My Grandma Betty passed on May 27. She was 94 years old. She was a pretty amazing woman. She was the foundation of our family for my whole lifetime. Not many people get to be my age and still have a living grandparent. I have been blessed.
Grandma was both an independent woman and a devoted family member. She moved to Sacramento to open her own beauty shop as a young woman in the late 1930's. A pretty big leap from being a farm girl in Tracy. She was set up on a blind date with my grandpa "Pappy" and they married five weeks later! Pappy passed in 1985, at 72, and Grandma lived on her own until she was 90. For many years, we visited Grandma every Monday and had dinner with her. We made this plan because we found out she had gotten up on her roof to clean the gutters! She was almost 80 at the time! My husband and I agreed that she would not likely ask for help, so our plan was to show up every week until she got used to us. Sure enough, she began to save strenuous chores for us because she knew she could just wait until Monday and we could help. From time to time our visits increased - to keep the yard watered in the heat of summer; to change bandages when she had an injury; to take her to the grocery store. I am so happy that we spent time with Grandma! My other grandparents all passed when I was in the intense times of child rearing. After our little girl launched, we had more time to extend ourselves to our elders.
Grandma Betty cared for her elders most of her adult life. Her parents lived in the house where my family has lived and grown. For over 20 years, she made her way to her parents house to care for them. She also provided care and visits for her brothers-in-law. Both her mother and her brothers-in-law lived longer than her own precious husband. As we remembered her at her memorial, we had some laughs because the big things in life only got her down for a moment. She was a deeply practical woman. But, if you did something the "wrong way" (translation not Grandma Betty's way) you would be educated most vigorously! I think as we get older, we all get more set in our ways. After all, her ways had worked for 90+ years!
Grandma was very proud of our girl, Madelyn. Here are Grandma, my mom, myself and Madelyn at Madelyn's undergrad ceremony in Berkeley. It was unusually hot that day, and we were a bit worried about her, but she did great. At that time, she got around pretty good with a strong arm or the help of her cane, but it was such a long day, we rolled her around in style. When I was a young mom, my parents were still hard at work. Grandma Betty always loved to help out. Madelyn told me that one of her favorite memories was of spinning on her bottom on Grandma Betty's coffee table! Grandma, who had the same exact place for EVERYTHING for my entire living memory, would move her belongings aside for a little girl to spin on her fanny. Sometimes, I think she allowed more spaciousness for others than she did for herself. I will always remember her loving kindness and generosity to us. It is because of her that we were able to raise Madelyn the way we did. Grandma Betty, I thank you!
My parents grew up across the street from each other. This meant that a trip to either Grandma's house included a trip to the other's. During the holidays, we always had Christmas Eve at Grandma's house. We would have dinner, open presents, then we would pack it up and go across the street to Grammy and Pappy's house for dessert and more presents. This was the routine for my childhood and also my girl's childhood. As Grandma became more fragile, we helped her to put up her decorations every year. Her tree had those big snow ball lights. It was always beautiful. In Grandma Betty's world, Christmas went up the weekend after Thanksgiving and came down the weekend after the New Year. Like clock work. I'm so glad we could help her and I treasure those memories. One other Christmas ritual was taking the holiday decorations over to the crypts that house her parents and her husband. As long as she was able, she went with either my mom or me and lovingly communed with her ancestors and made sure they were remembered for the holidays. Her urn has now joined them and I will do my best to keep up her tradition.
Grandma Betty, preparing part of the Christmas Eve meal.
I've shared many of Grandma's recipes on my little blog. There are two things I will always attribute to her and they will always be welcome at our family gatherings - Grandma Betty's Orange Jello and Grandma Betty's Square Bottle Dressing. We will be holding a family reunion later this summer and I have been asked to bring the heirloom recipes I've collected. It should be a lot of fun. Bittersweet, but fun.
Grandma Betty will be remembered by my descendants. My daughter and I will pass her stories down as best we can. During my last conversation with Grandma, I promised that I would never forget her and I would tell all my grand kids about her.
Along with all the losses of this Spring, there has also been a lot of sweetness for me. Somehow, I feel more grown up. Not only have I been promoted in the family hierarchy, I've also learned that very important lesson - there is always sweetness. As my grief recedes, I realize how hard it has been to be worried about my elder women all these years. Right now, everyone is in safe hands. What will I do? Time to find out.