Monday, November 27, 2006

Grandma Helen
February 25, 1905 - November 23, 2006

Rigel got a call during Thanksgiving dinner that his grandmother had died. My girls called her Grandma Helen, and she would be turning 102 this February.

She had only recently become ill, and even though her condition was serious we thought there was a good chance she would surprise us and pull through. Up until a few months ago she had lived on her own in a small house in Wisconsin where she cooked for herself, tended her garden and even occasionally looked in on her elderly, though younger neighbors. We were concerned about her living alone, especially when we heard stories like the one she told last summer, about locking herself out of her house. Not to worry, she said, since it all worked out after an elderly neighbor forced open a small window and then gave Grandma a boost so she could crawl through, head first.

She loved to fish and would do so regularly until she gave up her fishing license a few years ago. At 97-years-old she felt it was time to exercise a little caution and stop going out alone on her small fishing boat - leave that to those young 80-year-old whippersnappers she often passed out on the river. Giving up her beloved fishing was hard, though, especially since she had given up her hunting license a few years prior to that. I think you're starting to get the picture, that Grandma Helen was not just some little old lady in a bonnet sitting in a rocking chair and sipping tea.

The last time we saw her was in February. As she had done almost every year, she got on a plane and flew on her own to California to visit with her son (Rigel's dad) and the rest of us, including Rigel's sister, Aldebaran. Usually each visit was preceded by a call sometime in November, that she had decided not to come out, that she hoped we understood how after a woman hits ninety it's entirely possible that she might not want to leave her home in the bitter cold and travel for an hour just to board a plane for a four-hour flight. After waiting a few weeks to see if we would get the hint that perhaps the younger and more able-bodied among us might consider hauling our lazy asses out to visit her, she would give up and book a flight to L.A. Rigel always imagined that during his phone calls to Grandma she would cover the receiver and turn to her friends and say, "Yeah, it's that yuppie grandson of mine. Looks like Mr. Hollywood still hasn't figured out how to buy a plane ticket."

We were constantly amazed at Grandma's memory. She could rattle off recipes down to the teaspoon, recount historical events with amazing accuracy and was an encyclopedia on plants and vegetables. She would tell stories of her first train ride out to California, 50+ years ago, to visit Rigel's dad. She remembered what the weather was like, how she got from the train station to his apartment, and remarkably, his apartment number. This always amazed me, as I would be hard pressed to remember what the weather was like last week and often forget what my current address is.

Grandma Helen had a wicked sense of humor, and one of our favorite stories is about the time we were opening presents on Christmas a few years ago. Rigel's sister had given me a set of small, oval-shaped pot holders, the kind that fit snugly over the handle of a sauce pan. "What the hell are those?" Grandma asked. When I told her what they were, she replied, "Good gracious! I thought they were peter-heaters!" I don't know many people who can say that their husband's grandmother introduced them to the concept of a penile-warming device.

We always wondered what the key was to Grandma's vibrant life. Was it the crossword puzzles that she loved and did daily? Was it the whisky highball she had every single afternoon? When Rigel's sister asked her what she felt was the real secret to her longevity Grandma replied, without missing a beat, "I never learned how to drive."

We're going to miss you, Grandma Helen.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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55 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman.

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  2. I'm with Grandma Helen. I can feel the traffic around here just shaving years off my life practically every day!

    Great post.

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  3. A great celebration of Grandma Helen's life!

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  4. Wow! God bless Grandma Helen. Amazing that she lived such a full and active life. She will surely be missed. Deepest condolences to Rigel and the family.

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  5. After reading that, I'm going to miss her, too.

    I'll have to look into taking up the hunting and fishing eventually, but the crossword puzzles daily and whiskey highballs every afternoon sound pretty wonderful. I think I'll start today. In honor of Grandma Helen, of course.

    I'm sorry for your loss.

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  6. Grandma Helen sounds like an amazing woman who lived a very full life. I think we could all learn some valuable lessons from her (note to self: whiskey highball DAILY.)

    Rest in peace Grandma Helen.

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  7. I am very sorry for your loss. She sounds like a very special person.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  10. Give Rigel a hug from the blogosphere!

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  11. Wish I'd known her. How cool to never age in a manner predictable for a woman born in the early 1900s.

    And is Rigel's sister really named Aldebaran?

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  12. I'm turning in my driver's license!

    My condolences. She sounds like she was a wonderful person to be around...hell any 90+ year old woman who can shimmy her way through any window has a special place in my heart.

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  13. She sounds like a remarkable woman. Think young, act young, keep your brain and body active and stay curious about the world around you and you might just end up like Grandma Helen. And refusing to do those things is what makes other elderly people so dreadfully tiresome. Rigel is a lucky man to have her genes.

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  14. She sounds like an amazing woman. I'm really sorry for you both. I'm glad she lived a long full life.

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  15. If I could live a life as interesting and vibrant as hers, I'd gladly relinquish my car keys!!!

    My condolences to your family.

    Carrie

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  16. What an amazing tribute to an amazing woman. It is hard to let go of people you love and admire. But you can hardly be sad at the passing of someone who has lived a long, full life. One can only celebrate that life and do, as you did here, share that life with others

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  17. Sounds like a long and happy life. Very sorry for your loss.

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  18. She sounds like she was a lovely woman... we should all be so lucky to have such things said and thought about us at the end of our lives.

    You are all in my thoughts.

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  19. Thank you Marsha for writing that wonderful tribute to Grandma. You eloquently wrote about a life that was lived to the fullest and I thank you for sharing her with others.

