It has officially been two years and four days since Grandma Catherine passed away. She was 93 years, 1 week, and 1 day old when she passed away, so it wasn’t like it was entirely unexpected, but sad nonetheless. My grandma was a strong self-sufficient woman who graced my memories with spend-thrifty goodness, but her final years had reduced her mental state to that of a child, and so when she passed, I lost my 93-year old baby, not just my grandmother.
I am not here to give you an entire run-down of her whole life story, I just want to point out how strong and beautiful she really was.
Grandma Catherine was my “Grandma in California.” Until 2003, she had lived there for my entire life, most of her adult life. One thing that I will always admire and admonish her for: Grandma never drove. And I mean that she NEVER drove! She never even learned how to! Here she is, a mother of 6–a single mother, mind you, for most of it–and she had never driven a minute in her life! She lived in an adorable small town, where she could tootle around anywhere she needed to go. Except for church, but the great thing about places like that is it includes helpful and caring citizens who were more than willing to pick her up!
My grandma loved Sunday’s. She loved getting dressed up, going to church and doing the meet and greets. Grandma was known for her pins and broaches and jewelry, so every week was like a little fashion show, and she loved getting compliments. After church, she would (figuratively, since she didn’t drive) whisk us away to lunch–her treat of course! Then, if we were really lucky, we would head to a shopping center so that she could pick up her rag-mags, and whatever little trinket us kids just couldn’t live without! She loved spending money! In fact, she donated something like $600 a month to her church! My opinion….well, that is a little much, but sweet nevertheless!
Grandma didn’t always have money. That came with husband number two. I never knew my biological grandfather, but I adored my Grandpa Dave. Grandma did too. She lost him too young, in my opinion, having succumbed to the pressures of losing his entire leg and then some, to the virulent cancer that ate at him. She found him, and she stayed there, in that apartment, in that room, for the next 13 years, by herself. Talk about painful everyday memories! She did not come out to live with us until she tripped over a little lip in the sidewalk (of course, because she never drove), and had to receive 60 staples on her tiny little noggin!
Like almost every woman of that time period, Grandma was married and with-child well before her twenties. Six children later, her husband passed away from lung cancer, leaving her to raise so said six kids. Grandma was somehow able to manage it! Sure, it was definitely not a good life, in the way that most of us are used to, but she did it. They were fed, they had clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads. Her six children reached adulthood. They didn’t start passing away until after they reached 18, sad but true.
One of the first, and probably one of the strongest, examples of her strength, occurred when she was only five years old. Her beginning was rather sad, as she had a family member who was inappropriately fond of her. She knew it was wrong even at that tender age, so when he came back for more, she stood up to him and said, “No!” He never touched her again. I heard that story a lot as the dementia set in further; the one childhood memory that, unfortunately, got stuck in her craw and she could never get over.
Grandma Catherine, the five-foot-nothing little ball of good will and sunshine. She had a rough life, and a looong one! A long rough life! On the day before her death, she had outlived two husbands, and five out of her six children, not to mention other family members and in-laws! Her final ten years spent in our podunk but beloved town, spent with me–alternatively her sweetheart and her brat depending on what mood we were in–while the dementia and time slowly stole her away. And I loved her dearly. My little old-lady baby!
Being strong isn’t always about doing the right thing. It isn’t about making the best decisions and being perfect. Strength is being able to look the tough stuff in the eye and endure!! I have a lot of respect for those who can endure the pain and strife that life throws at them, and still keep their head up. Still be willing to open their peepers the next day and carry on. To stand up for the things that you can, and to quietly back out of the things you cannot. Endurance…that is a very important component of strength to me. Grandma Catherine is a prime example of endurance, and she taught me some invaluable lessons. One of which–life can throw all that at you, and you can still stay sober! Holy cow, I think I saw her drink a total of five beers in my thirty years! You can endure without numbing the pain.
Now isn’t that just “like a lady?”