She was always just grandma Irene. Not Mimi or GG or Lovey or some other clever nickname.
Today is her birthday. She would have been 94.
She was my kindred spirit and I miss her already.
Our grandmother lived a storied life, learning and growing from all her experiences, telling and retelling her stories to those who loved her well.
Several years ago during a visit, she sheepishly related a recent mishap she’d had, laughing before the words got out of her mouth.
Already in her nineties, she lived on her own and mostly drove everywhere she needed. She’d gone to a doctor’s appointment and found the elevator to the lower level out of order which meant taking the stairs.
A few steps from the bottom of the stairwell she took a tumble and found herself flat on her backside and unable to stand up. A little battered but mainly embarrassed, she muttered to herself, “Well Irene, you’ve done it. Now, what are you going to do?” Her calls for help proved useless. Giggling even more, she said, “So, I just thought of the loudest sound I’d ever made and began calling the hogs in a loud SOOO-IEEE!” Sure enough, folks came running.
I sat in the quiet kitchen of our rented London apartment, first cup of coffee in hand, morning light pouring over everything. This long-awaited trip to celebrate Caroline’s high school graduation was also a way of marking a crossed finish line. The cherry sitting atop 26 years of motherhood. We were at the halfway mark and another day of adventure stretched out for us to discover.
Fingers scrolled mindlessly through Facebook on my iPad, despite being in the middle of a social media sabbath. I was curious about some specific news happening back home and allowed a quick peek.
What a weird, disconcerting way and place to discover that my beloved grandma had crossed into heaven.
This was not the news I expected. And yet, somehow I had a feeling this inevitability would find its way to us at some point along our trip. Grandma Irene’s stroke a few months ago had tipped her already fragile heart over the edge. I had hoped to make it home to give immediate grief it’s full attention alongside my people.
But instead, she helped us make another story and we remembered her with tears and smiles as we finished our London experience.
Trains and owls are two things that filter through my grandmother’s stories. Her father had worked on the Santa Fe railroad. Her home, the one I visited in childhood, sat happily across from busy train tracks and in the wide shadow of the grain elevator where owls loved to roost.
Following my grandpa Ivan’s death, she had trouble sleeping and would sit out on her back porch at night, listening to the owls hoot as the trains passed by. These melancholy sounds soothed her grieving heart and kept her company.
She told us stories of her daddy’s job working the line and made up tales about a hoot owl family that lived on top of the elevator.
The evening I arrived home from her funeral, bone-weary from jet lag and holding such disparate emotions in my soul, I fell into a chair on our front porch. Todd was busy on the tractor mowing a field and I waited for him in the quiet.
The reality of her loss was beginning to settle in as I breathed in and out. My thoughts were happy though as I realized how much she left for us to carry around, the impact she had on our lives in so many stages, the fact that in some way she’d always be with us.
And as I gazed out on the fading light an owl hooted in the tree line, loud and clear and a few seconds later, a train sounded its whistle in response.
A final story to treasure up in my heart.
———-June 4, 2019 – Reflections On Our Grandma – Enid, Oklahoma———–
We are so lucky….Grandma Irene quietly spent almost 94 years building an extraordinary legacy from the ordinary materials of her humble life. She leaves her sons and grandchildren and great grands a legacy that money can’t buy. Her life proves that the way you live and the manner in which you treat people makes a difference. She lived a life of loving kindness, forgiveness and unselfish generosity. She knew how to laugh and especially how to laugh at herself. She loved stories and told them in a way that often made you laugh but always stuck with you.
Yes, we are so lucky.
As a grandmother, Grandma Irene had this certain way of making each of us feel like we were the center of her universe. I know that right now if you pulled any one of us aside, Cathy or Casie or Kim or Kris or Shawn or Amber or Cash, each one would say that they knew, deep deep down that they were her favorite. She had a unique, sincere ability to make you feel extra special and extra loved when you were with her.
Nothing made her happier than to sit in a room with her people. She didn’t hurry when we were together. There was a mindful quality about the way she approached all her relationships. It’s why she hated to say goodbye. I was always a little bit jealous of you guys who got to live close to her. But near or far, I know we can all probably visualize her standing and waving goodbye in the picture window as we drove away from her home in Burlington or the doorway of her “condo” at Civitan.
She loved God and Jesus was her faithful companion. And she loved to sing about them in all the churches she was a part of. I remember long along times that we’d all be lined up like ducks in a row on the pew beside her on a Sunday morning at the Riverside Church of Christ. These memories probably made her happiest.
She was our family’s memory. And she reminded us, each time we were with her WHO we were and WHOSE we were.
Personally, my earliest memories involve Grandma Irene. For her grandkids, yours probably do too. I was 3 or 4 perhaps and had gone for a few days to stay with grandma and grandpa. We were at a church picnic at the park in Burlington. Somehow, the story goes, I had tried to carry my plate of food to the top of the slide and toppled off, hitting my head in the process. I remember being on the top of the slide. I remember riding with my head in grandma’s lap to the Kiowa ER as grandpa driving fast….I remember her holding my hand and the lollipop a man in a white coat gave me at the end of a long hallway.
We’ve all got our own long list of sweet “I remembers” that involve our grandmother.
I remember going with Grandma to deliver supper to the guys in the field one harvest and racing home in her thunderbird as the tails of tornados dipped in and out of the clouds and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
I remember how she didn’t shy away from the hard things. As a third grader, I wrestled with the loss of Grandpa Ivan in a not so healthy way. I remember that she’s the one who taught me how to grieve, right there in the middle of her grief, as we drove to the store to get brownies.
She tried in her loving ways to teach us all through the hard and sad goodbyes we walked with her. Especially with Ivan and DL and Justin…..that there is reason to hope even as we wait for joy to find us again.
She wasn’t perfect, but as a grandmother, she was pretty close.
So may we commit to keeping her legacy alive. In the way we treat people and in the way we honor God. And especially in how we love our family. May we continue to laugh at ourselves and forgive generously.
And by all means, let’s keep telling her stories.
From those of her childhood that she loved to tell and retell to her tales of Alaska. And of course, she leaves us The Hoot Owl Story and the Wide Mouth Bullfrog to tell and retell to those who come after us.
Today is a day for rejoicing because right now she is, as she liked to say, “fine as frog hair split four ways”.
We love you, Grandma.