The Little Old Lady
In August of last 2011 I had the joy of sitting with my Grandmother, Tillie, for a few hours. We had just buried her youngest sister. I wanted to take some time and talk with her. Allow her to bring me through her past and our family the way she saw and remember them.
This little old lady, shrinking with age, talked for three hours about her mother, father, sisters, husband, cousins, faith, living and loss. As she spoke I noticed how alive she became as her mind traveled back in time, recounting things about people so close to her heart, many long forgotten by the world, kept alive through her stewardship. It was pure joy seeing her smile recounting childhood stories of her father coming home late at night, waking up all the children, so they could indulge in hot dogs. She smiled ear to ear telling of how much they were his favorite thing to eat and how excited she and her siblings became over the surprise, giggling as she recounted how mad her mother was at having her whole household awakened after she had finally gotten all of the children down for the night. Her face was alive in the moments remembering her father and his love for his children despite the fact he has been gone for eighty three years.
She recounted her mother's love for them, hard work supporting their family, remarriage, more out of necessity than love, a few years later and the integration of two families becoming one. Through all of this she rifled through draws pulling out photographs, marriage, birth and death certificates, each bringing the memories more vividly to life for her. She showed me her mothers Certificate of Naturalization. You could see in her face the moment coming back to her and a daughter's pride in this recollection as she said "My mother was so proud of becoming an American citizen,"
This little old lady married at age seventeen and a half to Joseph, the love of her life. By this time it was 1934 during the middle of the Great Depression. With him she had two children, a daughter and a son. She recalled having a husband in the Navy during World War II, the concerns that came with it and how different things were. The rationing, the patriotism and how women's roles began to shift. There were stories of what a terror my father was as a child, recollections of wash day and finding snakes in his pants pockets as she went through them. For a few moments her gnarled hands smoothed out into the hands of her youth as she unconsciously moved them through motions that had become rote over the decades.
These strolls through the timeline of her life opened my eyes to things I had not really considered before. Like most of us I had really only considered her as my Grandmother. I had not really considered the fact that she is a woman who has devoted her life to her family and her faith. In her were the many facets that we all bring into life but so often forget about in others due to the title bestowed upon them based on their place in the family. In those hours she was no longer just "Vo." My eyes were opened to the whole woman she is; mother, wife, widow, sister, aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother, mother-in-law but more importantly she became Tillie, the woman.
Her life over the span of these ninety-five years come April has been one of silent acceptance for the life she lives. Be it good, bad, easy or hard she accepted the experience with a grace that I would be humbled to possess but a fifth of.
I asked her what it is like for her to have lived so long? Her response, and I'm paraphrasing, was "It's been the life God gave me and I am thankful for it. Each day when I go to bed I get on my knees and pray thanking the good lord for my family and for having given me this day and, if it is his will, thank him for another. When I get up in the morning I get on my knees and pray again thanking God for having given me another day."
This little old lady who has buried many, watched our country go through some of it best and worst times and has outlived virtually all of her generation thinks of but one thing at the end of each day and the start of the next, gratitude for the gifts she has been given. She does not dwell on the woulda, coulda, shoulda's of life that we often get trapped in. This little old lady gave me the foundation of gratitude in my life with a subtly and gentility of spirit that we are lucky to experience once in our lifetimes.
When someone asks me if I think there are angels that walk the earth I just think of my grandmother and can not help but answer "yes".