I don’t actually use this site as a blog very often, but I felt compelled to share my sentiments from my Granny’s memorial service today. Though I’m sad that she’s gone, it was great to spend the day remembering her with my family.
I imagine we’ve all spent a lot of time remembering Granny over the past weeks and months. Each day I seem to recall a particular moment I spent with her, or a detail of our relationship. Some of these memories are big: like the time she went through surgery and our family—this family—gathered in a hospital waiting room praying for her. Others are small: like the strawberry candies she always kept in a jar on her coffee table. I’d get so excited when she offered me one of those candies. I thought of the summer days Bobby and I spent at Granny’s house, and the way she fussed over us–or fussed after us, depending on what we were up to. I thought of her dancing with us to the Beach Boys, the Oak Ridge Boys, or the Beatles. Her favorite songs to sing with us, by the way, were “Elvira,” “Barbara Ann,” and “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” If that last one came on the radio while we were riding in her Cadillac, she’d turn up the volume and practically yell “go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go!” I thought of driving to the drug store for pink elephants. I remembered her comforting Alison after Bobby and I conned her in a game of Monopoly. I remembered her and Big Daddy teasing each other over the dinner table. He would cut up, and she would act so angry—but it was just a show for the amusement of her grandkids. I remembered her in the conga line at Alison and Peter’s wedding. I remembered her—just a few years ago—clapping wildly and singing at the top of her lungs along with Aunt Jo and Willie Nelson in Charlottesville.
But more than anything else, I thought about the houseboat. I’m surprised that I remember this at all, but I do. When Granny and Big Daddy lived in Bowman, their house had a big front porch facing the highway. I was maybe 5 or 6, and I loved sitting out on that porch and pretending that the house was a houseboat. I was the captain; the passing cars were smaller boats; the yard was the ocean. I’d sit out on the porch and play houseboat for what seemed like hours, and Granny played right along. She’d pretend to be whatever characters I needed for the stories I made up, and she’d indulge me for as long as I wanted to play. It was a quiet game. We’d mostly sit, look out over the yard, and I’d describe the things I imagined. But she played enthusiastically, and that really speaks to what I will most cherish about Granny. She was never shy about her love for us. She loved us fiercely—she took real joy in our presence.
As I was writing this, I wanted so much to find one final thing I could say about Granny that would sum up how I felt about her. I kept coming back around to one idea. I still don’t think I’ve found the perfect words to describe this idea, but I hope I can convey it to you. For me—and I know for many of you—Granny was an unflappable advocate. When I fell short, or when my life took an unexpected turn, she never for a moment let me wallow in pity. She never once considered it failure. She would simply say, “Hon, it wasn’t meant to be,” or “Hon”—these exhortations usually started with “hon”—”Hon, you’ll figure it out,” or “It’ll work out, hon, you’ll see.” I remember the day I told her Evie was pregnant—the first time, I mean. I was 19, I had only finished one year of college, and I was convinced that my life—or at least one vision I had for my life—was over. We talked about only two things that day: how excited she would be to hold that child, and how soon I would return to school. Granny’s faith never wavered, and her confidence buoyed mine in difficult moments.
Granny was also never surprised when I succeeded—she simply expected success for her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. Whenever I would excitedly recount some victory to her, Granny would respond, “Well of course—you’re my grandson.” When I graduated from the University of Virginia last summer, Granny, of course, teased me. “I always knew there’d be doctor in the family, hon,” she joked, “but I thought I’d be a *real* doctor!” In a quieter moment, though—with her arms around my neck—she whispered, simply, “I always knew you could do it.” And she did—she always knew I could, even when many others—including me—doubted. If I’m successful today, that success is due in no small part to Granny’s fervent belief in me. I know that many of you benefited from that same unwavering support and love.
I’m especially grateful that my children were also able to know that love. More vividly than anything from my childhood, I remember Granny dancing with Cadence, snuggling on the couch with Emerson, and chasing Rory and Jonas around the house, all three of them out of breath from laughing. The girls, especially, will remember their Granny. They’ll remember cuddling with her on the couch. They’ll remember looking through old photographs with her and picking out her, her sisters, and their Pepa. They’ll remember her rubbing their backs as they fell asleep. They’ll remember her playfully scolding their Pepa, much as I remember her playfully scolding Big Daddy. Even when she felt terrible—even during the last few years when she always felt sick—Granny loved being with her great-grandkids. She came to life whenever they were around.
Last semester I taught a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called “Babylon Revisited.” I won’t belabor the details of the story here, but it’s about a father who, among other things, wants desperately to connect with his daughter before she grows up too much. There’s one line in particular that twists my heart every time I read it: “she was already an individual with a code of her own, and Charlie was more and more absorbed by the desire of putting a little of himself into her before she crystallized utterly.” I think all parents feel this way about their kids. Cadence is just reaching that age when I can see my influence on her waning, at least for awhile. As parents and grandparents, we worry that our kids will be too much like us; and we worry that they’ll be nothing like us. We hope that they’ll find something valuable in us and make it part of themselves.
The girls and I were able to visit Granny a few weeks ago, and while we were there I thought: I’m glad that my Granny had the chance to put a little of herself into my kids—that they’ll carry her humor, her energy, and her affection into their lives. I’m glad that she’ll be more than a story to them: that they know her, and they’ll remember her. Granny’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—those of us gathered here today—will be the best possible memorials to Granny’s memory. We love you Granny.