This is what I read at my Grandma’s funeral on February 14, 2015. I love you, Grandma….
My Grandma thought Disneyland was the happiest place on Earth. She was wrong. The happiest place on Earth was whatever place she was in at any given time. As a girl, I got to spend two weeks at a time, every summer, with Grandma and Grandpa. When Grandma used to take me to work with her, we would stroll down the sidewalk on Ventura’s Pierpont Boulevard, toward the tiny little corner market she worked in. I spent most of my time on the floor reading Archie comics, or sitting near her at the cash register talking her head off. I used to watch her in amazement, because every person who came through that door was like a son or a daughter, a niece or a nephew, a cousin or a dearly beloved friend. She somehow knew most of them by name, and would ask specific questions about how their lives were going. She didn’t just know them, either, she was positively thrilled to see them, each and every one–even the ones who were just coming in for the first time, or whom she had not yet had the pleasure of making a connection with.
Just as in every other environment I ever knew her in, she would smile and laugh all day long, yet she would also move right into the hearts of people and keep up with what was going on with them. Unlike people who are a walking party, always smiling and laughing but not necessarily connecting with people on a deep level, Grandma was first and foremost concerned with people’s hearts, relationships, and lives in general. The smiles and laughter just seemed to be an extension of her joy at having the opportunity to be near people. Her heart was so big, it was happiest when it was chock full of people to love.
Speaking of loving people, I never saw her shine so completely as when she took us to Disneyland every year while she worked there. She truly belonged there. She worked at the Plaza Inn, but she knew cast members from one side of the park to the other. She beamed at the sight of every single one of them, asking how they were doing, showing us off to them, smiling hugely and laughing boisterously the whole time. Every single one of them obviously loved her–they lit up when she came around like the children did when they saw the park for the first time.
She got to be part of the annual Christmas Candlelight Processional at Disney, in the singing Christmas tree that walked through the park in the parade at the end of the show. It was a huge deal to her, and we were honored to get seats several times to see her shine in that special way at Disney. The first time my husband got to join us on our yearly Disneyland excursion, he didn’t know her all that well yet because he and I were still dating. All through the day, he kept calling her Carol, even though her name was actually Norma. Well, I had no idea this was going on, what with my two year old keeping me busy all through the day. When we left the park that night, we were in the foyer at IHOP, waiting to be seated. She was facing him with this huge Cheshire Cat grin on her face. I was wondering what on earth was going on, when he called her Carol right there on the spot. I was like, “Carol? Her name is Norma! Have you been calling her Carol all day?!” He was so embarrassed, and admitted that he had been, and she just sat there reveling in the whole darn thing. She had wondered when he’d catch on, and had been enjoying the private joke the whole day long!
At my wedding, Grandma and Grandpa were escorted down the aisle by our goof friend, Mike. He had Grandma on his arm, and Grandpa behind, just as all of our parents and grandparents had been escorted in. Somehow, Grandma had gotten it in her head that our young friend Mike was going to try something with her. I have a picture of her on his arm, looking at him with her head tilted down, eyebrows raised, and knowing smile of warning. She talked about him for a long time after that, even though Mike was the quietest, most shy person in our entire wedding party–he certainly didn’t have eyes for my grandma, especially with Grandpa walking just behind. But she could never be convinced. She always retold the story with a huge smile, as if she was convinced she still had it, and that that young man had somehow known it.
Grandma and I practically shared a birthday, and she bragged about that fact all the time. She was so honored I came along near the time of her own birthday! We often had our birthday parties together, thrown by my mom. The funny thing is, despite her constantly bringing it up, always connecting with me over it, she would still confuse the actual date with other family members’ birthdays, year after year after year. She’d call 6 days early, confusing it with the number of her son, Vernon’s date, or a couple weeks late when her own birthday reminded her she’s missed mine. She’d always re-tell me how she would mix the dates up, and she would sing Happy Birthday to me in her sweet Snow White singing voice.
One year, I was already married with children, my mom already moved to Nevada, and Grandma was having a big birthday party for herself at her home in Twenty-Nine Palms. She invited me to be an honored birthday guest along with her. Her sisters came with many of their kids, and we had a party at the pool. Well, Grandma and her sisters, all looking very much like one another, sang and sang and sang the day away. They sang while laughing, they sang some sentimental pieces, they sang more while laughing, and they laughed while trying to sing lyrics they couldn’t quite remember anymore. There she was, shining again. It was beautiful. I felt like I was seeing her as a little girl with her sisters, in an era long gone by in reality, but not in her heart and memories.
