As I prepared my three-minute reflection for my grandmother’s memorial service, floods of memories of Grandma from the past twelve years poured into my thoughts. Twelve years ago, my husband and I moved to Indiana. Only three hours away from Wheaton, Illinois, we took advantage of visiting Grandma (and Grandpa, at the time) a couple of times a year.
They had recently moved into a retirement center, Windsor Manor, and had a lovely apartment in the independent living area of the facility. Grandma had beautifully decorated this apartment. The best of the best of her furniture and decor graced the rooms of this two-bedroom complex: her gorgeous white couch, lovely glass coffee table, peach colored accent chairs, an oak hutch filled with her fine china, amongst other beautiful items.
Grandpa was beginning to fail (thus the reason for their move), so Grandma’s presence in this new setting was predominant in my memory. It was Grandma who made this apartment a home. Even with Grandpa’s declining health, she entertained and lived as elegantly as she had before. Our visits were always clearly anticipated by her. In her little kitchenette, she’d prepare “tea-type” treats for us: homemade oatmeal cookies, or brownies served with vanilla ice-cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce or a homemade quiche with a sprig of grapes alongside. And she’d serve us these treats on her best dishes, on a beautifully set table. She’d have clippings of articles of interest, or magazines to pass along to us, obviously set aside and saved for our visits. As Grandpa’s health continued to fail, our visits would include trips down to the nursing home section of Windsor Manor to visit him.
And each of those trips to see Grandpa were planned out lovingly by Grandma. We’d bring him a treat of some sort (it didn’t take me long to learn that Grandpa loved my “Gooey Bar” recipe, so each visit I’d arrive with a new batch baked just for him). We’d look at pictures with him, sing songs with him, and share stories that might trigger his memory. It was always a joy to see Grandma’s unconditional love for her husband of so many years and the faithful care she gave to him until the very end.
After Grandpa died, we continued our trips to see Grandma. By now, we had added kids to picture. New memories of times with Grandma still included all of the above, but with babies and toddlers playing on her floor. Though her apartment was not necessarily kid-friendly (why should it be?!), Grandma never seemed a bit worried or bothered by my children’s presence. In fact, I think she loved having these little people around. She always seemed intrigued by the “new toys” we’d bring along.
I will be forever grateful for the many memories of these past twelve years with Grandma. I’m grateful, because I have so few from my childhood years. I didn’t realize how few memories I had until I began trying to come up with some to share at her memorial service. Beyond making popcorn balls with her, sewing with her (she taught me how to cross stitch), and reading with her…I could think of nothing else specifically with her.
Most of my childhood memories with my grandparents centered around Grandpa. He was a larger-than-life personality. As I tried to think of “Grandma-centered memories” from childhood, Grandpa kept getting in the way! Trips to Cypress Gardens, where he would hold me in his special Grandpa way. Walks with him around Lake Wales Lake…in particular the walk where I trailed far behind him because I was embarrassed by his hat and didn’t want to be associated with him! Endless checkers tournaments where he was determined to never lose. Equally endless croquet tournaments, which occasionally ended with fights between him and my little brother (both of them were stubborn and competitive). Trips into Chicago and Grandpa’s crazy driving (covering the speedometer with his checkbook and proclaiming he would not let anyone pass him the entire way!). Sneaking into first-base-line seats at a Cubs game and getting a foul ball hit our way! So many memories with Grandpa…yet memories with Grandma elude me.
As much as I loved my memories of Grandpa (who died in 2004), I was saddened by my lack of specific memories with Grandma from the early years. Saddened especially because I had such good memories from recent years, and felt she (and I!) deserved more childhood memories!
As I was struggling with this reality, a quote came to mind. It was a quote I had stumbled upon a few months earlier at my parents’ home, in a book by an artist on art and faith. The quote struck me, so I wrote it down in a little notebook that I keep on hand (to record thoughts, ideas, observations I come across that might serve me well for future purposes…a writing tip I learned through a course I took). This is the quote:
Purple alone is pretty, but place mint green alongside and the purple becomes glorious. Sometimes we need to be a green in a purple person’s life. *
This put it all into perspective. I had been looking at Grandma’s life through the wrong lenses. Through the filter of this quote, I had a clearer picture of who Grandma was all along.
Grandpa was a purple person and Grandma was the mint green in his life. It was all so clear now. Grandpa was all the more glorious because of Grandma. As I began to rethink my memories of Grandpa, I realized Grandma was right there in the background. At the end of each of our excursions, she was waiting for us at home with a beautifully prepared meal and a listening ear. In the midst of an intense checkers game, she would show up with popcorn and ice-cold water to drink. We’d end an afternoon of croquet on her outside table and chairs with homemade oatmeal cookies and lemonade served in crystal glasses, sprigs of mint, and a silver sipper from which to daintily gulp it down.
I remembered times she’d say “Oh, John,” in exasperation; yet I’m certain she was secretly enjoying his varied antics. His crazy behavior added fun and zest to her life. I’m convinced of that (I’m convinced because of how much she missed him after he died, and the love which she clearly had for him all along). I even think she encouraged his mischievousness. For example. Every time Grandma made mashed potatoes, she would add a very modest amount of butter (maybe a mere tablespoon or two). And every time, without fail, when Grandma’s back was turned, Grandpa would get the attention of us grandkids and throw in two sticks of butter (yes, two sticks!). We would stifle our giggles as he sneakily mixed it in until it was melted. Of course, Grandma never “caught” him. Nor did she ever seem to realize that there was extra butter in the potatoes. I never thought twice about it at the time. But as an adult, I’m sure that Grandma had to know. I would know if someone had messed with my mashed potato recipe! And Grandma was a smart cookie (the valedictorian of her class, Grandpa always proudly reminded us). Even at ninety-eight years old you couldn’t get much past her (just ask my dad who tried to sneak past her, just weeks before she died…he thought he was successful, but later discovered she had seen him the whole time). Yep…mint green Grandma was allowing purple Grandpa to be all the more glorious in his playfulness.
I think Grandma loved being the green in Grandpa’s life. He brought excitement to her life. And he showered love right back at her in his ever-so-purple ways. Even after he was gone, she continued to portray him and remember him as a glorious purple person.
And as I reflected on this analogy, a beautiful image came to mind. In the end, Grandma finally got the chance to be purple herself. Of course, I think she was purple the entire time. She was gloriously purple in her green-ness. But in her final years, she was no longer in the background. She was loved and admired by all who knew her. The dignity, grace, and beauty that had been there all along in the shade of green, was able to shine out gloriously as purple in the final stretch of her life.
And as each of us ~ her children and grandchildren ~ shared our memories of her that day of her memorial service, we were all given the great privilege of being the mint green in her life, as we honored and remembered the glorious person that she was.
* Blish, Carolyn. Drawing Closer: The Paintings and Personal Reflections of Carolyn Blish. New York: Artisan Publishers, 1997.