that she was a blessing in your life, as you were a blessing in hers. Thanks for sharing her story.

Kimberly Gajewski said...

What a beautiful tribute to your Grandmother, Linda! She sounds like she was one, lovely lady! No wonder her grand-daughter is such a special person too! :D

Anonymous said...

Testing the blog comment feature.