I have been putting this off. Because if I write it, if I put it down on paper, then it is real. So
real that my heart will break again and all of the memories will fill my head not allowing me to separate one from another. I will never get to hear her say “Well hello there” in that amazing distinctive English accent. I will never get to hear stories of her youth and younger days. Even now as I write, the tears come and don’t stop. On June 24 she decided that her work here was done. She is gone.
There are certain people in your life that there is an immediate connection. For me, I feel like it was my grandma. My Nana. I could walk into her house and regardless of what was bothering me or weighing on my mind she would tell me stories. Stories of her youth, the local town, current day politics or the drama that always resides within a large family. Her strength will always be something that I will strive for. I will miss her. I do miss her. And now the anger has arrived. I hate the fact that her house needs to be emptied and that she will never be there. Ever again. That I won’t be able to show her my photos that she loved so much. That I can’t get her side of the story to all of the negatives that I still need to convert to photos. I am sorry. I am sorry that I didn’t get more done.
I am blessed that we shared an interest in our family history. I have amazing wonderful things in her handwriting that she wrote to me about her life. What it was like to be a kid (one of 8) in the hard times of war in England. Stories of hiding under school desks when the Air Raid sirens would go off and times of no heat or food. Descriptions of the English countryside and following the train to grab coal that falls off the car. Of being scared but always feeling safe “as long as Mum and Dad were there.” (Her parents were always an amazing source of strength. There were photos of her parents, my great grandparents, that hung in her living room, always in her sight. They are now in my possession and along with her journal and my grandfathers negatives are some of the most cherished things that I have the honor of caring for.)
In 1947 it was decided that the family needed a new beginning, a new start in America. Some of her sisters had already made the journey. She saved up her money and in April of 1948, at the age of 18, she set sail on a 4000 mile voyage that she made alone – to a new land, a new culture and to a new family. I cannot even image. She writes about being sea sick for almost the whole journey. By the time she was feeling better the voyage was almost over. She tells stories of getting to sit with the captain at the Captains Table for dinner one night. She met her sisters in New York. (A few years ago I was able to go to Ellis Island and call her as I was standing looking out on the bay. I cried and cried trying to relive in my own head, with no possible comprehension, how she did it.) Later in 1948 she married one of her first loves, my Grandfather, and had 4 beautiful daughters. The young family lived and grew in Maine and New Jersey and were very involved with the Boy Scouts. During this time she worked hard to save up money to help her parents and other brothers and sisters make the journey to America.
And for me, that is where it all began. Growing up I could sense her strength and the role that she played in this family. I will never forget a Christmas Day that the house was full of people and holiday chaos. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old and while walking the hallway I spilled a drink. I was embarrassed and scolded for not being more careful. I hid on the staircase behind all of the coats that were resting on the banister. She sat up and told me to come sit next to her. She pulled me in close and looked up, gave the hairy eyeball to my scolder and said “It is a spill, I don’t care. Accidents happen. Sit here with me and noone will talk to you like that”. This past week I was in her house with my niece and nephew and had an instant flashback as they climbed those stairs. The feeling of sadness and embarrassment of that childhood moment overwhelmed me. I told them the story and how grateful I was that Grandma stood up for me. She, unlike no other, could speak in such a way to certain people that demanded respect and tolerance. Those are some pretty amazing shoes to fill.
Once I started to write, as infrequent as it may be, I knew that the words would always end up crossing her path, usually with the help of my mom. One of the best comments that I got from her about this was “she writes like her grandfather”. I am so proud to be her granddaughter. I am so blessed to have shared this life with her.
On the day of her passing we found an amazing gift – a handwritten note from her for this very day. A day that we are all so sad that this amazing spirit has left us.
“I want you all to know how much joy you have all given me and all the love I have felt from all of you in all your different ways. Shed no tears for me but smile at all the times good and bad that we have shared. I shall be with you always, all my love, forever.”