She had crossed the land from Oklahoma to California in a covered wagon when she was a child. She worked to support her mother and her brothers during the Depression, earning 50 cents a week as a domestic. She learned the value of making do, reusing and recycling long before it was trendy to do so. She valued education because she endeavored to complete high school. She never made it college. She told me of the struggles of women, of being a woman, and her small part in those struggles before the bra-burners of the 1970s made the scene. She was a single mother before the term became both pejorative and in vogue. She was a working mother out of necessity and again before it was the popular thing to do and to be.
She was the embodiment of family. She did not always understand her children. She never played favorites among her grandchildren. We all knew what was important to her and that was simply she loved us for who we were. She may not approve of our behaviors but she loved us unconditionally. She was there when any of us needed to talk things out. She imparted wisdom she learned through her life and experiences. One of her favorite sayings was "Do your own homework. Don't let anyone tell you what to believe or how to believe. Do your own homework and then make a decision." Along with doing our own homework came "You can't get anywhere without planning for it. So make a plan, revise it when necessary, and do it."
Another one of her sayings was "Pennies add up." One of my most cherished memories was her Brown Betty teapot that sat in her dining room window. She would put her spare pennies in the pot from her purse every week. (She also collected silver change but kept those in her bedroom.) When my family was stateside, we would visit her. It was our job to count the pennies and roll them. She would then take them to the bank and treat us to a day at Elitch Gardens.
I was eight years old when my family moved to Incirlik AFB, Adana, Turkey. I remember telling my parents before the move that I had to stay behind with my gramma because without us, she would be lonely. I had to stay with her to take care of her. She took me aside and told me that she would miss me too but I had to go take care of my family. She told me that she would be right there waiting for me when I returned and that a couple of years wasn't that long.
Years later, I wondered what it cost her to tell me that. At that time, she was the strongest woman in my life. She also became my first pen-pal. I missed her so badly that my mother--bless her heart--gave me the tool of a lifetime. She helped me write a letter to Gramma. Two weeks later, I had a letter back from her. It was like magic to an eight year old. And it started a long history of correspondence between us. After her death, my mother gathered up all the letters and cards I had sent her that she and my aunt could find and returned them to me. They are still a special part of my history and very cherished.
From her, I learned that kindness never hurts anyone, especially the giver. She was my biggest cheerleader when I made the decision to return to school and get my education. She died before I reached my goal, but I continued because of her belief in me. While some of my family members were jawing on about the fact my chosen degree wouldn't bring me much money or that I was wasting my time, she quietly assured me that I had to do what I wanted to do. She also informed me that life has its own designs and that I may have to make decisions later that would be different from my overall plan. She was right. She was very right.
I miss her. It's been ten years since her passing. But every now and then, I can feel her presence, her strength and her love. I feel her lovingly cupping my face with her hands and whispering..."I miss you..."
Happy New Year Gramma Dee.
Gramma Dee and Matthew
This was the final set of portraits taken of this wonderful woman...
I had the honor of taking them.
In this portrait, she was joking and told me she was tired of taking pictures and if I took one more, she was going to stick out her tongue...
She stuck out her tongue, my son cracked up laughing and I snapped the picture.
Unfortunately, I didn't get the tongue, but I captured the spunk.:D