Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Grandma

This is what I spoke at my Grandmother's funeral held on January 21st, 2014.

Mildred Wotherspoon was born on January 12, 1911. 

She passed away on January 15, 2014, 2 days after her 103rd birthday. 

My mother and Mildred Wotherspoon were half sisters.  Mildred’s father, Layton Willis, married his second wife, Hazel Heaton and Hazel gave birth prematurely to my mother, Harriet, on April 11, 1943.  Hazel passed away two days later.

Single men did not raise children on their own in those days and Mildred told him, “I will raise her with my own children.”  Mildred was 4 months pregnant with William when my mother was born.  In just a few months, she was basically raising twins.  Layton died when my mother was just 12 years old. 

When my mother married, Mildred gave my mother half of the property that was their father’s and my mother and father built their home right next to Gram and Pop.

That is the same house that I live in now and I have lived in my whole life. 

For most of our school years, my brother Paul and I would go over to visit my grandmother before catching the school bus. We originally started because the bus turned around and came back up our street. Gram could see the bus go by from her window and we could go out and catch it on the way back. Even as we grew older and  caught the bus down the road, we continued to visit her before school.  I believe we visited her several times a week before school until we were driving there in our own cars.

Mildred also visited my mother every Saturday morning and once my mom was no longer working due to her MS, Gram visited her every day.  The signal to Gram that mom was up and awake was lifting the kitchen shade which tells you how close we live.  I remember clearly them sitting at the kitchen table and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes together.  

Another thing that Mildred had the grandchildren do was brush her hair.  She would call up some evenings and ask if we could come over.   She would sit on the floor in front of the couch and watch Lawrence Welk while we sat behind her and brushed her hair. She would give us each a dime when we were done. 

Mildred was somewhat of a “hot sketch,” a term she would use to describe a somewhat forthright, comedic person that she admired.  I understand she was quite fresh in her youth, telling us a few sneaky stories from her childhood.  She would go out dancing with her friends at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet and that is where she met my grandfather.  

She loved to dance and probably was line-dancing into her 80’s.  When she couldn’t dance anymore she started swimming.  She made many friends along with each of these activities, creating friendships that lasted a lifetime, quite literally, as she outlived her friends.

Mildred was an attentive friend.  She loved to visit and call her friends and relatives. She never forgot even the minor details of your life - if you were going away, or were sick, or what your work schedule was, or your birthday, or anniversary.  She would not hesitate to call and ask how you were feeling or how was your trip. 

Or she might call you up and TRICK YOU into coming over on your birthday to butter your nose! That was one day we would try to avoid going to her house before school, on our birthday.  We were sure to be assaulted and we were confident that this once-a-year “greasing” was going to aggravate our acne.

Assault was to be expected from Grandma.  A kissing assault.  Babies, toddlers, and teens alike were expected to lean over for a kiss firmly planted on their cheek and rebukes of “NO HAIR!”  I am confident that I spent half of my childhood looking like a boy because Gram would nag me to “get that hair cut!” and mom would take me to go get a nice page-boy cut.  

Cookies could be obtained in exchange for kisses only, but you were guaranteed a cookie any time you went over there, if you asked politely and gave Nana a kiss.  I believe that some of my children cleverly visited Nana of their own accord to get a cookie.  I don’t think Nana minded, as she valued the visit and the kiss far above her cookies.   

Respect and love for family was paramount to my Grandma and this was a quality she instilled in her children, and her children’s children, and her children’s children’s children. That is a legacy worth leaving.  

Each person was expected to hug and kiss Gram upon entering and exiting any family gathering.  Every member of our family will kiss and hug each other in greeting and departure without even thinking about it.  Gram has trained us from our youth.  

Certain acts of respect and politeness were expected from both young and old.  Items taken out were to be put away.  Dishes used were to be washed. Permission should be asked before touching, using or eating anything that was not yours, even if it was a dish of candy on the table or a teddy bear on the bed.  And always say, “thank you.”

Despite these expectations, Gram was far from hard.  She was a joker, not silly but cleverly funny.  Even days before she died, during a “Facetime” chat with my brother, Paul, she looked at him talking to her on the little screen of my iPhone and quipped, “Hm, he hasn’t put on much weight,”  and later, “he still has quite a bit of hair.” 

Even outsiders could see the family allegiance to this great woman.  My husband, in our dating and early married days, remarked to me how impressed he was at the other grandchildren, primarily teenagers at that time, that were consistently at her home.  The boys would stop by with their girlfriends who quickly became equally committed to Grandma Spoon.  Her commitment to this family ran deep and this family has honored her by carrying it through to her great grandchildren who routinely visited her up until her death.  

Pop called Mildred, “the Wheel.”  I am not sure exactly what this meant, except that it was usually part of the expression, “go ask The Wheel”, so I recognized that she was somehow in charge.  I realize now that she was truly, The Wheel, the captain at the helm of this ship, steering us on a steady course all of her days and beyond.