    She was an amazing woman (even though she would deny it). She didn't think she was smart even though she completed complicated crossword puzzles, knew the name of every plant you came across on a walk and had an unbelieveable memory and knowledge of a variety of topics. She loved to dance -- she once told me how sometimes she would just get up and dance around the house just to get the body moving - "sometimes you just feel like dancing" she said. I love that and I loved her. She stated things as they were -- didn't sugar coat any of her comments. You always knew where you stood with her. Her favorite place to be was in her garden and I will always think of her there happily tending her plants. I will miss her. Thanks Grandma for being a part of our lives.

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  20. I am sorry to hear about your loss. My condolences to your family.

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  21. Our condolences also to your family.

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  22. I'm so sorry for your loss. It sounds like they broke the mold when they made Grandma Helen.

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  23. What a cool chick, eh? I love the picture.

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  24. I'm sorry for your loss. She sounds like an amazing woman.

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  25. If only there was some way to record the memories and experiences of all our cool loved ones so that these things wouldn't be lost forever. But, luckily, you guys have your own memories of her. Our thougts are with you guys.

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  26. That was a wonderful, wonderful post! Grandma Helen sounded like a one of a kind and something special to know. You have such a way with words, I could imagine it all.

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  27. I'm sorry to hear about your loss. What an amazing woman!!!

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  28. I'm sorry for your loss.

    After my husband's grandfather passed, the family passed a notebook among themselves and set it out at the funeral home. Anyone could jot down a memory or a story about Pop. It was fantastic to read through it the day after the funeral. Get your stories in print NOW!

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  29. What a lovely tribute to a remarkable woman. One can only hope to live a life that full.

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  30. What a lovely tribute to an awesome woman. Yes, I hope that I am half that cool when I'm 80, let alone 100. Those old women in Wisconsin are ass-kickers, though, I can say from experience.

    Rest in peace, Granma Helen, or keep rocking, whichever makes the most sense in the hereafter you've embarked upon.

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  31. This is the 4th story of losing a loved this past weekend. What is in the air?

    as for crosswords, my grandmother did them everyday and her memory was by far better than my deprived one.

    condolences and positives thoughts your way. truly sorry!

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  32. My condolences to you and your family on the loss of such an inspirational woman. What a lovely tribute to her.

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  33. Sorry to hear about Grandma. It's great to see something living a long, full life.

    AD

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  34. LOL... she sounds like she was full of life and a tough bird! Just like my Grandmother and my Great Mother and my Great Aunt.

    She also sounds like she had a long and blessed life... and since she was healthy right up to the end, I bet she was quite content. :)

    ... and she was loved. Which is of course, the most important of all.

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  35. I'm so sorry for your family's loss. This is a wonderful tribute to her; she sounds like she was a real spitfire.

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  36. aw, grandma helen!! she was great! a real whipper-snapper as my 93 year old grandma gert would say (although she would say it in yiddish so none of us actually understand what the hell she's talking about)

    sorry that you and yours are experiencing a loss but how great that you can celebrate a life that was truly lived to the fullest.

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  37. A lovely memorial to her. Thanks for sharing it with your readers!

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  38. I'm so sorry for your loss; what an awesome woman, and such a life! I can only hope to live my life with the same attitude & joy as Grandma Helen. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute, Marsha.

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  39. My condolences to your family. Thank you for sharing the story of such a redoubtable woman.

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  40. She must have been very proud to have a granddaughter who could write so beautifully about her. I now feel a little richer just having known her through your words.

    101 - can't ask for much more than that. RIP Grandma Helen.

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  41. Perfect tribute. Sorry for your loss.

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  42. So sorry about Grandma. I could only hope to have a life half as full as that. What a treasure!

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  43. what a lovely tribute to a life so well and richly lived.

    i had a grandma like her, too.

    women are amazing.

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  44. Dang I pray I am like that when (if) I live to be even close to 102. Peter heaters. That's hilarious, I don't care how old the person is who says it. I'm glad your daughters got to make memories with her.

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  45. She sounds like an amazing woman who gave as good as she got. I hope she is up there having just as an incredible time as she did down here. May we al be as blessed in our older years as she.

    That was beautiful...what an incredible spirit. Peter Heaters indeed....

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  46. It's always difficult to lose a loved one, but somehow stings a bit more when it's around the holidays. I, too, lost my grandmother at Thanksgiving - five years ago. And although she died unexpectedly way too young (78), she too was a woman who lived her life to the fullest. Your wonderful tribute made me smile at the memory of my own grandmother. Thank you!

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  47. Wonderful tribute. Rest in peace, Grandma Helen.

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  48. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing sounding woman. She sounds like she was a real joy to be around.

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  49. Grandma Helen sounds like a pistol. What an amazing life! I'm sorry for your loss.

    -annie

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  50. What a great lady! I'm sorry for your family's loss.

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  51. I'm so sorry for your family's loss, Marsha. It's hard to see a good woman go, no matter the age. But I'm sure Grandma Helen is touched to the core by your thoughtful tribute to her. This was beautiful.

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  52. Right on, Grandma Helen...right on. And somehow, somewhere, she's still going...

    And she sounds too cool to have ever driven.

    I am sorry for your family's loss, but I'm thrilled that she was such a woman and that she lived well.

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  53. My condolences. Thanks for sharing her with us.

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  54. What an absolutely marvelous woman she sounds like! You're lucky to have had her in your life ("peter heaters" - I'm rolling over that one). My condolences to your family on your loss. Thank you for sharing Grandma Helen with us.

    Chris

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