She was proud to be a redhead. She was proud to have been a grade school teacher. She was proud of the work she did as a waitress to support her three children when her husband went to fight in WWII. She was very outspoken. Her stories always had a moral, her jokes did not. “Have you heard the one about the fool who needed some shade? So he stood under a horses’ tail!” She was proud of the poetry she could recite from memory. She had a repertoire of stories, sayings, songs, and jokes which she repeated constantly, like a litany, throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. Most of the family could repeat them along with her. Her children coddled her and told her she was funny, knowing how much she liked to laugh. I saw no real value in all the stuff and even though I loved her very much, at times, it irritated me! She died when she was 87. She was my grandmother, Ruth Mandeville Robinson.
Her memorial service was planned. She had died while living in Florida. Her ashes were sent back to Warsaw, New York, where she had spent most of her life. My mother called to tell me the date and time of the service and to inform me it had been decided the grandchildren would each say a few words at the service. It was not my favorite idea!
I started trying to think of profound things to say. My knowledge of funerals was fuzzy. I remembered clergy speaking, not real people. I remembered sadness, quiet and the cloying smell of funeral bouquets. To add to the tension, not all my family members got along and sometimes were outright hostile towards each other. I wanted what I said to be good. It seemed to me at a funeral you were supposed to build the deceased up but I also knew not everyone there had actually liked my grandmother. I did not want to give them reason for ridicule. In truth, I wanted everyone to like my speech.
The day came and as chance would have it, I spoke first. When I reached the podium I saw all the faces were uncomfortable. ”Can’t we get this over with” hung in the air. I took a deep breath, pictured everyone in their underwear and began:
“My grandmother was a unique person, as you all know. Undoubtedly she has taught us all many different things. I would like to share with you something very special she taught me. It inspires courage when you have none. It can put you at ease in any situation. It can make you appear clever or crazy, depending on your needs at the moment. It restores optimism. It makes children laugh. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to think of all week. Here it is:
I‘ve never seen a purple cow.
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!
The room full of people laughed and relaxed. That had focused everyone on her life and not her death. My brother followed my lead and told some of his favorites of her stories. I was happy with the change in the mood. I had given my family a place from which they could start to remember her. They recalled her sense of humor, hard work and, most of all, the thing she loved the most…her family gathered around her.
I never would have believed any words of mine could have had such an effect. My grandmother was a very strong personality. I had always felt like I paled in comparison. That day, I discovered there is a large part of her I recognize in myself. I have her self-assurance, her sense of humor and her work ethic. The things she said and did are reflected in my daily behavior. Speaking at her memorial service gave me confidence I did not know I possessed. I don’t know if anyone remembers that day but me but it does not matter. The memory is priceless to me as it is the last one I have of my grandmother, Ruth
Rachel is a working chef on summer holidays from feeding a passel of 7th & 8th graders. She has been twice published in the Freshwater Poetry Journal, Asnuntuck Community College, Enfield, CT. She has been writing for about 5 years. and ha discovered in writing and poetry, a way of exploring the magic which exists in the world.