My 104-year-old grandmother died on Valentine’s Day. That’s why this post is a few days late. This month’s 20 in 2020 is dedicated to you. As my friend said, you’ll always be my forever Valentine.
20. Smile-People talk about smiles lighting up the room. My grandmother’s smile lit up the universe. My mother and aunt chose a sparkly dress for her burial gown, and they couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate final outfit for her. My aunt’s husband said, “It reminds me of starlight.” On my pre-dawn hikes and runs when shooting stars streak across the sky, I’ll think of her.
19. Loyalty- Many people give lip service to loyalty, but few people embody loyalty. My grandmother did. Her husband died forty-three years ago this April. She never went on a single date. My cousin’s husband said she waited till Valentine’s Day to die so that she could kiss her husband on Valentine’s day almost forty-three years later.
But in order to represent a trait, it can’t just be in one area of life. She was fiercely loyal to her town Hazel Crest, Illinois. Countless people tried to get her to leave her neighborhood and the house that she moved into February of 1957 and stayed in till December 2019. People wanted her to move because her neighbors no longer shared the same skin color as her. She didn’t budge. It was her neighborhood. She was staying thank you very much.
Lastly, she attended church at St. Anne’s Parish for sixty-two years. My grandmother was as much a fixture of that church as the cross on the wall and the lectern on the altar. Her church along with four other churches in the south suburbs of Chicago have to combine themselves into one parish due to low attendance. I think my grandma had to leave this world before that happened.
18. Six-Pack Cereal-When my brother and I were young and stayed overnight at my grandma’s house, she bought us six-packs of cereal. Not a box of Cheerios among them. Nope. Each one of these boxes brimmed with sugar. My brother and I alternated who picked first. Then one-by-one we divvied up the boxes so that we could eat them as fast as we could, slurping up the colored milk in the bowl between servings.
17. Playing Cards-It was hard to know where to put this one. Playing cards with grandma was as much a part of spending the night at her house as that sugary cereal and just as sweet. She was fiercely competitive. With us as kids, war was her game of choice. The amazing thing is she didn’t just play war with my brother and I, she played cards with both my sons. The picture below is from three years ago. She’s playing war with my youngest son, Corbin. What you can’t hear, is the laughter. She was saying comments like, “I got you now,” and the two of them giggled away.
The next year, I visited her with my older son. By this time, her cognitive abilities had begun to fail. She wanted to teach us a card game neither of us had played before, but she couldn’t really remember the rules. So, she decided the rule was everything I did was wrong, and everything my older son did was correct. My older son would play a certain card or a certain suit, and I tried to do the exact same thing. “No, Katie,” she said. “You can’t do that.” It turns out I couldn’t play any of my cards, but Anders could play any card he wanted. This happened every round. Anders and I locked eyes and burst into uncontrollable laughter. She started to laugh, too, even though she didn’t understand why we were laughing. It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing cards, yet it was the worst card game in my life.
16. Prayer-My grandmother prayed every night, and she often prayed for other people. This practice is an important reminder that we are not running the show, and that our prayers should be directed toward helping others. I'm so grateful that all the roses people sent to the funeral home will be turned into rosaries her daughters can keep.
15. Service-But we need to focus on helping others in our every day lives, too, not just in our prayer lives. At 100, my grandmother sang in “The Three Marys Choir” and ministered the Eucharist at her church.
14. Independence-My grandmother was fiercely independent. If something could be done herself, she did it. She took out the garbage and shoveled the snow, thank you very much. She didn’t need help. The world would be a different place if everyone did everything they could by themselves.
13. Driving-It’s never too late to learn something new. When my grandmother moved out of Chicago to a southern suburb in 1955, at the age of forty, there were no suburban buses. So, she had to learn how to drive. She did, she drove till she was ninety-five and she was proud of it. Celebrate your successes.
12. Exercise-You can’t live to be more than 100 without it. She attended exercise class three times a week and walked the neighborhood a couple of times a week well into her nineties.
11. Bowling-In her eighties, she bowled a 199. I’ve never bowled anywhere close to a 199. It goes to show that if you persevere and practice something your whole life, you will refine your craft.
10. Toffee Squares-By now, you know I’m in love with the number ten and the base-ten number system. So, something special had to go in the number ten slot. No one would say my grandma was a cook, including my grandma. But, her toffee square recipe is unforgettable. One of my running partners calls my grandma’s toffee squares liquid crack. When I place forty-eight squares in the teacher’s lounge, there are hardly any left by the third lunch period.
