My memories of Grandmama come in flashes. I recall rooting through the treasure trove in her basement, discovering old magazines and dusty photos. I remember sitting with her on her screened-in porch, talking as we rocked in the rocking chairs. I remember refilling her birdhouses with birdseed and imagining her sitting inside, looking out at the robins and the bluebirds. I recall her stack of needlepoint, which she shared with me whenever I asked. We had countless conversations in which she recounted the original owner of a picture frame or a china set. I can still feel the touch of her hand as she snuck us dollar bills, whispering, “Don’t tell your mother.” I hear her soft, rolled “r’s”, like in “Maahhgie.” Every visit I can recall, if you asked Grandmama if she needed anything, she would say, “I can’t think of a thing.”
Several years back, I recall standing at my mom’s kitchen sink, gathering the gumption to scrape dirty dishes. With perhaps a bit of exasperation, Mom told Grandmama that I got grossed out by the old food. Grandmama’s response, so simply, was, “She’s young. She’ll grow.” She said it calmly, without judgment. I considered that thought then, and I sometimes consider it now – the idea that I can change, mature, grow. That who I was was not fixed, that we are all capable of growth. In some ways that represents my view of Grandmama, a woman who believed in learning, who valued knowledge, and who lived that value herself.
I have spoken of Grandmama many times with pride –
My grandmother and grandfather were the first college-educated couple in her county. (according to the 1940 census).
My grandmother went to college, when it was less common for women to do so.
My grandmother worked for 4 years after college before getting married, when women tended to marry right away.
My grandmother was not crazy about cooking, and perhaps chose a good book over a jello-mold.
Grandmama’s life has influenced me and my view of who I could be as a woman.
If my grandmother could be a woman capable of resisting the expectations of society when they did not align with her values or beliefs, then perhaps that trait is within me too. Perhaps that boldness and determination is a trait passed down to all of us children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
Grandmama leaves a legacy to all of us. Her legacy is a life lived in accordance with her values. She was a woman who knew what she believed and who always did what she believed to be right. What higher praise is there? To what greater actions could we aspire?
Grandmama lived a full 104 years. Now, as we say goodbye to her, I like to imagine that she’s at peace. That she has finally left her body behind and, when asked if she needs anything, her response is, predictably and truthfully, “I can’t think of a thing.”