Life and Death in Spring and Lent

As the bursts of color take over Tennessee and we enjoy the warmth of 70-degree afternoons, we are also in a liturgical season of reflection and preparation. It’s a binary spell that can mess with your head if you let it.

This week, however, my family is also experiencing loss. My grandmother passed away over the weekend, and though we all knew it was coming and I was prepared to see my dad’s phone call come through somewhat early on Saturday morning, feeling the loss of my grandmother has been a little different each day.

At first it was Okay, I knew this was coming and I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore, followed by, I wonder how my mother’s doing. This cannot be easy. Then there was raw grief, the realization that I won’t ever get a quirky note in the mail with an accompanying clipping from the Washington Post about owl sanctuaries or a collection of educational pamphlets from Historical Williamsburg. Grandma was known for her quirky notes and random, curious newspaper clippings. For the many times I shrugged my shoulders and wondered why she chose me for a specific clipping, I now cried that I’d no longer receive them.

My grandmother was an exceptionally bright woman, cultured and mannered, a stickler for a strong vocabulary. She encouraged my writing and creativity without fail, especially when I was a young girl. She’d let me play Paint on her fancy Apple IIGS while sitting in the ergonomic kneeling chair. At her sprawling work desk, surrounded by a jungle of indoor plants, I’d pull up a stool and draw and doodle and write little stories on pieces of cut paper. She encouraged all of this, so even while I didn’t prefer her cooking and I always held my fork incorrectly and I’d say Can I have dessert instead of May I have dessert, my grandmother was a significant influence on all of my right-brained efforts.

I was named after my grandmother’s mother, Jennie, so after my great-grandmother passed away in the early 90s I inherited a collection of monogrammed and personal items with my name on them. Grandma was a deeply sentimental person, so I have no doubt she felt great pride passing those things down to me. And yes, I still have them in a keepsake box in my closet.

Because my grandparents live in our nation’s capital with so much culture at their fingertips, our birthday and Christmas gifts always had an educational bent. Something from the Smithsonian Institution, perhaps. I loved that she thought that way, always considering what we might learn from something she gave us. My grandmother valued education as a necessary staple in everyone’s life. She was a lifelong teacher and a lifelong learner, someone who pursued knowledge and endeavored to share it. My grandfather continues to receive phone calls from former students who were impacted by Grandma’s efforts and passion.

The last time I saw Grandma was in the hospital in January. My sister and I visited her and held her hands and told her we loved her. She knew we were there.

It’s beautiful in Tennessee right now, and on an evening walk tonight, I got to thinking about one of the last things Grandma gave me. It’s her copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse, given to her in May 1948.

It’s tiny, scarcely bigger than my hand and about an inch thick.

Inside it reads, “With best wishes to a student who is ‘willing to cross the threshold of her own mind’ to realize her creative potentialities,” along with a typed note Grandma included for me.

For me, this is a treasure. Though the inscription was written to my grandmother in May 1948, it can very well be an inscription from Grandma to me in 2017. She wanted her granddaughter to cross the threshold of her own mind, to realize her own creative potentialities. I have no doubt, and I am trying.

Thank you, Grandma, for the legacy of learning you’ve left me. I will miss your quirky notes and listening to your impressive, formidable vocabulary. You longed for your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to reach their highest potential possible, and none of that went unnoticed. Well done.

2 Replies to “Life and Death in Spring and Lent”

  1. Jennie, this is a lovely tribute to your grandma. I’m sure she was very proud of you. I suspect she was especially proud of the education you are sharing with your sons. I know you will miss her.

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