March is Women’s History Month. That always gets me thinking about influential women, both famous and obscure. Who has influenced me? Inspired me? Touched my life in some way? When I think of women who have touched my life, the first person that comes to mind is my grandmother. She and I had a special bond all through my childhood, and as an adult, I came to understand just how much I looked up to her. She had 4 young children when her husband went off to World War II. He was gone almost 4 years, so she was a single parent for a long time. She became a teacher to help support her family, and was always supportive of my desire to be a teacher also.
As a role model, she taught me many lessons. She helped me learn that family is important. She also taught me to work hard and to be generous with my time. She taught me how to plant flowers and polish silver and sew buttons. But most of all, she taught me what unconditional love looks like.
At her funeral 5 years ago, I read a letter to her that summed up some of my favorite memories and what they meant to me. I want to share it with you today.
I have spent the last week thinking back over our 40 years together and the many ways you touched my life. The memories I have will always warm my heart. There are so many, I can’t possibly list them all, but I want to share a few from my childhood that mean the most to me.
I remember hunting for Easter eggs in the front yard of Colonial Court – the pink and purple ones were always the hardest to find, blending in with the azaleas you were so proud of. Who can forget the story you would tell of the time the escaped convicts were running through your yard and you scolded them for trampling your azalea bushes? Spring blooms of all sorts, but especially azaleas, remind me of your love of gardening.
Another memory of mine is of waking up early when we would visit you, meeting you in the kitchen while you made coffee, and then going back upstairs to climb in bed with you while Granddaddy slept and you drank your morning coffee. How grown up I felt when I was finally deemed old enough to carry your coffee up to you myself! Those quiet mornings helped us form a bond that only grew stronger with time.
Another milestone for me was taking the train to Baltimore by myself to come see you. As I stepped off the train, there you were – standing on the platform looking proud and excited for my accomplishment. You always made me feel capable of anything I set my mind to.
Your visits to DC also created wonderful memories for me. I can remember going downtown to shop with you — your love of fashion took us to the department stores to check out the latest clothing. But the best part for me was stopping at Reeve’s Ice Cream Parlor for a butterscotch sundae – a real treat for a young lady. Even near the end, ice cream was one of your favorite foods – you never needed any encouragement to finish a bowl of it!
One summer, you also came to visit me at camp. I had finally overcome my fear of horses, taken riding lessons, and was going to be in the annual horse show. You and the General drove to West Virginia to cheer me on and then take me out to dinner to celebrate my not falling off the horse. You always encouraged me through difficult challenges, celebrated my successes, applauded my efforts and loved me no matter what.
After finishing school and moving out on my own, I would often take a weekend to drive up and visit you. I enjoyed spending time just the two of us, and even when I moved away, I tried to visit as often as I could. When I wasn’t there, you were often in my thoughts. I even wrote about you in a word problem I gave my Algebra students each year, although I took some liberty with the facts. “4 sisters — Esther, twins Edna and Edith, and Elizabeth — were born in consecutive odd years. If the sum of their ages is 360, how old are the twins?” No, you don’t have to do the math. I know English was more your thing! The answer would be 90 – and wasn’t that a birthday party to remember!
As an adult, I have tried to live my life in a way that would make you proud. You lived your life with strength and integrity, demonstrating kindness and generosity towards others. I work every day to live up to the standard you have set. I can only hope that you know how much you influenced my life, and that you are still standing there — proud and excited for all of my accomplishments, loving me just as I am.
I will always love you and miss you.
Your Chrysti girl