Funerals cause me a lot of introspection.
As family gathered, it was so nice to catch up with faces we see so seldom, and embrace others who we may never see again.
Remembering Grandma is so different for me and my brothers than for the younger grandchildren. We were the first of the 29 grandchildren, and we remember the years when Grandpa was still with us. I remember the nights that my parents would play Canasta with their parents, while I sat on my dad's lap. I remember falling asleep under the hum of the old circular florescent light above the kitchen table, watching the second hand on the black and white clock that clicked it's seconds off, posted above the kitchen sink like a sentry, watching the family gathering while strong hands flipped cards until someone declared the winning hand.
I remember the annual popcorn balls at Halloween that grandma made each year, and the years of backyard bonfires after a family hayride around the neighborhood.
I remember Santa's visit, excited little ones shoulder to shoulder in the living room as we heard his heavy black boots stomp up the basement stairway, his booming "HO-HO-HO" alerting us all to his much awaited arrival! The Christmas lights glowed, there were gifts for all, while sitting on Santa's lap was the highlight that held us over for 364 more days until the next year. Our "Santa" tragically died in 1995, but his memory will live in our hearts forever. The tradition has been kept alive by other uncles, honoring the beginning years when it was all so magically beautiful.
Easter brought us together each year, with the anticipation of candy treats in pastel colored plastic eggs hidden in the brambles of the back yard, or in the lower hanging branches for us as we grew taller with age. The spread of delicious dishes in the kitchen had already filled our growing bodies, so we ran off our energy as the adults visited in the living room, a lovely aunt recording our holiday with an early 1960's movie recorder.
There were short, black and white movies on the darkened bedroom walls, featuring "Our Gang" that we loved to watch over and over. The oldest at the time would control the player, the whirring of the projector with it's jumping pictures entertaining a roomful of grandchildren and aunts who were close to our same age!! We would play the "Twister" game on the floor, until one of collapsed in laughter at the twisted mess we would create of young giggling bodies, fighting over who would be the next to spin the cardboard spinning wheel to decided the colors for the next move. I imagine the adults and babies were enjoying the peace and quite of having the rowdy kids in the next room over, playing and making memories to last a lifetime.
Memorial Day, Labor Day, birthdays...all were celebrated at the grandparents home, the gatherings growing larger over the years, while we welcomed boyfriends or girlfriends into the fold, some who would marry into the family that welcomed them.
The big, black piano would create hours of plunking out familiar songs, with a couple of us playing round after round of "Heart and Soul" to the amazement of our supportive adults. Grandma loved music, so each holiday she encouraged us to bring our instruments, breaking the shyness of performing in public. We squeaked and squawked our way to a final applause. I felt so loved.
There was also the Christmas eve pageant each year, where we took turns portraying Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Wisemen or angels, swaddling a baby doll from my younger aunt Andrea's room to be the very special Baby Jesus. The story never grew old, the director changed from year to year, and another tradition established. It's here that I could read what I had learned to write out on lined school paper, my cousins so supportive of stories, poems or dreams I had recorded, asking me again and again to read the newest creation I had penned. An atmosphere of encouragement sent me off to believe I could accomplish nearly anything I set my mind to. Family should be that way. This was the family I came from.
Aunt Toni orchestrated a scavenger hunt each year, with strings or slips of paper that lead us to prizes. I imagine it was quite the work for her to put together, but I bet it's part of the early training she received for the lifework she does now as an activities director at a home for the mentally challenged. She was good at it, and I hear she's excellent at her job still today.
So many memories flood my mind. The house, the family that is so precious to me.
My dad looked around at the burial and said, "Mom really created quite the family. She would be so proud." Yes, Dad, she would have been so proud to see how large, how loving, how wonderful the family had become.
After the funeral and saying goodbye to my dear grandma, I received a slip of paper from my Grandma's prayer book from 1983. I have a folder of her handwritten stories in my office, but this piece of paper is a different type of treasure. It is a time in her life when she recorded her prayers for my young family, bolstering me in ways I could sense. Did she ever realize how very much her prayers kept a large family together and brought us to a place in our lives we could never have reached without her faithful intersession?
The youngest grandchild today is around 10. She never really knew grandma before her mind clouded and she was swept into oblivion. She never tasted one of her popcorn balls, or sat around the family living room. With 40 years between us, there is so little we have in common. I rest in the fact that Grandma's legacy will live on in all of us grandchildren. The older, the younger and all those in between. I hope we can share the stories of the wonderful woman we knew, passing on to the generations below us the desire Grandma had to protect, encourage and love each of us as if there were no one more important in the world.
Because that's what family does. That's who Grandma was to me.