My Grandma Jean passed away last Sunday 11/24. She was 97 and the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known. I’m so blessed to have had a grandparent in my life as long as I have, and even moreso with a grandparent who stayed mentally sharp even in her much later years. I know all of that is rare…my other grandparents struggled with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, sadly. I miss them all.
I went to see Grandma Jean a few days earlier. One of my brothers called and said you better come see her soon…probably to say goodbye. She had fallen a couple of weeks prior and just wasn’t pulling out of it like she had with other falls. Her leg strength was pretty much gone, to where using her walker just wasn’t working anymore. When I arrived at her retirement home the nurse brought me to her room. She was sleeping, as she’d been doing a lot. Refusing food and liquids. All the classic signs she was getting ready to transition on.
I stood at her bed and started to cry. I tried to hold it back but choked a little and she woke up. I don’t know how coherent she was or if she recognized me, but I said what I wanted to say to her and left. The nurse followed me out of the room and said “you have to be strong…don’t cry…next is with God.” I think that actually made me cry harder. I’d been holding it in that’s for sure, and seeing Grandma curled up in bed and a shell of what she used to be kind of shocked me.
Grandma was born on July 14, 1916 in Oakesdale, Washington. A tiny little town for sure! Her parents were both very highly educated people…her father was a doctor/surgeon and her mother had a master’s degree in biology from Occidental College. Wow! She was the youngest of three daughters, actually. Their Dad was the town doctor and made house calls, delivered babies, the whole works. He could also perform lots of types of surgery, but when more resources were needed it was a 50-mile drive to Spokane, and he would drive his patients there himself. They were fortunate to have a car and a home with an electric stove, I remember her telling me. Where they lived that was not very common.
Her Dad’s medical practice thrived (he was adamant about using proper sterilization techniques in his work, something that might not have been very typical in smaller towns I’d imagine), and the survival rates of patients and women giving birth rose dramatically. But as she and her sisters got older, her parents wanted them to have more educational opportunities than what the town could offer.
So…they moved to Corvallis, Oregon! I think Grandma and her sisters were teenagers at the time. But then…WHAMMO. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression sunk in. It was hard enough to re-establish a medical practice, but this made it all the more difficult. Times were tough and money was tight, as Grandma recalled. Her mother was an excellent seamstress, but Grandma remembers sometimes she’d have to wear the same dress one or two weeks in a row. You just did what you had to do.
Amazingly, Grandma and her sisters each graduated from Oregon State University…during the Depression! Their parents put education as first priority and they made it happen for their family. Astonishing! Grandma’s degree was in Home Economics.
She married my Grandpa at age 24 in 1940…and 10 months later my Dad arrived (in Corvallis)! Her father delivered all of his grandchildren, actually. That was how it was done back then so nothing odd about it. They raised my Dad and Uncle in Seattle. After they were each off at college she went back to school to get her teaching certificate and taught Home Ec at the high school level for 15 years. When my Grandpa retired she did as well, and they hit the road traveling. Camping and fly fishing were their favorites and they did it everywhere. All over the country…and in New Zealand and Mexico too! They even drove to Guatemala in their camper one time…in the late 1970s!
Grandma could cook, sew, bake, knit and crochet like nobody’s business. I spent so much time at her house as a little girl…we’d go shopping for fabric and make something like a new blouse or skirt. Or she’d show me how to knit and crochet. We’d bake cookies together or homemade bread. Their house may have been small by most standards, but to me it was a mansion. Walking up those steep stairs up to the bed where I would stay overnight…such a huge contrast from the rambler my brothers and I grew up in!
There are just too many wonderful memories to list. Grandma was a huge inspiration and influence over me and all of her grandchildren (and later, her great-grandchildren). Unconditional love and joy for everyone around her. Boundless generosity. Commitment to family and pouring love into everything she did. I’m trying to find the words to describe it and it’s harder than I thought!
She made a few scrapbooks for me as a teenager…one has incredible family photos (photos of HER grandparents), and she typed up several pages with more details about the family history along with all of the pictures. Pictures of her with her sisters as young girls all dressed up with hair in curls. Another scrapbook has samples of all kinds of sewing techniques with handwritten explanations how to do them. Snaps. Zippers. French seams. Darts. I am tearing my house apart trying to find that one. It’s a treasure. How she found time to do all of this astounds me.
She and her oldest sister were quite close – her middle sister I don’t think as much, but I honestly didn’t know her very well. Sadly, tragedy struck our family when her middle sister and her husband were killed in a car accident in Costa Rica. This was in the late 1970s – they were retired and enjoying life. Their car went off the road. I don’t know much more than that to be honest. Her oldest sister lived into her 90s like Grandma Jean did.
So we’re getting ready for her memorial service next week. It’s still kind of surreal that she’s not here. Thanksgiving dinner was bittersweet. I kept expecting her to pop into the living room with a scratch pumpkin pie like she would always bring.
I’ve shared a little about her with a few trusted co-workers. One of the comments really struck me down to the core:
“Wow, fivenineteen. She gave you so much. Now it’s YOUR turn to pass it along. Don’t waste it.”