On behalf of my mother and uncles and all of Antonia’s family I would like to thank you for coming today to share in our sorrow, but also to share in our joy as we celebrate grandmother’s wonderful life. My grandmother was a wonderful woman who lived a rich, long life filled with challenges, love, and adventures. You may have been given a short biography about my grandmother, and I hope you will take some time to read it because her life was the stuff of books. She was born at the beginning of the 20th century, before radio and televisions were commonplace, and she lived to see the existence of the internet and even the iPad. In fact, in the last three weeks of her life I brought her my Ipad and shared photos with her from her great-granddaughter’s Danielle’s recent wedding and graduation. She was impressed by the technology, and of course, she was impressed and proud of her great granddaughter.
But beyond all the biographical information about my grandmother, I would like to share with you a few of my own personal memories and some of my personal reflections about who she was. If I had to sum up my grandma I guess I would break it down to three things:
The first thing about my grandmother was that she was Love. Her love for her family, and her love of life showed itself in many ways. I have heard stories from my mother and uncles how my grandmother raised them with a stern but loving hand. How she was the disciplinarian in their lives, but she would still do things for them which let them know how much she loved them. I heard their stories about how she worked hard and contributed to household finances, while at the same time finding time to sew her family clothes, finding money to send my mom to Catholic school when she asked to go. My grandmother was nothing but LOVE, when, she said “yes” to me, my sister, and my cousin Christine when we would call her almost every Friday afternoon and ask to spend the weekend with her. She was love when she made her backyard, into a magical place for all of her grandchildren, with the addition of a little wooden playhouse, child-sized tables and chairs for tea-parties and picnics, and a garage filled with all kinds of interesting things. I wonder what we will find in there when it’s time to go through it now? My grandma was all about love too, the way she embraced her friends and life. She showed her love when she opened her house up to Theresa, the daughter of a family friend who needed a place to stay. It was the 1950′s and Theresa ran away from her home near the Anaheim orange groves. Theresa made her way to my grandmother’s house in Los Angeles. Somehow, Theresa knew she would be welcomed there, and she was. My grandmother’s love of life was extraordinary too. She found joy in the simplest things. One of her greatest pleasures was to work out in her yard. In early years, her backyard was a showcase for flowers and plants. She could coax a flower from a temperamental orchid or a desert cactus. She loved to take day trips too. Sometimes pressuring my grandfather to “go for a ride, ” destination unknown but often ending up at a relative’s house for a visit, or if she had a grandchild with her, they would end up at an amusement park or botanical garden. When these day trips didn’t satisfy her adventurous spirit she would travel. She loved to travel, even though she didn’t always have the extra money. My grandmother would tell my grandfather about a trip with with senior citizens and ask to go. My grandpa told her if she could find the money, she could go. She did and she went. She was famous for saving jars of silver dollar coins stashed in the back of her kitchen cabinets. The money was intended for senior citizen gambling trips to Nevada, but, because she loved her family, more than travel, she would dig out the silver dollars from jars, or random coin purses, and give the silver dollars to her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.
The second thing about my grandmother was that she was resilient. She endured all of life’s bitterness and she indulged in all of life’s sweetness. She suffered an early loss with her father’s death when she was only 5 years old. But, later, when her mother re-married, she would talk about “Bill,” her step-father, with the utmost affection and love. When she was still a child she had to leave her mother and Bill, to live in town with another family. Anyone else may have felt abandoned, but my grandmother faced this period in her life with a sense of adventure. My grandmother suffered other losses, including the loss of her daughter Alice, when Alice was only 42. When my aunt Alice died she left behind three young children. My grandmother was heartbroken at her daughter’s death, but she managed to pull herself together and ask the court to grant her custody of her three young grandchildren. When the court turned her down, and the kids moved across the country, she did not become bitter or sad. She stayed connected to them. When my cousins Michael and John wanted to come live with her several years later, she opened her heart and her home and offered to take them in. Later, when my grandmother learned that Christine, Alice’s daughter was dying, also at age 42, my grandmother was grief-stricken, but concerned about Christine’s 3 year-old daughter Sabina, and even at age 92, my grandmother expressed that she wanted Sabina to come stay with her. And when my grandfather died suddenly in 1986, after 57 years of marriage, my grandmother wept. But I remember that after the funeral we went to her house, and she laughed too, because she was happy to have all her family together. She joked that when they purchased the plot for her and my grandfather, she did not want the plot size which would require her to be buried on top of my grandfather. Instead, she wanted to be buried alongside him, because that way he wouldn’t bother her!
The third thing about my grandmother that I saw, and I know we all saw, was that she was independent. Some would call it strong-willed, some would even call it stubborn. But truly, it was her unending independent spirit which made will so strong, and caused her to be so stubborn. This independence showed itself at an early age, when she worked as an errand girl for a local madam, when she eloped at barely 16 years-old, and when she and my grandfather, trying to earn extra money, started their own shuttle service. My grandfather worked as a porter for the railroad and would find tourists who were had missed the train and were stranded on the way to the Grand Canyon. Then, my grandmother would drive the tourists from Williams to the Grand Canyon. It was this same independent spirit which helped when she broke her arm, after my grandfather died, and when she was alone in the house. She wrapped her arm in a homemade sling, walked to the bus stop and took public transportation to the emergency room. Her independence also helped her when she was 92 and fell and broke her hip. She needed surgery and at her age, the doctor’s were concerned about her ability to endure the surgery and recover. Well, she fooled all of them and recovered in record time. She couldn’t get out of the convalescent hospital fast enough. She could not stand the thought of others taking care of her and losing her independence. My grandmother’s independent spirit outlasted all of her family’s will. Early this year, when my grandmother was released from the hospital after losing consciousness at home, the doctor advised her and our family begged her to go and live with my mom, enter a facility or hire some caretakers. She would have none of it! Her independence exasperated all of us, but really, truly, how could we expect her to change after all these years? Her will won out and in the end she lived out her legacy of independence as she died in her own home.
These qualities in my grandma, independence, resilience and love became so evident to me during the last months I spent with her. When she left the hospital, family members all took turns going to see her at home, so that she would have a daily visitor. I went to see her every Friday. During our visits I saw her independent spirit when she would scold me for helping with any household tasks. I saw her resilience when I visited her the Friday before she died. On that visit I noticed that she seemed more frail and weak. I asked her if she was feeling okay or if she was tired. She told me, “No, honey, I’m fine. I’m not tired, I am old.” But most of all I experienced her love during our visits. I didn’t know it then, but she was loving me, taking care of me when I thought I was there to care for her. Now that she has died, I see that all the times she let me care for her, she gave me an opportunity spend regular time with her and free myself from wishing I spent more time with her. Those visits where we sat and talked, when I would bring her fresh cut pineapple, donuts or something sweet from Amy’s, her favorite bakery, the memory of these visits, and the memories I have from all the times together, comfort me, and speak to me of how much she loved me.
I could go on and on about my grandmother, offering personal stories about how she was about all about love, resilience and independence. But I was only given 2 minutes and I know I have gone way beyond that. But you know, my grandmother’s 97 years in this world cannot be summed up in two minutes. I know you all have your own stories about her, as a mother, grandmother, an aunt, and a friend. I am sure you will find that many of your own experiences with and memories of her embody resilience, independence and love.