Monday, April 14, 2014

Grandma D, 1925-2014

I had the honor of speaking at my paternal grandmother's memorial service in Indianapolis this past weekend. I wrote out my remarks because I tend to cry a lot at funerals (even for people I didn't know) so I wanted to have a script to keep me grounded. Below are my remarks. 

Thank you everyone for being here to celebrate the life of my grandmother, Margaret Lou Dellinger. It is a real honor for me to speak on behalf of my family, and it means a lot for me to be here, in Indianapolis, the family seat of the Dellingers.

I was born and raised in New Jersey, but I came to Indianapolis twice a year for most of childhood, and have a lot of great memories of this place. The first time I got on a plane was to come to Indiana, but who could forget the 12 hour drives each way across the great states of Pennsylvania and Ohio with my dad. Those trips were like Dellinger Cultural Immersion programs, with the books on tape and geology lectures from my dad as we drove through the landscape.

It is in Indianapolis that I played Hearts with my aunt and uncles, walked with Uncle Roger’s dogs around Eagle Creek, and first met my cousins. I met Matt, the youngest cousin, when he wasn’t quite yet walking, an incredibly joyful experience for me as I was used to being the absolute baby of my family. I got to know Jerry and Jimmy meet their children, the ever open-hearted Amber and Dustin. For me, Indianapolis is where the Dellingers come together.

So I understand my Grandmother’s reluctance to leave her Indiana home late in her life. Though she spent many years raising her family outside of Buffalo in Tanawanda, New York, she was a Hoosier to the core: raised on a farm in Mays, she ventured into Indianapolis during the war and met her husband, Hartley, there at a dance. She brought all four of her kids home from the hospital to her house Speedway. She made a real presence for herself in the community with her volunteering, the Presbyterian church, her neighbors, her bridge circles, and her friends.

That said, Margaret Lou was always comfortable to stand on her own. When I brought my husband, Kris, out to meet her, we expected our long weekend visit to be spent almost entirely altogether. But she had different ideas. She was very eager to make sure that we were busy exploring the area, but preferred to be left alone in the house to read her books and listen to basketball games on the radio, and could we please just let her know if we’d be back for lunch and dinner. And maybe, if pressed, could we bring her back a sandwich from Arby’s.

This was the hardy stock of the Greatest Generation: born in 1925, and raised by her mother on a farm in the Great Depression. They had an outhouse until she left home to go to the big city. It’s a story I tell anyone who will listen. I’m proud of where I come from. It’s not something you hear everyday in 2014 New Jersey.

To me, some of the best things about my grandmother to me are hallmarks of her stoic upbringing.

She recycled greeting cards and envelopes, which I remember fondly, as we were penpals since as I started writing until she no longer could. She sent dispatches on the unpredictable local weather, her family visits and social engagements, and her family history.

She made her own bread, left to rise in coffee cans on the counter. To this day, any time I smell or taste fresh homemade bread, I am transported back to her breakfast table.

She had huge blueberry bushes in her backyard and we would walk out back to pick enough to make a blueberry pie, and eat it, still warm, with vanilla ice cream melting on top, in the heart of Midwestern summer. She grew rhubarb and squash and a whole lot of other things that I didn’t pay much attention to if they didn’t make good pie filling.

She took absolute joy in the simple pleasure and steady company of books, and read voraciously, keeping a catalog of all the titles she read, a habit she started as a girl, to show that the few dollars that went towards her obtaining her library card were well worth it.

She was notorious for, in her 70s and 80s, raking and bagging her own leaves. This was very alarming to learn as her long distance relatives, but I always quietly admired her spirit and gumption.

And though we did live far and couldn’t see each other as much as some grandparents and children too, I thought the world of my grandmother, so much so that I once wondered out loud if she didn’t wish that she wasn’t born at a different time, when she would have been afforded all the opportunities of a modern woman. Because in my opinion, she could have done anything -- taken all her smarts and self-assuredness and made a big splash in the career world. I meant it as the utmost compliment. But she went out of her way to tell me that she had no regrets or bigger wishes, and that she took umbrage at my suggestion. She had absolute fulfillment in the impact she made on her family and community, and would not have had it any other way. It was a communication that has stayed with me, and a lesson that I will never forget. Don’t ever sell short the contribution that you are to the people you touch in your lifetime. That is the real work.

There’s a photograph of my Grandmother in the front of a canoe, in a sleeveless blouse and pleated skirt, paddling into a lake in the North Woods. I love it because it captures just how proper she always was but, at the same time, how bold and out front she is in that moment. My Uncle Roger pointed out that she couldn’t swim. And there was no life vest. Grandma was a brave woman, with an indomitable spirit, and it is with gratitude that I honor such a great woman who went before me here today. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother.