March 31, 2011 § 1 Comment
A month has passed, and I haven’t written anything here but I hope to turn that around soon. I will be posting some old writings, but also some new stuff. (Be patient…) This here is the eulogy I gave for my grandmother’s funeral one year ago. I still think of her often, and I want to share this with you to keep the memory of her alive. She was a wonderful person.
Honoring Pearl Alice Johnson, née Fätland
October 18, 1921-March 24, 2010.
Most of you probably knew her as Pearl, and she was; a hidden treasure. I knew her as Grandma, or more specifically Brown Grandma because she lived in a brown house. Our other grandmother was Gray Grandma for the same reason. But when Brown Grandma painted her house gray and Gray Grandma painted her house green, we dropped the color titles—because Green Grandma just didn’t sound right—and Brown Grandma became Grandma Johnson. Whatever her name was, my sisters and cousins and I loved spending time at her home. On days when Mom worked late in town, Grandma would pick us up from school and we’d go back to her house. She would have just purchased new boxes of Fruity Pebbles and Lucky Charms and half-and-half to pour on our cereal. Because when you’re eleven, and at Grandma’s house, calories don’t count. We’d sit in the living room—Grandma making sure our feet were not on the davenport—and we watched T.V. with her. We watched cooking shows or The Cosby Show or any show until Grandpa came home and bonked us on the heads with a rolled-up newspaper. Mom would come to get us, and Grandma always sent us home with something—the funnies from the Sunday paper, or a pack of gum or a twenty when mom wasn’t looking.
I always knew Grandma didn’t grow up in a traditional family, but it wasn’t until college that I realized that she was only six when her mom died, and then her dad left, feeling incapable of raising children on his own. She was sent to an orphanage and then later taken in by a cruel aunt, separated from her siblings. When I asked her about in it in college, she said it was a lost childhood. She didn’t remember most of it. A kind family helped her go to nursing school, and she then said being a surgical nurse was the best thing that happened to her until she had kids. And then kids were the best thing that happened to her. And then when she had grandkids, she said the best thing was being a Grandma.
I know I was very fortunate to grow up ten miles away from both sets of my grandparents. And being so close, there were lots of meals eaten together. If Grandma cooked, she’d claim something didn’t turn out right. Maybe the meat was too dry, or the cake fell, but nothing was ever perfect. If we went out to a restaurant, Grandma would often complain about something. The potatoes were either too cold or too mealy or too salty. We sometimes teased her about being picky and complaining a lot, but really, she had high standards of everyone around her, including herself.
If you went to her house, she always had the radio tuned to the classical station. And even if she went out of town, she left it on, to let potential robbers know that someone was home. If you had dinner with her, she always had homemade bread and jam, but she never just plunked a teaspoon in the jam jar. She found a crystal dish from her cupboard and found the perfect jam spoon, and set that on the table, perfectly set with placemats and cloth napkins wrapped in napkin rings and candlesticks. The details mattered. Grandma was a classy and stylish woman.
She so loved classical music, that she adored coming to our piano recitals and choir and orchestra concerts. I was second violin, and way in the back and I was terrible, but she didn’t care. So often she’d tell me that she loved to come and see me play violin, and so I stayed in orchestra for a year or two longer even though I didn’t care for it much, but I knew how much it pleased Grandma. And it left an impression on me, that classical music mattered, and that beauty mattered even in this practical Midwestern world.
But there is one thing above all, that I will remember and treasure Grandma for. She was forever curious about the world, and never wanted to stop learning new things. In her seventies, she purchased a keyboard and took a few piano lessons. In her eighties, she bought a computer and learned how to use email and there I sat in my sophomore college dorm room emailing my eighty-year old Grandma. Later, she took a creative writing course through her church, I think, and I was a creative writing major, so we shared books and talked about writing.
A couple Christmases ago, we cousins and Grandma sat around the table, and she asked us what we did. And now that we’re mostly all adults, we went around and gave her our short answer: mom, doctor, baker, software tech, dental hygienist, administrator. But she wasn’t really satisfied with these answers. And she said, “No. What do you do?” She didn’t care about titles. She wanted to know who we were and what mundane details occupied our lives between the hours of eight and nine in the morning. She was desperate to know us, and infinitely curious about our lives. I always knew she loved us.
Lately, I’ve been listening to the tape of when Grandma interviewed us grandkids when we were little. Well, Alexandra wasn’t here yet, so she missed out, but Grandma kept a tight ship and it was hard sometimes when she demanded us to sing all the songs from Sunday School or what mom and dad were doing today, or even when she asked us our names. And it was hard when we colored in the coloring books incorrectly, but Grandma certainly expected the best from people. Grandma was a strong woman, respectful and dignified, and she knew what she wanted, even up to the end.
The last time I visited her, about a month ago, I brought a big cup of coffee from Caribou Coffee. We chatted about my recent visits to Georgia and about music and although her speech was slowed, she still wanted to know what was new in my life. And when I left her, she scooted to her writing chair and asked for the good coffee next to her. She said she’d keep it all night and then mentioned how bad the coffee was in the coffee shop at Knute. I smiled, knowing Grandma was still Grandma.
Grandma as a very special lady to me, and I hope to honor her by being eternally curious. And not be satisfied with a short simple answer, and not be happy with cold potatoes.