Messy in Fabulous Shoes

Messy in Fabulous Shoes

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Tribute to Grammie

My grandmother passed away 7 years ago this July and I was also honored to offer a tribute at her funeral:

To some of us in the room she was Anne. To some Mama, Mom, Sis, OB. To the grandchildren and great grandchildren, she is Grammie.

When I was thinking about how to describe Grammie, the phrase “pure of heart” immediately popped into my mind. Because that is who she was. A person with a heart so pure and full of love – willing to share that love with her family every day. In both large and small manifestations. And never asking for anything in return – except to know how you are and what you have been up to. Anytime you would call and say, “how are you doing, Gram?” she would reply, “same old, same old. Tired, achy, sinuses, etc. Now, what is going on with you?” And she would listen to you as long as you need to talk. She was the most interested audience any of us have ever had. Fascinated in every aspect of our lives – thrilled when we were happy; devastated when we were sad. Always helping simply by believing in you.

It is easy to believe in yourself with Grammie on your side. What I don’t think she ever realized, though, was how wise and impactful she was to so many people. She didn’t think she was worldly or very intelligent, but she had knowledge of the heart and years of experience that helped each of us in a different way. And we know she will continue believing in us.

Grammie did not have an easy childhood. She grew up very quickly to assume the role of caretaker. When she married Grandaddy and had children, grandchildren and then great-grandchildren, she poured all the love she had always wanted and all the love she had into her family. She taught us valuable lessons: respect, how to be fair to one another, how to listen, how to forgive, to believe in the power of love and to believe in yourself.

Love. I don’t ever remember having a conversation with Gram that didn’t end in I love you. Until the very end, when she couldn’t move around as freely, the last thing we would see when driving away from the house would be Grammie standing in the window of the front door, waving. A symbolic I love you.

Forgiveness. Grammie embodied this trait. Any and all transgressions were forgivable – sometimes you didn’t even have to ask for that forgiveness. Sometimes all you had to do was say you were sorry. And all was right with the world when Grammie would smile at you and you knew everything was going to be OK.

What did Grammie like to do? Besides spend time with her family, she learned a hobby in later years that kept her very busy. Scrapbooking. This was almost more than a hobby… it was an obsession. As a matter of fact, when she was in the hospital this last time, she said she couldn’t go yet because she was on a mission. She was determined to finish scrapbooks for my Mom, Aunt Mary, Uncle Johnny and Aunt Peggie and she said then she could rest. And finish them she did. And these aren’t just any scrapbooks. They are masterpieces of creativity and Grammie poured the love she felt into each and every page. Unselfishly, she never made a scrapbook for herself.

Her next favorite hobby was shopping. I will never forget one particular marathon shopping trip. We were in Marshall’s (of course) and I noticed Gram’s oxygen was running low. She was standing in the shoe section of the store when I ran out, grabbed the other tank from the car, and came back in to change it. I said, “Gram, why didn’t you tell me you were running low?” She said, “I didn’t want to bother you, Hon, we are in the shoe section after all!” Selfless shopper – that was Grammie.

Birthdays. Sonny & Cher, Captain & Tennille, Miss Piggy & Kermit… they’ve got nothing on Bud and Anne. That’s right; the greatest duet that ever lived is Bud and Anne. Every birthday you could count on one thing – hearing the 2 of them serenade you with Happy Birthday. The best would be if they messed up and had to start over… their fits of laughter during the song were as great as the song itself.

The only thing better than hearing them sing you happy birthday was Grammie’s birthday. Giving a gift to Grammie is one of the best experiences anyone can have. She would fuss over you and the gift like you’ve never seen saying, “Oh Hon, you shouldn’t have!”… But definitely glad you did – every time! At her 75th birthday, the entire family went in on some wrought iron bookshelves for her to put her family pictures, books, etc. on. When she opened up those boxes, it was as if she had been given solid gold! I would show you the picture of Grammie with a big yellow bow on her head but she would not be happy with me. The pictures of Grandaddy in the same bow are equally priceless!

Grammie’s devotion to her family was rivaled only by Grandaddy’s devotion to her. Their love of 56 years is an inspiration. Grandaddy loved waiting on Grammie and she loved bossing him around. She would invite you to dinner, ask what you wanted, and then inform Grandaddy what he was making. He would pretend to be peeved about it but you know he loved every minute.

