Ninety Years

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.

(Gram eats the damn cake)

*   *   *

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!


Kate on January 10th 2011 in life, relationships

20 Responses to “Ninety Years”

  1. B1 responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    I love this! This is what I call a life of great mediocrity. Let me explain before anyone gets bent out of shape. In the world today, everyone is trying to obtain their 15 minutes of fame by being fabulous in some way, shape or form in the eyes of the world. Your grandmother was great in living a life of mediocrity by being there, being the one to fix the meals, aid the boo-boos, give great advice, share her time with her family and friends… but she didn’t strive to be great at anything other than being a great woman, a great mother and great grandmother… Today, that life of mediocrity is looked down upon. She is great in her own little world of family and friends, but she doesn’t feel the need to be great in the eyes of everyone else in the world. That is why she is comfortable in being who she is in her place of this world… she knows the legacy she has created. She has her place in the world’s eyes via your blog but she doesn’t need it or crave it. :-)

  2. Beryl Yelton responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    A great looking lady on top of all the rest.

  3. Karen Paritee responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    Ok I’m happy – cake and unroasts, delicious combination! – and so far I’ve only read 2 of your posts (little sceert to go any further now, worried that you might continue to be this engaging, and that I will only have myself to blame as the signs here are clear.)

    You look like a natural in Gram’s genes!

    Unroast – (how much do I love this) – I love the way I look in my glasses, with a curly ponytail gathered up on top of my head.

    (And I’d love the way I’d look standing still :-D in black, high-heeled boots.)

  4. Kate responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    Nice un-roast! I love glasses.

    And please keep reading :)

  5. Kate responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    I really think we don’t emphasize quiet, awesome lives nearly enough.

  6. Tweets that mention Eat the Damn Cake » Ninety Years -- responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kate , Karen Paritee. Karen Paritee said: Of course you all know the name got me. And then I stayed for a piece, so. RT @EatTheDamnCake Ninety Years [...]

  7. Christin@purplebirdblog responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Your Gram is beautiful! And pillow fights should definitely happen more often in the lives of adults.

  8. joan responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Indeed a wonderful day well derserved by a truly lovely mother, grandmother, sister, aunt , mommy in law, bless auntie meg!

  9. Lonelily responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Love the pictures!

  10. Tabs responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Happy birthday. (:

  11. monika hardy responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    have you seen soulbiographies by Nic Askew.
    this lovely story reminded me of them. i’m thinking you might like them.

  12. Noel responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Dear ETDC community,

    I vote we all go out and nominate ETDC for this: (I’m thinking the fashion/beauty category?)

  13. Kate responded on 10 Jan 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Thanks so much for suggesting this!!

  14. Dawn responded on 11 Jan 2011 at 5:13 am #

    Reading about your Gram’s special day makes me want to be a better person everyday. Happy Birthday to the glorious, powerful trunk of the family tree.

  15. San D responded on 11 Jan 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Before there were words like “mentor” and “role model” your grandmother was the beacon for women who chose their own path. To me she chose husband, family and friends, in that order, as her highest priorities and lived for them. In doing so, she became the Matriarch of an extended family. Again, in my opinion, “she” didn’t get lost in the choosing, but developed and bloomed into a strong “mentor” and “role model”. In using words like “Saint” to describe her, we all love and admire her because of the honesty in her choosing, and because there is no need to apologize for wanting to support and love your husband, family and friends as your life’s goal.

  16. Ellie Di responded on 11 Jan 2011 at 10:28 am #

    As I’m also scrambling to try to pull together a “great” life for myself, I’ve often wondered about the wonder of a quiet, awesome life rather than an explosive one. We tend to forget that being a celebrity or award-winner isn’t the only way to change the world or to be remembered. Like your Gram has proved, we touch dozens if not hundreds of lives in our 100 years, ensuring our legacy.

  17. Just Josie responded on 11 Jan 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    Wow, this is beautiful. See, when there are people like your grandmother, how can people possibly be disgusted with aging? Aging is beautiful; it means you’ve gained wisdom and experience, and who doesn’t want that? Who wants to stay young and naive their entire life? Not I, that is certain.

    By the way, the pictures of her party remind me so much of my own great-grandma’s 80th birthday party. :3

  18. Barbara responded on 13 Jan 2011 at 12:43 am #

    Lovely, the way you write about your grandmother. I can almost visualize the event, similar to visualizing my mother’s 90th. She loved seeing her friends and family around, enjoyed the fuss being made, but not feeling totally fuss-worthy. She would relate to B1′s comment about being “mediocre,” being the stalwart, steady one who always adored her husband, did everything, and made the best of everything without expecting much recognition. It is even hard for her today to accept the praise she hears from everyone about how “awesome” she is. But she really is!

  19. Mary responded on 24 Jan 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    When my great-grandmother turned 105, somebody asked her what her secret was. “I love to eat,” was her answer. She’s still doing water aerobics twice a week and kickin’ it more than any other 106-year-old I know.

  20. Emmi responded on 15 Mar 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    What an absolutely beautiful, formidable woman! If my Grams was still alive I’d love to send the two of them to tea. It would be quite something.