By Jennifer Richardson
My Dad’s mom, Grandma Kate, passed away in 2007 at the age of 87. Grandma Kate was larger than life. She had an infectious laugh, a gift for conversation, and a tremendous care for others.
She was born in 1920, married at 16, delivered three babies by 19, and her husband abandoned her and her children within months of the third child’s arrival. With no food in the house and no coal for the stove, Katherine stepped forward into a life where she would find her own way.
Her world was not without pain; she lived through failed marriages, she had to work hard, she was quiet about some difficult times in her life, and she buried one of her precious children in adulthood. Had she wanted to be a bitter person, she could have found her reasons.
By the time I was in junior high, she had relocated to reside in the same town with her son, my father. I was lucky enough to have her choose a house just down the alley from my own. Grandma Kate’s house was a place you could feel welcome at any time. No matter the hour or occasion. Honestly there was no need for an occasion; she would just feed you anything you wanted, especially pancakes, or something Italian.
Her food was delicious. She would tell the story of hunting rabbits in her own yard to put rabbit meat in the spaghetti sauce, and you knew she was just amazing enough to do it.
Her collection of friends and acquaintances was interesting. She was the person who didn’t worry about unwritten social rules and encouraged friendship with the people who were sometimes marginalized by the world around them. There was the older gentleman who rode his bike everywhere and lived in a dilapidated home. There was the single mother half my grandmother’s age who needed help, there was the friend who had lost her husband and needed companionship. Rich or poor, her friends were her friends.
And family was everywhere. My grandmother was visited by family members far and near. She loved every visit.
Later my parents invited her to live with them so they could care for her after a failed knee-replacement operation, and she spent her last 23 years in my childhood home. My parents gave her a portion of the house that included a sitting room, a bedroom, and her own bathroom, and we called her space Grandma’s parlor.
She spent most of her days sitting in her favorite chair in the parlor. I have the greatest memories of her arms in that chair. She wasn’t able to get up and down easily, so her arms became her welcome. When you walked into her parlor she would throw her arms out toward you and her eyes would mist up with tears, even if she had seen you the day before.
Support was something that came naturally to her. More than once I shared fears and mistakes with her that I shared with no one else, and she never judged, ridiculed or betrayed my confidence.
Grandma Kate was never wealthy, but every grandchild knew where to go when they lost a tooth, and it was not uncommon for her to hand you a dollar bill for the completion of any one of hundred small errands she would send you on throughout the house. She said there was no shame in being poor, it was just inconvenient. Poor or not, she rarely kept her money for herself. I honestly can’t remember a visit with her in which she did not quietly press ones, fives, or the occasional ten-dollar bill into my hand as we hugged goodbye.
Grandma Kate’s death was unexpected. The family gathered together to say our final goodbyes and reminisce. Her funeral was well attended and there were tears and laughter as we remembered the life she lived.
I walked through the funeral home looking at all the flower arrangements that had been sent by those who loved her. I came to one arrangement of white roses that caught my eye. The card read, “Thank you for always being kind to me,” and there was no signature.
My eyes filled with tears as I thought of the life she lived that had seen heartache and loss–yet was filled with feeding people, comforting the sad and broken, working hard, and be-friending without worry about what anyone else thought.
I will probably never know who sent those flowers, but I asked my mother if I could keep them. I took them home with me after the funeral, dried them carefully, and they reside in a vase in my home to this day.
They remind me of my Grandma Kate’s example, and that rich or poor, in pain or peace–kindness can really touch a life. I look at those flowers and I aspire to be like her.