9. Flexibility-Many people wouldn’t use this word to describe my grandma, but the truth was she became more and more flexible as her life progressed. Not only did she accept the changes in her neighborhood, she made an effort to know her new neighbors. She attended exercise class with her new neighbors, played Texas Hold ‘Em with her new neighbors and welcomed them into her house. Her neighbor, Sharon Robinson, watched over my grandma with a love as fierce as any family member. Who can you talk to today who you view as somehow different from you in some way? What newcomers can you welcome into your community, into your home?
8. Cards in the Mail-My grandma always sent cards in the mail for people’s birthdays. When the youngest, as of now, great grandchild was born in late September of 2019, she sent my cousin a card. But she didn’t send it until she had practiced writing the baby’s name, Finnegan, and her name several times and was convinced they were legible.
7. Stamps-The first night I fell asleep knowing my grandmother had moved on, I told my husband I wondered what small, unexpected things would make me think of my grandmother. I received one of my answers the next morning when I retrieved my mail from my mailbox. Stamps! My grandmother loved decorative stamps. She always bought her stamps at the grocery store, and they only had American flag Forever stamps. So, when she received mail from me with multicolored hearts or nature scenes, she delighted in their artistry. For years, I sent her decorative stamps on Valentine’s Day.
6. Perseverance-When you look up perseverance in the dictionary, it should say Mary Elizabeth Rogers Annweiler. She persevered in every way. As my aunt said in her remembrance speech, my grandmother lived through the Great Depression and turned her paycheck over to her father to help pay the bills. But, I remember how she persevered later in life. She lived through the
death of her husband, all of her siblings, many nieces and nephews, and countless friends. I’m not saying she handled each of these situations with grace and compassion that the people around her needed, but in the end, she used each of these losses to strengthen her gratitude for life. Each day that each one of us gets to spend on Earth is a gift, yet it is a gift that most of us often take for granted.
5. Dancing-My grandmother danced. She danced with family and friends. In her eighties, she and her dancing partner hosted local sock hops to teach others how to dance. Dancing was my grandma’s heaven on earth. But don’t take my word for it. At my wedding, she tore up the dance floor. Check it out!
4. Self-care-I already talked about exercise and prayer, but my grandmother knew that diet was important, too. So, she ate only what she needed to eat. She knew over indulgence would not enrich her life in any way.
In addition to eating well, she knew she had to take care of her dry skin. She had eczema, and as she aged her skin cracked a lot. I have my grandma’ skin. So, I started sending her Windrift Hill’s body butter. It’s the only cream I’ve found that keeps my skin from cracking. The cream worked for her, too. Every morning when I put their product on my skin, I will think of her.
3. Family-Family was my grandmother’s life. She wasn’t in any way warm, fuzzy or cozy. But, family was what she lived for. Be it visits, phone calls, cards or gatherings, we brought her joy and she brought us joy and hope by being a fixture at family gatherings for as long as anyone can remember.
Fast forward to July of 2018. We had come to Chicago to launch my book and for my sons to volunteer at Camp Hope. But what I love besides the absolute joy in these photos, is that my grandma is wearing her dragonfly broche in both shots. As you may know, I am crazy about dragonflies and write about them often. So, I love seeing one alight on her.
2. 2801-Throughout life we call many places home. My grandmother lived at 2801 for my whole life, and I called her house home. When we drove cross country to see her every summer, we stayed at her house. I made her photo memory boards for her wake in her house. My mother warned me that it would feel different because everything was packed up. But, when I was on my knees surrounded by pictures of here, I felt a tremendous peace. I felt like I was home.
1. Wave-This one is the hardest for me to write. Perhaps because it came as a surprise. Whenever I left my grandmother, she stood outside or in the front window and waved till we had pulled out of the driveway. But I had forgotten this ritual until I left my grandmother’s house for the last time this past weekend. My aunt came outside to hug us goodbye before she headed back into the house. Then, my mother came and she stood outside and waved goodbye. My heart broke, and I wanted to scream. I’ll never see my grandmother wave goodbye again. Her final wave to me was this past August. She knew it, and I knew it, too.
This is my final wave to you, Grandma. As my cousin said, Godspeed!
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