This piece was originally published on Chelsea's personal blog, This Novel Life.
We all lose people we love, and in my experience, there are so many things I wish I could have asked but never got the chance to. So, I dedicated an afternoon to asking my grandmother – who raised three kids, saw a good chunk of the world, was a military wife and then found herself raising me in retirement – some questions that I can cherish forever. I also took the opportunity to take some pictures of her house, a time capsule that has barely changed in my life. It turned out to be an incredibly emotional moment for me when I sat down later on and listened to her answers. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into her life.
What in your life are you most proud of?
I’m proud of graduating college, and teaching.
Do you have a favorite thing in life?
My dogs, and Abby the cat. Animals are very, very special.
What’s your favorite animal?
If you could hold on to one memory, what would it be?
My father. He was a wonderful person. He was a kind person, a smart person, a very hard working person, and he loved us kids.
Do you have a favorite childhood memory?
Yes! At the farm we had an archway to go in the back and you could climb to the top of the archway. There was an opening at the top and one day I was throwing a ball back and forth, and I went down with the ball one time. It was a long way down.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
No, no. I don’t think you can fall in love at first sight – it just doesn’t work. I mean you have to know a person before you can love a person, really.
So you didn’t see Papa (my grandfather) and think this is it?
No! He came looking for my roommate.
But you went?
Because he couldn’t get a date with her, and he says “how about you?” so I went out with him. I guess I wanted to go out with him. I wanted a date, really. He was a nice looking guy.
What’s the first thing you remember about him?
That he came to date my roommate. I don’t know, I had seen him up at the campus… I was teaching and he was teaching, but after he went out with me, he called me at work all the time.
Do you have any relationship advice?
Don’t fall too soon. Get to know the person.
How do you think he wants to be remembered?
As a smart guy, intelligent.
What is your favorite memory of him?
When he came back from Vietnam. I was glad to see him.
What about him made you smile?
Just seeing him.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A dancer, and I taught dance [at the University of New Hampshire].
So you did what you wanted to do.
What was your favorite family tradition?
Thanksgiving when I was growing up. My mother always cooked. And Christmas… seeing my kids faces when they opened all their presents.
Do you have any regrets?
Probably quite a few. I don’t remember one, though.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a sweet grandmother. A kind person, I guess.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?
Be yourself. Be honest, and be good to people.
- Chelsea Donahue