Humor. Laughing was an integral part of Grammie’s life. And she laughed up until her very last days. The true beauty of Grammie’s humor was in its innocence. Sometimes she had no idea what she said was funny and was shocked when everyone laughed. One night, as Mom and Uncle Johnny sat in Grammie’s room chatting, she tried to speak. Mom said, “Mom, are you trying to say something?” Thinking she was ready to pass on some wisdom. To which Grammie responded, “Th-th-that’s all folks!” Another night, a week or so ago, Mom and Grandaddy were sitting on the bed next to Grammie talking about what would come next, who she would see, etc. Suddenly, Gram opened her eyes, turned her head and said, “You all are scaring me to death!” Laughter erupted… that was her, laughing and enjoying life until the end.

Generous. Grammie would give you anything she could. Literally, if you complimented something she had she’d sometimes try and give it to you. Even if it wasn’t hers she’d try to give it to you. Like the time she was out to lunch with one of her girlfriends and her girlfriend admired the creamer on the table. Outside in the car, Grammie produced the creamer from her purse – cream and all – for her friend! Thievery was a rare occurrence, but she would do anything for the people she loved. Every single one of us in the family was spoiled by Grammie (and you too Grandaddy), and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

The last gift she gave her family was the ability to say goodbye. During her last weeks, Grammie was surrounded by her family – day and night. And each of us shared some private moments with her – a time when we were able to say what we need to say; to share how we felt about her; to kiss her forehead and squeeze her hand. And she was able to do the same with each of us. This is a special blessing we will thank God for the rest of our lives. Grammie left us without a single doubt as to how much she was loved and how grateful her family was to have been loved by her.

To know Grammie was to feel loved, understood and accepted. Imagine everything you would want in a spouse, mother, sister, grandmother, friend and that is what we had in her. To say she will be missed is a gross understatement. But her legacy to each of us is to love, to be fair, to listen, to laugh and to never miss an opportunity to say “I love you”. Her family and friends loved her and will continue to love her more than words can express.

And if you close your eyes, and sit very still, you can feel her presence here – waving I love you to all of us.

A Tribute to My Uncle Johnny

My Uncle Johnny passed away suddenly this past Sunday. He was 58 years old. I had the honor of holding his hand until he passed away, an hour after last rites were given. Yesterday, I was granted the privilege of giving a tribute on behalf of our family at his funeral. Here it is:

Uncle Johnny loved simple things. Animals, fishing, golf, a good joke, crabs, Christmas, his family – not necessarily in that order. He always asked about my dogs, Stella & Sophie and would listen to any story I would tell about them– indulging me with his ear and his laughter. But his heart really belonged to two special creatures: Honey and Pretty Boy.

Honey is Joan and Grandaddy’s dog and Uncle Johnny was his Bubba. As Uncle Johnny would drive up to the house, Joan would say, “Is that your Bubba coming?” and Honey would run to the door to greet him, toy in mouth, tail wagging. And Honey would only jump on the couch if Uncle Johnny was sitting on it. She loved the amount of attention he gave her and how they played together.

But his long-time companion was Pretty Boy, his bird. To say Pretty Boy is spoiled would be the understatement of the century considering Grandaddy can actually fit in his cage. It’s like a birdy mansion. With a 25 year history together, Pretty Boy and my uncle were definitely best friends.

And friends to Uncle Johnny meant fishing, golfing, and crabs. Uncle Johnny used to go on golfing trips with my dad and his buddies to Myrtle Beach every year. Uncle Johnny was the designated driver and the butt of many jokes. One in particular my dad was sharing the other day was when Dad and his buddy Greg woke Uncle Johnny and his friend up to tell them it was time to get ready and leave for their tee time.

Now you may not know this, but John was very particular about appearances. From blow-drying his hair to making sure his outfit was put together, he didn’t get ready in a hurry. Anyway, when John and Russell headed for the door they were shocked to find Dad and Greg laughing their way to sleep. It was 3:30 am – John and Russell had turned in early so the party boys decided to play a practical joke on them. And you know who the first person was to share this story? Uncle Johnny. He loved the fun they had and loved to share it with the rest of us.

