So, my beloved grandmother Clara died late this past Friday night-she always was a night owl. Clara was 90 years old, but she would have been 91 by St. Patrick’s Day. She once told me that her favorite movie was the Shawshank Redemption (also a favorite of mine). I just hope that at her age she only ever saw the edited for television version. Clara had a fantastic sense of humor and eyes that absolutely twinkled when she smiled. Once when I came home to visit her from college, she began talking to me like “Goat Boy,” which she learned from Saturday Night Live. The funniest thing she ever said, or in this case sang, was something else she got from television…”So, tell me what you want, what you really, really want…” Yes, she sang the Spice Girls song to my great surprise (she had to be almost 80 then).
When Clara was young, she was quite a beauty. Whenever asked, she would say she was ”English, German, Irish, Dutch and a little bit Indian (Native American).” I know I’m totally biased, but when I look at pictures of my grandparents, it seems like they were surely movie stars. She and my grandfather Melvin owned the only restaurant in her very small town in West Virginia. Cooper’s Restaurant was the hub of their community back in the 50’s. They had a jukebox. Melvin would take the quarters out of the cash register and give them to the kids so they could play whatever songs they wanted. I never met my grandfather, as he died before I was born. However, my grandmother always said that he would have loved me. He survived WWII as a Seabee (which is a member of a construction battalion of the Civil Engineer Corps of the US Navy), only to come home and die suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 41, the same age I am now. They say that my grandmother ran screaming out into a field when they told her he had died, and my Great-Uncle Shannon had to run after her. My grandparents had loved each other dearly, and my grandmother said that she lost the ability to remember things and couldn’t take care of herself for a year and a half after that. She lost her husband, her restaurant and her house in rapid succession. The only thing she had left was my mother Sheila.
She and my mother finally decided to move away from WV, because they couldn’t seem to get over the loss of Melvin. When my sister and I were born, my grandmother was able to rally and find purpose in her life again. She remarried. She went to Hawaii on her honeymoon, despite her fear of flying. She planted a huge garden. She quit smoking the day she turned 65…
Other things she did in her lifetime include:
• Moving to New York City from WV when she was 16 to be a nanny
• Living in California to be with Melvin when he was stationed there
• Running a boarding house
• Growing hundreds upon hundreds of African Violets of every color
• Loving me unconditionally and believing in me
• Riding the Southern Crescent train from DC to visit us in Atlanta after we moved there
• Teaching me the names of hundreds of flowers
• Reminding me that I always had family in WV and that I could always go “back home” and visit
• Making awesome BLT’s and banana splits upon request
• Showing me how to crochet
• Loving my nephew Andrew more than life itself
She never missed an opportunity to laugh or to make a joke, and she always spoke her mind. Always. Whenever I asked her advice, she would say, “Whatever makes you happy. That’s all that matters. It’s nobody else’s business.” Well, now that she’s gone, I wonder if she did what made her happy. I wonder if she had any regrets or unfinished business. I have no doubt that I told her a billion times how much I loved her and appreciated her. She did the same for me. Still, I feel like it’s time to start making sure that I don’t leave anything unsaid or undone. I have to stop being fearful and just start doing everything I can possibly imagine wanting to do. The only limits on my life are the ones I place on it. So, from now on, when you see me coming, “Look out!” I’m about to do something amazing, and I might just take you with me.
PS. Last night I went out to dinner. When I got the check, it said that the server’s name was Claire Bear. That was the nurses’ nickname for my grandmother at the assisted living facility. In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy writes in a letter to Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies.” I’ll see you in Zihuatanejo Claire Bear.