On My Grandmother

These are far from my favorite posts to write. My Grandmother (Grammie) died on Friday quite suddenly. Often this is a bad thing, but as far as sudden deaths go, this was one of the better ones. She was fine on Wednesday, caught pneumonia Thursday and slipped away the next day, surrounded by loved ones. She was in her nineties. That said, all deaths are difficult. It can be very hard to be right there when your loved one is passing, but it’s also rough to be across the country.

Her funeral will be Friday, and this is one that I’m going to miss. I debated for a while before making the decision not to go, but in the end, it just felt like I’m not in a mental space where I can really dive into everything that funeral will entail. (Flying already puts me through the ringer. Adding in another viewing and funeral so soon after the August I went through . . . I can’t.) Of course, I also feel conflicted about that, but this is a no win scenario for me, and I’m trying to navigate it as best I can.

Grammie was the driving force behind so much of what went on in the family. I’ll try and capture some of that as best I can here, though it’s always impossible to do anyone any sort of justice in a single blog post. Here are some of the memories that first come to mind.

  • Grammie and Boba hosted a “Cabin Week” for all their grandchildren every summer. It was a week long stay at the family cabin they built up in the Wasatch Mountains. Even though I lived in the east, I would fly out to Utah for a month each summer, and they always made sure to schedule the week during the time my brother and sister and I were there. This wasn’t a simple vacation. Grammie planned the whole thing out ahead of time. She made all the meals (a big breakfast and a big dinner each day), ran the activities (arts and crafts, taffy pulling, board games, card games, and more), and kept it all running smoothly. These cabin weeks were a huge influence on me. I looked forward to them every year, and many of the things I love to do most intersect with things I did back then. Games. Movies. Fishing. Spending time together with family. It’s because of those weeks that my cousins and I on that side are so close. I can’t imagine how much work it would have been to coordinate this for around 15-20 kids (and no parents) each year, with ages spanning from around 6 all the way up to 17. But she did it, and did it wonderfully. (Have you ever tried making french toast for five teenage boys who have decided to do an eating contest? I think my brother had about 14 pieces all by himself. I wonder how many loaves she went through?)
  • She continued that togetherness theme by having dessert at her house open to any family who wanted to come, every Sunday evening. Almost all of her family still lives out in Utah, so there were many Sundays when there would be around thirty people milling through at different times. Sometimes I’d get my favorite dessert of hers (chocolate cake with cool whip in the middle), and sometimes I’d get popcorn balls (which were my favorite to disparage, though they were still delicious). It was always a great opportunity to catch up with the rest of the family and find out what they were up to. (And it’s a big family. She had five children, all of them married, with over 20 grandchildren. Many families don’t have that kind of close knit relationship these days. She made sure hers had it.
  • Of course, with all of that togetherness came a fair bit in terms of expectations. Grammie wanted all her family to be there, and when you weren’t, she made sure you knew she had noticed. We would get together at her house for each major holiday, and if I was going to skip out on one, I felt like I really needed a good reason. Sometimes that “mandatory fun” was something I bristled at, and I’ve tried to navigate the balance between family togetherness and independence ever since. That said. the close relations she fostered within her family is something I really admire, and I’m doing my best to do the same thing for my kids, even if it’s in different ways.
  • When Denisa and I chose to elope, Grammie was one of the people I worried would take it the hardest, because of that devotion to doing all things together as a family. Missing out on a wedding? I didn’t know how that would go. So I was very surprised to see how genuinely happy she was for us, and how she never gave us any grief at all about the decision. (This was helped in part by the fact that we chose to get married in the Manti Temple, which some of her ancestors helped build. It was the “family temple,” and so that scored me some extra credit.
  • She was also a big believer in finishing all your food, and eating what was put in front of you. I love to fish, but I don’t like to eat what I catch. During Cabin Week, when trout was served, you were eating trout. And if you didn’t eat it, you’d sit at the table until you had. Is there a chance I would have come to like fish over time, had I not been forced to eat it when I disliked it? The world will never know.
  • Grammie and Boba served a mission in Jerusalem for a few years while I was in high school. She would diligently write letters every week, and she worked hard at fostering a sense of community over there. She was (if you haven’t noticed) an excellent organizer, a trait I likely inherited in part from her. Because of their work there, I decided I wanted to spend a semester in Jerusalem as well, and it’s one of my favorite life experiences.
  • She kept close track of every birthday in the family, and card would arrive like clockwork. She still made sure to mail me a letter each year on my birthday. This is not something I have inherited. I’m terrible at keeping track of those details.
  • She was a huge fan of books and movies. Always reading something. Always ready to introduce someone to a good classic film. The Cabin was stocked with a slew of great movies, and much of my appreciation for older films can be traced directly back to that collection she amassed.
  • She was also an avid card gamer. Canasta was the game of choice, typically, but she was also fond of trick taking games like Rook or Hearts. Again, I played many many games with her, and long gaming sessions at the Cabin set me up for my love of games today.
  • Her baking was fantastic. Pot roast dinners on Sunday. Birthday dinners for each of her children and their families. She gave all her family a copy of all her favorite recipes, and I still make many of them regularly. (Of course, the best and most used recipe is the one for orange rolls, which she created personally. No celebration is really complete without orange rolls . . .)
  • Boba died seven years ago, and I know she’s been looking forward to being reunited with him. That said, it was also often amusing to see how willing she was to tell him what to do, and how ready he was to do it. I wonder how long it took once they were reunited for her to comment on something that really should have been done years ago.

As I said before, her death isn’t a shock by any means, but from that sampling of memories, it should be clear what an influence she’s been on me, and it’s going to take some getting used to, knowing that she’s no longer there in Utah, playing games and reading books and doing crosswords. She will be missed.

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