Her name was Frances Louise. She was my maternal grandmother and I was her eldest grandchild. To me, she was one of those extra – special members of a family who leaves an indelible imprint on your heart and mind.
Therefore, in honor of Grandparents Day, Sunday, September 11, 2011, I am recalling the life of an amazing woman, a woman who happens to be my beloved grandmother.
Frances was born in the winter of 1902. Immediately following her birth, the physician said he did not expect the very tiny newborn to live very long. We have laughed at this physician’s comment many times. She lived to be 104 years old!
Let me tell you a little more about my grandmother. In the last years of her life she had beautiful thick white hair, and her skin had very few wrinkles for some one her age. Frances frequently had a twinkle in her blue-gray eyes that revealed an active and inquisitive mind. She often wore fire engine red because she said it offset the color of her hair so nicely.
Throughout her life, she traveled the world, volunteered for the women’s hospital auxiliary, played bridge and a modest game of golf twice a week, and drove her shiny gold Chevy Malibu sedan until she was ninety-five years old. When she was in her 90’s and still driving the car, she regularly went to her local library. She was a voracious reader – and read a wide assortment of books and magazines. She believed in staying intellectually stimulated.
She managed to outlive all of her friends and though she missed them, she was resolute with the idea that if you grow to be very old, you probably won’t have many friends left to pass the days with. But she was always comforted by her family. She loved spending time with her relatives. She had plenty to choose from. When she died she had nearly thirty direct blood ancestors.
My grandmother taught me many things about life. She was a generous person and contributed to a wide range of charities – everything from the Boys and Girls Club of America to the SPCA. She taught me the value of giving back to ones’ community. She taught me to be thrifty and not waste what I have. She taught me to slow down, stop, and smell the roses.
As a personal historian, it was a high priority for me to preserve her life stories. When my grandmother was ninety-seven years old, I began to record her memories on audiotape. The result? Fifteen hours of interviews. I cherish those tapes and the revealing and funny stories they contain. I thought I knew all of her stories, but she surprised me one day when she told me a hilarious story of how she came to lend one of her golf skirts to Delores Hope (Bob’s wife). The interview process can sometimes open up and reveal amazing stories.
Even though I have all of those tapes, I will always wish that I had preserved even more of my grandmother’s memories. Her vibrant recollections opened the world to me. I enjoyed learning history in school, but I loved learning history from my grandmother. She was a flapper in San Francisco in the 1920’s. In the 1940’s she was a woman burdened to meet the needs of her family in the midst World War II. In her life she watched the advent of the automobile, air travel and the onset of a technological revolution, and was an astute observer of the transformations in the world around her. She put a smile on my face one day when she candidly asked me: ‘Do you think I should buy a computer?’ She was in her nineties at the time and never wanted to be left behind!
I had her presence in my life for nearly six decades and gratefully remember many wonderful times spent together. I was not ready to say good-bye to her even when she passed out of my life at the age of 104. But are we ever ready to say good-bye to those we love deeply? I believe the answer is ‘no’.
What memories do you have of your grandparents? What lessons did they teach you?
On this Grandparents Day, write and tell us about the legacy your grandparents sowed inside of you. We’d love to hear from you!