My grandmother turned ninety a couple days ago. My mom threw this big party for her, and lots of relatives I haven’t seen in five or more years came. People got up to make little speeches about her, and at the end of every speech she’d add something, like, “Do you also remember when we tried to wallpaper the den?” and the person would remember, and they would both laugh. She was completely comfortable with all the attention. Like someone who has, well, been around other people for ninety years. I was a little jealous.
After the party, my brother said, “I think that’s the first time it’s been all about Grandma.”
I thought about it. It was true.
“It was nice,” he said. “I wonder why that didn’t happen sooner.”
Because Gram has always been the one who is doing something for someone else. It’s that very familiar story about women (which is not to say that it can’t be applied to a whole lot of men) that we tell each other when we talk about families and gender and what we want to be when we grow up. But it’s almost easy to miss when it’s already here, in our families and lives.
At ninety, Gram was suddenly the center of attention. Someone described her as “feisty,” which was my favorite word for her. This is a woman who can’t send me an email without making three jokes in it. She teases me about Bear, saying, when I complained about the cold weather, “He can help there, can’t he?….Don’t answer that question. Shouldn’t have asked. Yikes– I’m leaving.” When I told her we suddenly own a lot of pillows (wedding gifts), she immediately suggested a pillow fight.
Far from quietly obedient, Gram is a woman with surplus spirit, so when she helps out and does things for other people and is never quite the focal point, it doesn’t arouse much concern or even interest.
But when people stood up to speak, they described a legacy. The sprawling, stretching branches of a tree with her as its sturdy trunk. And having everyone together in the same room to talk about it made me see how many lives have been formed, shaped, and touched by this one person. Just by being herself for ninety years, she has impacted all of these people, and will continue to impact them for generations.
It’s really a very powerful thing.
And here I am, frantically trying to make something of myself. Like so many people try to do, in case we are forgotten. In case we can’t ever make the impact we imagine we should. Or just because we are mortal.
Gram slipped easily into the spotlight. Maybe she’s always been there, in a sense, in the middle, just without everyone looking at her at the same time. In any case, she was a natural. It’s where she belongs.
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Un-roast: I love the way I look in black, high-heeled boots.
New post at Un-schooled, about how, when I was nine, my best friend went to school. That’s a big deal, when you were both homeschooled before.
Also, check out my piece about eating cookies before my wedding, on MyDaily.com!