While it may seem like I ignored the question, the truth is that I have been pondering it nearly non stop since it was asked. That my Gram was amazing and special is fact, but I began to analyze why. Was it her personality? Was it that she was the only living grandparent I had ever known? Was it that she was the first person to truly recognize the vastness of my awesomeness? Was it what she did? Was it who she was? Honestly, all I knew was that Grandma Ruth had always been one of my very favorite people. I've given the question a lot of thought and talked about it with some of my family. I wish I had a definitive list of one or two things that made my relationship with my Gram so special, but I think there were lots of little components that added together made her one of the most influential and special people in my life. For that reader (and any one else who is curious), here is what I have come up with.
Gram was there. That may seem like a total oversimplification, but the truth is Gram was present in my life and in the lives of all my cousins. She lived about 40 minutes from my house growing up, so we didn't always have geography working in our favor, but Gram always showed up. She was at every graduation, confirmation, birthday, holiday. She showed up for her family. When my family went on vacation, Gram came along. The day my parents surprised us with a new puppy, Gram came to celebrate with us. She visited me at college. She came to the plays I was in. She visited the houses of her grandchildren every time one of us moved. She was there - present - for all of us. She wanted to be a part of our lives and celebrate milestones with us, and I think only now do I appreciate what a gift her wanting to truly was.
Gram was fun. I know it is typical to romanticize folks once they're gone, but the truth is we all knew Gram rocked while she was still with us. Once when my mom was hosting a ladies meeting at Halloween, Gram and her friend/partner in crime showed up in costume. It was hilarious. Once she and I sat and popped bubble wrap while watching Little House on the Prairie episodes back to back. I can still hear her laugh - it was a dear chuckle, and I think some days I miss that sound more than I miss anything else. I would call her on days when the boys had given me a real run for my money, and no matter how much I sputtered about whatever mischief they got in, Gram would just chuckle. (Did I mention that she adored her 30 great-grandchildren? She loved to sit and listen to their take on the world.) She had a great sense of humor and she had joy in her life.
Gram was strong. One of the things I admired most about my Gram was how strong she was. Her life wasn't always easy, but even after some particularly hard times she pressed on and never showed bitterness to us. Her faith was strong. Her spirit was strong. Heck, even her muscles were pretty strong for a woman in her 90s! (She took water aerobics up into her late 80s.) Probably one of the most tender memories I have of my Gram is from the last time my family was up home visiting. I asked her how long she and my grandfather had been married. (She was widowed very unexpectedly in her 40s.) She got such a soft look in her beautiful blue eyes and answered, "Not nearly long enough." She was strong without being hard, if that makes any sense. During some particularly difficult times in my life, she encouraged me (OK, told me) to keep pressing on and to be positive. She was a great example of strength.
Gram gave us invaluable gifts. There were some special tangible gifts that Gram gave me. My grandfather passed away before I was born, and that always made me sad to be one of the few grandchildren who never knew him. One time I asked Gram if she had anything of his I could have, and she gave me an old camera and camera case of his. It probably doesn't seem like much, but it sits in my living room and means the world to me. One Christmas she gave each of her granddaughters one of the teacups from a tea set that had been in the family. For our senior year of high school Christmas, Gram gave each senior grandchild a leather Bible with their name engraved on it. By the time my cousin and I got to be seniors, we had given Gram such grief about the "big mystery gift" we'd be getting, she went out and bought a pocket sized New Testament and lifted a Gideon Bible to wrap up for us! (Did I mention she was fun?) Gram loved to knit, and I still have a sweater I wear most every day around the house that she gave me for Christmas when I was in 8th grade, and I always use the red mittens she made me when it gets cold in the winter. The greatest gifts she gave me though were a love for family, special traditions, and an example of living a life of faith. Blessings upon blessings that have already changed even my children's lives. The impact of her love and time goes on well into the next generation, and I suspect as I hear my children talk about Gram, that even my grandchildren will receive a legacy from her.
One of the things I used to always say to Gram is that she better not die. I threatened her with everything I could think of. It was one of the last things I said to her in our last phone conversation, and I can still hear her chuckle when I said it. I couldn't imagine my life without Gram. Gram has been the rock, the matriarch, the anchor in our family. I honestly couldn't imagine how we would go on without her - the void would be insurmountable.
A year ago the unthinkable happened, and Grandma Ruth went to be with Jesus. My mom called and told me that she was in the hospital, and after getting updates that weren't encouraging I jumped in the car and drove 12 hours to see her, pleading the whole way selfishly that God would heal her. When we got to the hospital a little after lunchtime, it was evident that He was calling her home, and my prayer became that God would take her in a manner worthy of the life she lived for Him. She passed away not long after, surrounded by her children and their spouses (whom she loved as her own) and some of her grandchildren who could make it there. While I wish to this day God hadn't taken her, I thank Him almost as often for taking her sweetly. The next few days were filled with tears and laughter (and some rum slush in her honor), and many, many people coming to the funeral home to tell us what we already knew - she was one very special lady. As I pulled out of her driveway to come back to Tennessee I knew life as I had known it was forever changed.
I probably cry more than I should about missing Grandma Ruth. She would have my hide. While she was sweet and loving, she had no time for wallowing or sniveling when there was something better to do. (And she would tell you that straight up.) I take a lot of comfort in the fact that while many people in my regular life wouldn't understand why I am so sad about a 95 year old woman passing away, my cousins get it implicitly. They know. They were loved well by Gram, and being loved well changes your whole life.
The greatest comfort I have (besides knowing I will see her beautiful blue eyes again and hear her chuckle in heaven) is that the memories and the gifts and love my Gram gave to me are all still just as real and present in my every day life as they were when she was with us. There is a void - I grieve especially that she didn't get to meet Alina. (Gram would have LOVED that girl!) But so much of what Gram gave to me has not left and can never be taken from me. I am better because she loved me and showed me what a gift family and joy and laughter and presence are. My children are better because they were interesting and special and wonderful to her. Their children will be better because they will celebrate Kitchen Christmas and eat Dutch's cookies and hear about Grandma Ruth.
Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive and beauty if fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:29-30
That's my Gram.