Li'l Grandma

We lost my grandmother three years ago today. This is the eulogy I gave at her funeral.

When I was a little girl just learning to talk, my grandmother would not allow me to call her grandma. “I’m not old enough to be a grandma,” she told me, in complete defiance of her new role. This posed quite a dilemma for my young mind. What do you call the woman who won’t let you call her grandma? Though I don’t even remember doing it, I named her L’il Grandma, which somehow took the sting out of grandma for her. And L’il Grandma she’s been in our family ever since.

 L’il Grandma was not a woman who let age slow her down. Whether she was volunteering at The Lord’s Provides here at St. Theresa’s Church, working in her yard, shopping and running errands,  or visiting with family and friends, she never seemed to stop for more than a moment. For this reason, I’ve never thought of my grandmother as an old woman. If you were to measure age not in years, but in youth of spirit and exuberance for life, she was still a young and vibrant woman, just one with lots of experience.

Fourth of July weekend, my husband, and I, and our boys spent the day with L’il Grandma and our cousin. We had lunch at Chelo’s, grandma’s favorite restaurant, and spent the afternoon at Slatersville Reservoir. We took grandma out in our little row boat and spent hours sitting with our chairs half in the water, while the boys played and swam. She sat with her pants rolled up and sneakers in the water, saying that now she understood why people actually wore those ugly water shoes. Grandma told us stories of days she spent as a girl at a relative’s small beach shack on the lake. How they had a little motor boat and spent all day on the water, swimming and water skiing. I never knew my grandmother had water skied as a girl. I wonder now how many things I will never get a chance to learn about her.

 It still shocks me to think that this day at the reservoir Fourth of July weekend, is the last day that I spent with my grandmother. We still have plans that she has yet to break. My grandmother, mother, sister and I, along with a friend of ours, have tickets to see The Color Purple in New York this weekend. We leave on Friday and will spend the weekend shopping and site-seeing in New York. It can’t be true that we will be robbed of this trip with my grandmother, that there are no more memories to be made with her.

While this seems cruel and unfair, I force myself to remember that I am blessed to have three decades of wonderful memories with my grandmother. There are so many things that I will always remember about L’il Grandma. She spoiled me as only a grandmother can when I was little. Her kitchen was always stocked with treats for me and my sister and brother. She was the one who gave me my first car the summer before I started college. A quirky ’86 Dodge Colt that wouldn’t run when it rained. She was at my wedding almost seven years ago today. And I’ve never seen her happier than when she was playing with her great-grandsons. For the past five years L’il Grandma has been our official family photographer, chasing after my two little boys with more energy than I can often muster myself. And she always developed two sets of pictures, so she had a set for me.

L’il Grandma hosted many holiday meals and baked countless cakes, pies, cookies and squares. I’ve never met anyone who did more Christmas baking. There were always a dozen types of cookies, expertly decorated for every relative, friend and neighbor. She could have given Martha Stuart a run for her money. Her panucci squares are legendary in our family. They disappear with lightening speed, one person always blaming another for eating more than their share.

It is hard for me to accept that there will be no more panucci squares; no more lunches at Chelo’s, grandma ordering the lite chicken sandwich or dinner; no more summer days at Breezey Acres in Douglas with L’il Grandma in her sun hat, camera in hand; my five-year old won’t be asking what surprise Great Mooma has in her pocket; and hardest of all, I know that my two-year old will only remember her through pictures and the stories we tell him.

But through this sharp sense of pain and loss, I want to remember to celebrate the 75 years of my grandmother’s life; to remember that she was a woman who never let life get her down. I celebrate the more than 40 years she spent teaching generations of kindergarteners and first graders. I applaud the decades she spent volunteering for The Lord Provides. I thank her for the hundreds and possibly thousands of photos she’s taken of generations of our family. And I search in myself for some of her strength to pull me through this overwhelming sorrow and pain.

Over the past week, I’ve found there are reminders of my grandmother everywhere. I still have the pan I need to return to her in my kitchen and a few panucci sqaures in my freezer. When I was feeling sad the other day, I realized the chocolate I was eating she had given me. The perfume I used this morning was a Christmas gift from grandma. I know it is this way for all of us who loved her and were a part of her life.

As a mother of two little boys, I am not allowed to dwell on my grandmother’s passing for too long without life pulling me back to the busy reality. And for that I am grateful. Life goes on, and it is my job to take care of my children. They are, after all, my grandmother’s legacy. I will tell my boys stories of their Mooma Alice. How she loved them and held them, laughed with them and played with them. How she was loud and funny, and was never afraid to speak her mind. L’il Grandma will continue to live in our hearts and our memories. We will carry her with us always.