March 9th, 2019

Pumpkinhead

Dear Gram

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. You can comment here or there.

Over the course of the last 10 years or so, I sent my grandmother a number of letters, on the order of 40 or so. Mostly, I told her, this was because she didn’t own a computer, and I didn’t feel that the lack of a computer and Internet access should exempt her from having to read the deathless prose of the Big Ugly Man Doll. She was, after all, the Queen Mother of Pink! (And yes, I addressed most of the envelopes to “The Queen Mother of Pink” at her address. The Post Office had no trouble finding her.)

This was mostly the hubris of her eldest grandchild speaking, but I was reliably informed that she appreciated the updates – by her, because she often wrote back with comments. (The comments were often variants on “you’re out of your mind,” proving that comments on blogs are the same the world over, regardless of medium.) The other reason I sent the letters, though, was because I was never really great at sending thank you notes when I was young, despite Gram’s unfailing ability to remember my birthday. (Between Christmas, birthdays, Easter, and Valentine’s day, for myself and all my cousins, and all of our kids, she must have sent literally thousands of cards – possibly keeping the local Hallmark afloat.)

I know she kept quiet track of the notes: When she found out that I had joined my high school debate team, she sent me the one medal she’d won while she was on HER high school debate team. I thought this was pretty cool, and when I won a (one and only) medal, I gave mine to her the next time we were in Chicago. She thanked me and laughed and said, “This gets you off the hook for a lot of missing thank you notes!”

The Queen Mother of Pink
The Queen Mother of Pink

The Queen Mother of Pink passed away a few days ago, at 101, in her own home, just as she’d said she would. She lived her life her way, tiny and fierce, short of stature and strong of will. She was the nicest person I know of, and certainly the nicest person I’ve ever known in person. Nice was never the same as weak – she had a will of iron. I learned a lot from her.

And so, finally, one last Thank You note – late, as usual.

Dear Gram,

So, you’re dead. I’m sure you’ve finally got WiFi now, so I know you’re reading this. I’ll miss your reply, typed on the old Smith Corona – I never understood how you did that with non-standard paper sizes. Even the checks were typed.

Thank you for teaching me what power grandmothers have. My earliest memories of you are from Omaha: You and Grandpa were visiting, and I was perhaps 5 or 6. I had been being my most usual self, I’m sure, and was about to get in trouble for it. I heard the words, “Do you need a spanking?” And suddenly, before I could say anything, I heard “Oh, not while Grandma’s here!” I’m sure my mother must have been near apoplexy, but to me, this was paramount to Mr. Rogers himself reaching through the television to intercede on my behalf. Wow!

Thank you for providing a road map on how to age without really getting old. You earned a college degree in the 1930s, and you never stopped learning. Learning to drive in your 50s? Going back to a local college in your 70s and 80s, to audit courses about the history that you’d lived through? That’s genius. Staying in your house, in your 90s and 100s, because it was your house and you damn well felt like it – that was maybe a little goofy, but strong. And reading – I didn’t get to your house very often, but there were always books. Not a library, hording them like I do, but you were always reading some new books.

And thank you for being an example. As I face my 50th year, I think of all the things you saw. You saw two states admitted to the union, and three Federal holidays created.  You were there to see cars replace horses; you saw Ford replace the Model T with the Model A.  You saw the infield fly rule amended to not apply to bunts. You lived through 18 Presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson. (Jimmy Carter was the first one younger than you were!) You saw the end of the Great War, and then presided over a century that saw little else. 

And yet none of those things made you jaded, or less hopeful – not even the infield fly rule. You saw the good in people.

Thank you for sharing some of the stories about that history. You told me that when the victory in Europe was announced in May of 1945, and everyone was banging pots and pans in the street to celebrate, you had to use a stool to reach some of yours from the cabinet – and this was when Uncle George first realized, “Mommy, you’re short!” The end of the war? Never mind that – his mom had to use a stool to reach the pots! Man, that was a milestone!

One of these days, I shall compile my letters to you, with your replies, and post them as an epistolary record. Just to be goofy.

I’m sure you’re enjoying things there. I hope they have Twinkies, and Peeps for Grandpa. We’ll keep things moving down here, and we’ll try to live up to the examples you set – in niceness, in compassion, and in strength. Maybe not in pink, honestly, but I’ll see what I can do.

Much Love as Always,

-Big Ugly Man Doll