When I was 11, staying with Grandma and Grandpa at their home in Ventura, I met a boy at the beach. Back then people used to use their phones to actually call people, so I got his number and would hide out in the guest room talking to my new boyfriend. I told Grandma he and I were going out. She asked me where we were going. I rolled my eyes and said, “No, Grandma, that’s just a figure of speech! It means he’s my boyfriend!” She said, ” I know that, I just want to know where you’re going.” I tried again, amused that she didn’t understand the ways of my generation, and she kept insisting, “I understand. But I still want to know where you’re going.” I finally gave up, and would wonder about that talk for years, before realizing her Cheshire Cat grin had indicated that she was seriously enjoying messing with me.
I still can’t quite figure out why, but Grandma and Grandpa loved me in a way that didn’t come easily to everyone in my life. You see, I was more than a handful. Grandma used to brag to me that her natural hair color was red like mine, even though she often had it dyed other colors. Well, I think I must have gotten some of her portion of redheaded spitfire along with my own, because there was way too much in me to contain in one teeny little girl body. One year when I went to stay with them, Grandma tried to serve me a plate of liver and onions. She sat there eating hers calmly while I exclaimed, “You are trying to feed liver and onions to a 7th grader?! How rude! I’m not going to eat that! Besides, my mom says I don’t have to eat yucky foods. She said when she was a kid you made her eat all kinds of terrible things, like Brussels Sprouts, and she will never make me eat anything like that!” She casually asked, “Have you ever eaten Brussels Sprouts?” I said no, and she asked, “Then how do you know you don’t like them?” She had me there, and I do like them, but I wasn’t going for that liver and onions. She didn’t force it, either. She simply said I could fend for myself, and I did.
When they drove me to the harbor to look at boats, I asked why we were doing such a thing. They said they were thinking about buying one, and I insisted they didn’t have the money to buy a boat, didn’t have the space to store a boat, and that I bet they didn’t even know how to sail a boat! I was loud, and I was proud. Naturally, I easily offended people. Not them. They just responded to my questions casually, as if they were talking to a fully reasonable human being, and never wavered in their patience with me. I suppose it serves me right that sometime in the near future of that event, Grandpa and Grandma, Uncle Mike and Aunt Ledeen, took me and my cousins out on a Catamaran. And it tipped over with us on it. I wasn’t the brightest kid on the block, because as I bobbed in the water terrified and having an all-out, and very loud, panic attack about the sharks that were certainly about to come eat us all alive, everyone laughed their heads off at me… because we were in a river. Despite that fact, I still couldn’t be convinced. They really enjoyed telling my husband that story later in life, and somehow it’s still just about the funniest thing in the world to everyone, even me. In fact, Grandpa requested I include this story in my sharing today.
Even weirder than my brazen tongue were the nervous ticks I had as a kid. Some years I had worse habits than others. One year, I would snort like a pig. I had no control over it, it would just happen, so after a few months I decided to nip it in the bud. How did I plan to do this? I would whistle every time the snort would come out of me. So here I am, probably about nine years old, maybe a little younger, sitting in the backseat of Grandma and Grandpa’s car, snorting and whistling randomly. At one point, Grandma casually turns around and asks me sweetly, “Why does my baby girl do that?” She wasn’t irritated, she wasn’t angry or frightened or annoyed, she just wanted to know. So I told her. I had no idea, but I whistled to defeat the snorting. She looked at me kindly, processing what I was saying, and then said, “Okay, I was just wondering.” As far as I remember, neither one of them ever brought it up again. They just accepted me for who I was. And they continued to do so over the entire course of my life. Just last Christmas, on the phone, they were telling me again that I’m special, and they didn’t want me changing who I am for anybody. Against all odds, and no matter how weird or rebellious I got as a kid, they always told me, usually with huge smiles and bursts of laughter, that I was a gem and I should be myself always. Somehow, who I am tickled them pink. It has been good to be loved by them.
Toward the end, my youngest son, Hurshel, connected with his Great Grandma. She said he has a smile like Jimmy Carter had when he ran for president, although I told her that Hurshel is much more like her than Jimmy Carter, in that he has more vitality and love for life than most people do. She agreed. They emailed back and forth, and were getting to know each other pretty well. He will always treasure that time he had with her.
Grandma spoke easily with me about the love of God, through many spiritual changes in both us. She always listened, always hoped, always loved me and my family. Some of her very last words to me were these:
“Even when the sun goes down it is still bright outside. That is what you do for me.”