Today would have been my grandmother’s 99th birthday.
EJBH was our family’s answer to the Queen Mother. From her hat and her handbag to her Castleberry knit suits and her lace-up shoes, she was always perfectly dressed for the occasion. Her penchant for proper expression was revealed not only in the “Thinking of You” cards she frequently sent to friends, but also in the “I don’t want to waste your time” script she had placed over her telephone to refer to when solicitors called. She even exercised with poise; her well-watched videotape of “Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves” is a testament to that.
Grandma set a good example in several things. Her fondness for Colonial Williamsburg, Wallace Nutting’s Virginia Beautiful and Colonial Revival interiors was contagious. Long before the Internet arrived, her exacting genealogical research was conducted through teaching herself German and writing letters to priests in Ireland. Her commitment to doing the right thing culminated in her purchasing a headstone for the unmarked grave in Mount Calvary Cemetery containing her grandmother and her Irish grandfather (both of whom died before they were 40), her 13-year-old aunt and two infant uncles. (That’s probably our most sober family story; four members of that family died within two years of each other, leaving two surviving young children to be raised by neighbors in separate households).
But her finest example was how she met adversity. During the 16 years that she cared for my grandfather as he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, she never complained. Faced with several frightening medical complications during the last years of her life, she bravely rose to the challenge. When she concluded her life on March 14, 2005, she did it so quickly, so gracefully and in such a dignified manner that the Carmelite Sisters who surrounded her at the time of her death are still talking about it.
Sundays and holidays just don’t seem the same without Grandma. As the only grandchild who grew up in Columbus, I was most fortunate to have benefited from lots of time spent with her. After being picked up from school in the “Duster” – and later, the “Tuna Fish Can” – I snacked on bags of M&Ms, made “JIFFY” cornbread in a white plastic bowl with a wooden spoon, and sometimes shared a peanut butter-and-bacon sandwich with my grandfather. We sat on our rockers and watched “The Lawrence Welk Show” and Marlin Perkins on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” When I stayed overnight, I rested on a special pink-and-white-striped satin pillowcase as I tried not to “dream about bears.” At Grandma’s request, I learned to play “Clair de Lune” on the piano, which encouraged my love of classical music. After Mass each Sunday, we had breakfast together at the Christopher Inn. We drove around Ohio to historic sites and tracked down covered bridges. We even weathered an overnight “bilious attack” together while sharing a room at Colonial Williamsburg.
Two of my favorite pieces of jewelry belonged to Grandma. One is her gold baby locket with pictures of her parents inside, engraved on one side with the monogram that we both share, and marked on the other from her baby teeth. The other is the fancy gold cross-shaped medal that she received when she graduated from St. Joseph Academy. The medal bears not only her name, but also the date of her graduation, which we both share (June 12, but 57 years apart).
Grandma and I have more in common than our initials, our middle names and the day of our high school graduation. Although I’m jokingly referred to as a junior version of her, I think that’s a great compliment.