Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sharing Grandma

This is, mostly, what I wrote/said for Grandma. I followed Tenley (eldest cousin, she spoke fluently, intimately), and was followed by Andrew (eldest/only boy of the first 7 cousins, who spoke warmly and hysterically).

For Grandma
July 15 2006 at Ocean Forest, Sea Island
I know I was asked to speak not because I'm the eldest - representative of a too-fast dwindling Pyle/Brown/Newhall contingent - but because I was (you all know this), always Grandma's favorite.

Now I'm sure Andrew will follow me up here with a counter-claim. In fact, I think each one of the cousins, given a chance at the podium, would repeat the same claim – clear in their memories and utterly authentic - in which they were indeed Grandma's true favorite. Memories in which they were the center of Grandma's universe, the projects launched together, the meals and congo bars prepared, the wreaths assembled and the garden time shared were, all, intimately , tailored by Grandma to that cousin. Each Grandma episode was effortlessly custom-spun by a woman whose warmth, intelligence, imagination, creativity and life force swooped up each cousin in turn, hugged her/his interests in close, inspired them outwards and pushed them on.

Grandma nurtured each of us in turn by egging on our own, oftentimes peculiar, passions. Always a regular field-side at the grandchildren’s sports events, Grandma thought nothing of standing in the chilled, holiday-empty Exeter hockey rink as I completed lap number zillion of the ice. My sole spectator, alone ice-side, Grandma cheered me on as, one arm loose and the other tucked behind my back, I rounded the rink once more, pursuing my Eric Heyden dream (in figure skates).

Grandma was also a strong proponent of empowerment via the right gadgets - herself an early adopter of the microwave, the George Foreman Grill, the Cuisinart and drip-dry sheets. She taught us all how to wield a glue gun (for which I remain grateful) and, on graduating high school, gave each one of us a plying/wire-cutting/hammering/wrenching tool that would, she said, see us through any college need.

With my own parents newly grandparents themselves, I've been thinking about the title, and the role, for which my own might have written the book.

Fortunately, though, this isn't a eulogy for Grandpop and Grandma. We can celebrate the team that's been split up, and remark as we often do in the wonder that was their loving and enduring marriage/partnership, but we are here to celebrate Grandma for she was, as she taught each one of us cousins to be, first and foremost an individual.

Dancing well around the strictures of her time, Grandma moved natively into disciplines and passions. She invested so much of her wonderful “self” into her “projects” that they became parts of the Grandma entity - unimaginable as separate interests. Grandma’s indoor gardening, wreath-making, Chinese history studying (and snuff bottle collecting), decorating, curating and group-organizing were no more “hobbies” than Grandpop's post-Dupont work with alma-maters Exeter then Harvard was simply a way to pass his later years.

I've lost, we've all lost, 3 women and 3 generations in a madly short span of 4 years. My mother Nancy, sister Lindsey, now Grandma. Hoping not to sound flippant: if it's possible to have peace with a death, then Grandma's has been by far the easiest of those three to bear; not only because hers was a long life and well-lived, but because the gifts Grandma gave so fluently and wholly through all of our lives have meant that my Grandma-appreciating has been going on for some time.

And what gives me greatest comfort now, in Grandma's final passing, is that each day I feel a little bit more of Grandma coming out from me – as if (and this may be hubris) my pores are breathing out a Grandma-essence.

For some time, on vacation with R in Antigua last New Years, trolling the rough-edges of my wilderness-garden in upstate New York, I've been channeling Grandma without naming her. Squatting on our hotel's beach to sift sea shells, marvel at driftwood, then bring the lot back home in baggies (as I did again last week with Maine rocks), setting out the bird feeders and following the progress of the finches, the easy glamour of the cardinal and the noisy work of the woodpecker (studying the books Grandma has given), assiduously reading my pruning book then wandering my woodland with trowel and clippers in hand, collecting sea glass, pressing flowers and identifying trees as we had at the Arnold Arboretum, buying my first sewing machine some months back...

Grandma runs through me, through each of us.

Often, I find that when I like myself the best, and am getting the purest pleasure from whatever little venture I've launched on, I'll realize, with a start, that there's Grandma again.


No comments: