My grandmother died last night at 11:30 pm.
I got the call that she had passed away “peacefully” this morning as I walked into the office (and you thought your Monday sucked).
She was 95, which sounds old unless you met her. She was one of the those rare people who at 60 was hipper than most 30-year-olds and at 85 was in better shape mentally and physically than most 60-year-olds.
At the age of 83 she traveled to London by herself to ring in the new millenium in complete style. At 90-years-old she was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as she left the opera and she would not be returning unless it was with a young man who picked her up in a limosuine.
She was the youngest of 12 children born on a farm outside Holland, Michigan. Her father sent all 12 of his kids to college and he delivered 4 of them himself. Her husband (who truly was the love of her life) died of leukemia when she was still young, leaving her with my 15-year-old father and 12-year-old aunt to raise on her own.
She went and got a job. She retired. She cashed her teacher’s pension and re-invested it, making a fortune. She lived in a condo on Michigan Avenue across from Oak Street Beach, just down from Oprah. In her later years she bought a home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois and lived with my Aunt, Uncle and their two children.
She was more of a friend and advisor than a grandmother. She was always politefully honest and full of grace and style.
When she would come visit for the holidays, her typical garb was black leather pants and a low cut cashmere sweater.
I said to her a few years ago:
“Gram, I sweat like crazy. If I put on leather pants like that they would be destroyed in an hour. How do you clean them?”
“I just throw them away and buy new ones.”
I’ll never forget when she heard women were inserting “dimmers” into their bras to keep their nipples from showing.
“What’s wrong with nipples? I happen to like nipples.”
See? A lot of traits are passed down genetically.
Her schooling my friends at HORSE in the driveway when I was in junior high…
Her walking me to the record store in 3rd grade to buy Van Halen’s “Diver Down”…
Her love advice to me in college was “Cute girls are nice and they are fun but you do not marry cute. You marry beautiful minds. That will always keep you interested.”
She was many things but above all she was the grandmother everyone else wished they had.
I found this note recently from my Grandmother and I’ll share with you because I know, you too would have loved her like I did.
She wrote it to me when I graduated from college and gave it to me along with a collection of Mike Ryko articles and a Dylan Thomas anthology.
“As I said at lunch yesterday, student days are over, but scholarship just begins.
So, my dear young man, whether or not reading “hurts your brain” (and I assume it does not) this reading will soothe the soul.
If you absolutely CAN’T read and your brain hurts TOO much, just carry these with you to the bar. Perhaps you’ll attract an intelligent girl who will read them to you.”
I love you Grandma Dottie. Thank you for everything.