Not really sure if this is how you do these things, but it's what I'm doing. Thought I'd share.
First, I would like to thank you all for coming to say a final goodbye to my grandmother. I know it would have meant a great deal to her to know so many people cared for her.
I would like to share with you how I saw the woman I knew.
As many of you probably already know, I spent a lot of my childhood in my grandparents home. Grandma started a home daycare so that I would have other children to play with. As if the house wasn’t already crowded enough, eight or so pre-kindergarten age children would fill our house in the early morning hours. Somehow, she managed to keep it all together, keeping us all in line, and our parents all happy. She ruled our house with an iron voice, though she wasn’t above a swat on the butt when needed.
But that sense of command wasn’t displayed only in our home. To me, she seemed fearless in dealing with sales people and clerks in stores and waiters in restaurants. When I balked at making a clerk at Sam’s find the pool chemicals instead of finding them ourselves, she said, “It’s called ‘job security.’ If they didn’t have to help me, they wouldn’t have a job.”
Watching my grandma taught me to never to buy into stereotypes. If you think wives from the 1950s were mousy, quiet, and didn’t have a say in their household, well, you’ve never met my grandma. And if you think petite older women are harmless, well, you’ve never met my grandma. I never felt like, as a woman, I didn’t have the right to be loud, opinionated, or bossy. In fact, that’s might be a lesson I learned a little too well…
But she also had a class and dignity all her own. We have never been what one would call rich, but I think that Grandma was extremely proud of the fact that she could give more to her kids than her family had growing up, that she and Grandpa had risen from working poor families to middle class in her lifetime. She would be the first to remind you that that didn’t make her better than, though it certainly didn’t make anyone else better than her. Her fierce pride in her life and her family taught me not to be embarrassed about where I come from or where my family comes from.
For the most part, my grandma lived an average life, though a happy and full one. She was a typical daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and person for her time and place in history. Few people, in the grand scheme of things, ever knew her name. But, as I find out more and more each day, she made a huge difference in the lives of those she touched. I think that was because, as someone more famous than either of us once wrote, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.” I think Grandma displayed that kind of freedom. Grandma would listen and give her blunt brand of advice, without ever making you feel judged. She would give you the help she thought best at the time, even if it wasn’t what you thought you needed, and she was usually right that it was what was best. She paid much more attention than most people ever gave her credit for and she was always available to listen and talk for hours.
Two days ago, I called the mother of one of the children Grandma babysat for to tell the family of my grandma’s passing. The woman was so silent that I thought my cell phone had disconnected us. Then, crying, she said that she didn’t know how she would have made it through without my grandma. While I had already known that the woman had put her daughter in the daycare shortly after she divorced and returned to the job force, I didn’t know the deep and abiding respect, appreciation, and admiration this woman had developed for my grandmother, who she saw as a tough-talking, cigarette-smoking, fairy godmother, who both mended the sewing-challenged woman’s clothes before she went to work, and helped her control and learn to deal with her defiant daughter. Now, I’m sure that my grandmother didn’t see this as some heroic feat. She was just doing the right thing, lending a hand, passing on her own wisdom. But it made such a huge difference in this woman’s life. And to me it just drives home that we can all, as the saying goes, be the difference we would like to see in the world. We don’t have to be perfect, in fact it helps not to be. We don’t have to be famous or successful, as the ways we make a difference are small, personal, and simple. But we can and do make profound differences in the lives of the people we meet. Knowing this, I just plan on striving to ensure that the difference I make is a positive one. So that is how I plan on honoring my grandmother’s memory: By using the things I learned watching her, that a tough, opinionated, bossy woman who stays proud of where she comes from and pays attention along the way can make a great difference in the lives of others, to be a constructive force in the world.