"What's your name honey?" I smiled at my grandmother whose 100th birthday we were celebrating and said "I'm your granddaughter, Erin." "Oh, it's so nice of you to come see me" she replied. My mother's side of the family descended on Florida this past weekend to celebrate my grandmother's birthday, we call her Doty (but pronounce it Doe-dee for inquiring minds). As of late she usually has about 20 minutes of social activity in her and then she needs to rest, but this weekend she was full of energy, emotion, love and laughter for three hours straight - what a blessing!
Here are just a few things I learned from my grandmother:
Music Is a Tie That Binds
Doty wanted to be a singer - she always told me that whenever I would sing anywhere - "honey, you're living my dream." I grew up with her playing the electric organ in her house and later I'd send her recordings of when I soloed in church each week. In the last few years it sometimes has been hard for her to carry on a long conversation as her short-term memory is limited so on one visit I just started singing hymns to her. She sang along and remembered every word. They also put her to sleep 😊 but then she'd wake up, mid-verse, and pick right back up.
Not at Lake Michigan but Doty has always been game for a dip! c. 1983 and 1992
We've gone up to Lake Michigan for a week or two every summer since I was tiny and since my grandparents lived in Ohio they would often join us. If you haven't been to Lake Michigan, it is FREEZING cold, even in the summer. I loved swimming in the water anyhow but could never get my parents to get in and play with me. Enter Doty, who grew up in a cottage on Lake Erie. With her sensible one-piece and flowered bathing cap - she'd hop in the water and we would race from one point to the other and do some synchronized swimming moves. She swam with me every time and it made me feel special.
Peonies from my garden
In speaking of her father, Earl, Doty wrote "Very romantic and sentimental, Earl had little rituals for special occasions. [His] wedding anniversary was on June 18th, and he never failed to get away to the country and seek out farmers who sold peonies, Mother's favorite flower, and he would bring her an armful of the sweet smelling fresh flowers, in shades of deep red, pink and white. My peony bed is an annual reminder of their anniversary." So when we moved to New Jersey and I had a sunny backyard I too planted peonies as I associated them with Doty as I remember them along the side of her house in Ohio.
Show People You Love Them
I was very into scrapbooking in my youth and it all stems back from a scrapbook my grandmother made for me after a visit she made down to Texas to see us. I can't tell you how many times I would pour over those pages as a little girl, rereading everything and feeling wonder at the fact that someone made a book for ME. She went on to make more scrapbooks for me and I have them all.
My mom & me in a picture Doty took
Doty would have been a social media queen - she videoed everything! And took pictures of everybody! As a result I have a very well-documented childhood and can revisit memories instantly with the gift she gave of capturing them. In looking through photos for this blog I realized that she took all of the baby pictures of me with my mom. I never really thought about who took them, but she was there, capturing everything.
She appreciated a deal!
One Christmas Doty got me a green fleece blanket that was monogramed. My initials are EEW but the blanket said ERW - Doty absolutely knew my initials so this caused some confusion and chuckles when I opened it up. We called her to say Merry Christmas and thank her for our gifts and my dad jokingly brought up that my middle name was Elizabeth. Without missing a beat Doty quipped "it's two out three" with zero apologies as the blanket had been on sale - it was excellent!
At my grandparents' wedding in 1945
Go to New York City
I remember going through boxes with Doty at one point and we found a letter my grandfather had written her before they were married. He was on leave during the war and she was traveling by train to meet him in NYC. I found out that day that they had gotten married in NYC and I had passed by the church many times, never knowing the history my family had tied into it! When I moved to NYC I came by train and I like to think that some of my nerve to do so comes from her.