Monday, February 25, 2013

For Grandma Alice

The following is the speech I shared at my Grandmother's funeral.  She was one spunky woman...

I’m Little Alice, although maybe not so little anymore.  I’m named after my Grandma Jones.  She always wanted to be called “Granny”.  But when I was little, I told her I already had a “Granny”, referring to her mother, Granny Handle, and I didn’t need two Grannies.  So to me she has always been “Grandma”.  But for almost 40 years she has staunchly signed EVERY letter, birthday card, and Christmas card From “Granny”.  And since I have been able to write, I have just as staunchly addressed all of hers to “Grandma”.  I’m still not sure where I get my stubbornness from…

Some of my earliest memories are of my Grandma.  I clearly remember slipping numerous times through the bushes between my house and hers on Seaboard Avenue.  There she would feed me cookies, even if it was right before dinnertime.  I would play with Penny, the smug-looking Pekingese who I thought was my friend, but probably was just interested in my cookies, and would run with care-free bare-footed abandon, and go on wild big wheel races down the driveway.  It seemed like my cousin, Stephanie was always there and we would get in trouble.  For drinking out of the same cup when one of us had a runny nose, or riding our big wheels down the brick porch steps, or for cooking chickens, which were really hens and chicks (They are plants, by the way, and should NOT be plucked from their pots to be baked in make-believe ovens…and you’d better never do that again or I’m going to bust your buster!)  I remember one cold New Year’s Day when she teased me about being too young to smoke as we both blew long breaths into the icy air watching the curls of our breath snake like smoke.  And we giggled.

Every stage of my life is colored with memories of my Grandmother.  She was the person I told about my first boyfriend.  Her very serious advice: “Don’t run off and get married too soon.  It will break your Daddy’s heart.”  It was very sobering advice for a love-stricken five year-old.

She rescued me from the Yankee North, riding with me for 8 hours in the back of Grandpop’s pickup truck with Missy the dog who played fetch until she dropped and drank beer from a can.

When I was old enough to date, Grandma stepped in with more relationship advice.  “What’s that boy’s name?” she would ask.  And I heard more than once, “Sorry, Honey.  He can’t court you.  You’re probably related.”

Grandma was there to cheer me on at my high school graduation.  And she was there when my college acceptance letter arrived at her house, addressed to Alice Jones.  She joked that she had finally decided to get herself a college education.

She was there on my wedding day dressed in red and whispering in my ear “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.” And looking grumpy in all of the pictures.

She was there days after the births of each of my children, even though I lived in another state, to wrap them each in blankets she had made by hand, to smile into each of their faces and laugh about them giving their mama a hard time.

Once when Daniel was a small baby, I sat in Grandma Jones’ living room nursing discreetly.  Grandma had left the room to change her clothes, since we intended to go out to lunch.  Moments after she left she reappeared buck naked from the waist up, arms flung open wide, and shouted to me, “Alice!  THIS is what you have to look forward to!”  Later that day, during our lunch at Golden Coral, I watched as she stuffed no less than 20 Sweet & Lo packets into her purse along with a chicken breast wrapped in a napkin for her dinner that night, and 6 chocolate chip cookies, 3 each for Cricket & Little Girl.

For me, that one memory captures everything I loved about my Grandma.  She lived wide-open with no apologies.  She didn’t care what other people thought of her, and she wasn’t afraid to tell you what she thought.  She was confident and out-going, and hilariously funny.

My grandmother didn’t want me to be named after her.  She wanted my name to be Henrietta after my grandfather.  I’m glad that my mother went against her wishes and named me Alice anyway, not only because Henrietta is a hideous name, but because my Grandma was a wonderful woman.  She taught me some of the most important lessons in life…to not take anything too seriously, especially yourself; that behaving like a lady is highly over-rated and not much fun.  She taught me to love recklessly; to dance like no one is watching; to always be yourself; to be stubborn if you need to.  She taught me how to pick blue crabs, and how to stick your tongue out to help you concentrate, and that when your left hand itches, you’re about to get money, but only if you spit on it and rub it on your butt….and that just because you’re angry with someone doesn’t mean you stop loving them.

The Roman philosopher Cicero once said, “The life of the dead is placed in the heart of the living.”  I will miss her tremendously, but she hasn’t really left.  I see her in my children and in each one of you, and I carry her in my heart.  Grandma Alice was loved by a lot of people.  And to live in the hearts of those we love is to never die.

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