Uncle Johnny looked forward to the crabs Cousin Donald gave him every year. And when Cuz would call him to get them, he never kept them all for himself. He always dropped some off for Grandaddy and some for Mom, who loved them as much as him. Normally this occurred in August, around their birthdays. August was always a celebratory time in our family with Uncle Johnny’s birthday on the 19th and Mom and Grandaddy’s on the 20th. We would come together as a family, for dinner, gifts, and lots of chatter. This August will surely be bittersweet…

Christmas was his favorite holiday. He used to delight in decorating under Grammie and Grandaddy’s tree every year. And he always put special thought into his gift for the women of the family. But Christmas 2010 was definitely the most memorable.

As he watched QVC one night, he called my mom and said “Are you awake?” (Apparently he said this every time he called, no matter the time of day.) He had found the perfect gift for each of us and wanted to make sure he chose the right color. Fast forward to Christmas day at Mom and Dad’s and I wish I had taken a picture of his face as he watched Joan, Mom, Aunt Mary and I open our Wolfgang Puck knife blocks. My knives are apple green, the color of my new kitchen and he was so proud when I said that the color was perfect. And we all cracked up at his bravery in giving the Downs/Radford women knives at a family holiday. Yesterday, when Mom went to feed Pretty Boy, she noticed that Uncle Johnny had bought himself a set of those knives as well. His are black – I guess that’s a little more manly than apple green.

And last night, as Mom was cutting the rolls for today with one of the knives Uncle Johnny gave her, she apparently sliced her finger. “His last act of violence toward his big sister”, she said.

And Uncle Johnny was always good for a cooking tip – even if he had never prepared the dish. He’d say, “that’s how they did it on food network.” My uncle actually knew everything about everything – a gene he inherited from the Downs side of the family.

Less than 2 weeks ago we were together, Grandaddy, Joan, Mom, Dad, Uncle Johnny and me for the second to last time. We were having breakfast at IHOP to celebrate Father’s Day. We told stories of Honey, Stella, Sophie and Pretty Boy. We talked about the US Open, where Dad and I had been that Friday. We talked about Robert Duvall, whom I had the pleasure of meeting the week before. Grandaddy sang some of his high school fight songs. Joan cleaned her plate, as always – what a big appetite for such a wee thing! And I made fun of my uncle as he buttered his toast – not one morsel of that bread went unbuttered – and it was perfect. Like it had just stepped out of a butter salon! We laughed, we ate, we enjoyed each other’s company…

My uncle was a simple man. He loved a good cup of coffee, a cigarette, Maryland crabs, a home cooked meal, Christmas, animals and his family. He was a caring man. He called my parents and Grandaddy and Joan almost every day. He was a giving man. He mowed his neighbor Cat’s lawn. When he visited my house, he always offered to walk Stella & Sophie – no matter how cold it was. He was a sensitive man. He mourned the loss of Grammie, his mother, alongside the rest of the family. Keeping vigil during her last days. And he then celebrated the marriage of Grandaddy and Joan 5 years ago, standing next to them on the altar in the role of best man.

John didn’t live an easy life. The past few years have been the hardest as his health presented one issue after another. And as much as we all knew that, getting the call on Saturday that he was in the hospital was still a shock.

Because when I think of who my uncle is to this family, he’s like the first day of Spring. You didn’t see it or celebrate it every day, but you always knew it was just around the corner. Would always be there. You never expected a time to come when there would be no Spring.

We were given a gift the past 2 Sunday mornings – the ability to say goodbye. And as we crowded around his hospital bed, I believe that he could hear us all there, telling him how much we loved him. “My Beautiful Boy”, Grandaddy said, “Go to God.”

As I held Uncle Johnny’s hand while he took his last breath, I saw one tear slide down his cheek. And I believe this was a tear of relief. My uncle was going home. He was going to a place where he would be at peace, with no more pain. And Grammie was waiting for him there.

And we may not see him any longer, but just like Springtime, we can feel him around us. His spirit of love, loyalty and the simple things that matter continue in each of us.

I learned a valuable lesson this week. I don’t think my uncle knew how special he was to me until I held his hand during the last moments of his life. So today, as we honor him, please learn from my lesson. Squeeze the hand of those who mean the most of you today. Do not wait another moment.

May you rest in peace, Uncle Johnny.