It’s funny how life works out. Sometimes something tragic can turn into the biggest blessing. Today marks the 15th Anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. Born in 1921, she would have been 96 today. She lived through the Great Depression and was in her twenties when brave soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. She witnessed the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagaski a year later.
She raised four children: 3 boys and 1 girl; as television sets entered American homes, JFK was shot, the first man landed on the moon, and Martin Luther King Jr was killed. She survived the 60’s with teenagers, and was either cool enough (or clueless enough) to let her 17 and 13 year old attend Woodstock. (Her 11yr old begged to go but she said he could go “next year”).
Reverting back to how a tragic situation can sometimes turn into a blessing is that my Grandmother, Grace Strachan; a young girl in her twenties before all of this, was engaged to one of those brave boys who went to war to defend our country. She was broken hearted I’m sure, when he did not return. This young man, who I do not know by name, changed the course of my life. He gave up his, defending our country and led my grandmother onto a different path. Without this sad course of events, I would not be here. There would be no 4 children to raise, and no one to debate over concerts with in 1969.
My Grandmother graduated from Mt.Holyoke College in 1943. This single fact is amazing. At the time, 3.8% of the American women were college educated. Can you believe that?! Throughout her time in college, until the day she died; she served as Class President. She met and married a college educated Dentist (who had also served in WWII), a decent and sweet man, who swept her off her feet and gave her the new last name of Arnold. From then on, they were Johnnie & Gracie- inseparable.
A favorite family story is that when my uncle John was in jr high and Uncle Bob was still in elementary school, they had walked to the Jr High to see a basketball game. On their way home, John & Bob, and a few friends started some mischief with grocery carts at the parking lot of the grocery store. When the cops came all the older boys got away and the little 5th grader Bob got his ass hauled to the Police Department. They called my grandmother, who went right down and without any explanation went right in and smacked the crap out of Bob. When the Chief tried to explain the situation, she asked to use the phone. She called my grandfather who was home with John, who had innocently just walked in the door. My badass grandmother told her husband to tell John to wait for her… and to take his glasses off. She meant business. She promptly went home and clobbered him for leaving his little brother on top of causing mischief. As a mother, she didn’t take any shit.
We recently found a letter, dated midnight in the winter of 1966, written by my grandmother, after arriving home to a mess in the kitchen.
To the Waldorf! Good for her. As a New Jersey native, she knew where to go, and how to make a point. I’m pretty sure she didn’t find the kitchen in such disarray again.
She taught my mother to be a lady, yet to stand up for herself. My mother is a phenomenal cook and baker; trades she both learned from her parents. As the only girl, my mother had a special bond with my grandmother. I know that to this day, there isn’t a day that goes by that my mom doesn’t think about her, or want to share something with her. My mother is married to a wonderful man. An avid golfer (just like my grandparents), he treats my mother with the respect and affection that she deserves. He takes care of her and is a true gentleman. After a tough marriage with my father, I wish often that my grandparents could see how happy my mom is now. Then again, there is a part of me that knows that they know- cardinals frequent their yard and I have no doubt they are looking down, smiling at how happy my mother is right now.
I met my Grandmother in 1983, the year I was born. The first grandchild, she was over the moon. I think of how much technology has changed since then and now. My children Facetime my mother on a daily basis and we live 10mi apart. In the early 80’s, she was lucky if she got a photograph from time to time.
As time went by, she watched her family grow, and was not only the mother of four, but grandmother of twelve. Every single one of us were the apple of her eye- even my two cousins who joined our family when we were little and not blood related to us. She adored us all and we all loved her.
I was the first grandchild to meet my grandmother, and the last grandchild to see her before she passed. I was living in Washington DC in college at the time and she stopped by with my grandfather and uncle on their way to Florida. I could tell she wasn’t herself. She barely ate at lunch and seemed out of it. I recall calling my mother after our visit to tell her that I was worried.
They made their way to Florida, and as the story goes, for three nights in a row, while she and my grandfather laid in bed, she made a point to tell him that the past fifty years of her life (yes they had been married 50+ years) had been the best of her life and she loved him more than words would say. She repeated this each evening. She knew the end was coming. She passed on that fourth day, after my grandfather had taken her to get her hair done. It was the right time for her. She died looking fabulous and telling her husband she loved him. She was a gem; a diamond actually. SHE WAS THE BEST.