(Grandma Beck and me adoring one another. It never faded.)
On Thanksgiving Day, 2013, my maternal grandmother, Wanna Lillian Nester (known to everyone as Beck), slipped away from this life in the wee hours of the morning. She died quietly, but she most certainly didn’t live that way. She put a lot under her belt:
94 years, 10 months.
Over 4,000 pies (and that’s a VERY low ballpark figure.)
One wicked sense of humor.
Millions and millions of memories.
I am of the opinion that my grandmother loved few things more than feeding people. I have had many a bloated belly that can attest to that. Countless guests have sat in her kitchen, nearly foundered, only to hear: “Weeeell…you’ve hardly touched your pie.”
I loved watching my Grandma Beck cook. Not as much as I loved eating what she made, mind you, but it ran a close second. I’m lucky enough that she taught me to make a handful of her favorites. But, what my grandma taught me was about much more than just cornbread (or pies), it was about taking care of people, about showing people that they’re special.
(Grandma Beck giving me pie crust pointers, and making me laugh, New Year’s Eve 2011.)
She certainly made me feel special. Her love for me was powerful and unconditional. It wasn’t complicated, or riddled with caveats…she simply loved me. No. Matter. What. I knew that she ALWAYS had my back. She would have fought a grizzly bear (and I would wager good money she would have won) to save me from even a moment of discomfort. She made me feel brave; because she was brave.
Grandma Beck loved Wheel of Fortune, she loved her faith, she loved tostadas, she loved complaining about trees that drop too many leaves (or other such trivial irritations), she loved cooking and baking for others (have I mentioned pie?), she loved getting dressed up, she loved being silly with her family, if her upstairs bathroom was any indication she was fond of decorative soap (although I never talked that one through with her), she loved snow, she loved her tiny glass and porcelain shoe and pocket knife collections, she LOVED Christmas more than anyone else I’ve ever known, and for a period of time she was deeply enamored with Pillsbury Toaster Strudel.
(Grandma Beck 1970 something…thrilled about what appears to be some sort of kitchen appliance…her enthusiasm was so genuine.)
She hated being far away from her family, she loathed Richard Dawson (“Ugh. There’s old kissy face” she would say through a grimace every time she saw him on TV), wouldn’t tolerate haircuts that showed her ears, had a lifelong animosity toward ill-fitting shoes due to her impossibly narrow feet (“My foot slides forward!” she said more times than I can count), harbored resentment toward quite a few politicians (who will remain nameless), couldn’t stand low-cut tops (“Are you a-goin’ out in THAT?” I heard more than once), simply would not abide Christmas decorations that were up past December 25th, and was never known to enjoy being told what to do.
(This poor tree didn’t know that certain death was around the corner. It’s lucky it made it past midnight Christmas Day.)
But you know what she loved more than she loved OR hated any of those things? Me. My cousin. My mother. My aunt. Everyone in her vast circle of family and friends.
Grandma Beck was generous, funny, prideful, loving, judgmental (sometimes hilariously so), compassionate and kind. She didn’t just walk, she sashayed. Her smiles were contagious. She was ornery (she loved pranks), adorable, sometimes impatient, steadfast and loyal. She had the ability to get away with just about anything she wanted and by all accounts should have behaved as if she was spoiled rotten but she didn’t. She never complained about or shied away from hard work. She was unabashedly feminine (with a love for all things sparkly), and she was tough as nails. She was resourceful. She was a lot of things I aspire to be, and her foibles were ones that were easy to forgive. She would give you the shirt off of her back, but if she wanted her way, she was getting it. Somehow ALL of it was endearing. She charmed everyone she met instantly.
Listening to the comments, condolences and reminiscences from those who knew my grandma, I heard certain sentiments again and again. Many people commented on her cooking and baking, her wit, her encouraging nature, about how she was always laughing and smiling, about how she was beautiful and always smartly dressed, among many other things. But the thing that struck me most deeply was just HOW many people who weren’t in her immediate family thought of her as THEIR grandmother/mother/aunt. They considered her family by choice. They loved her, and she loved them back. Not with a tiny part of her heart…with all of it.
We have a limited amount of time here on this spinning blue and green globe. Every day we wake up with the opportunity to make a difference. To make someone smile. To make someone’s life better in some way, big or small. To love them completely and fearlessly. To make them a pie…and to give them a larger slice than you take for yourself. My grandma was on this planet for 34,554 days, and in my humble opinion, she did good work in the generous amount of time she was allotted; she made a difference.
Grandma Beck had a habit of, after finishing a particularly trying chore or an eventful day, arriving home after a long trip, or some similar activity, of exhaling and saying through the exhale: “Wheeeee.” It occurs to me that this funny little habit was so appropriate for her. It’s as if she was saying: “Well, that was EXHAUSTING…but you know what? It was FUN.” I imagine, in some ways, that’s an apt description of her life as a whole. Why? Because she decided to smile and laugh, even during times when anything other than stomping her feet must have been difficult. She was so resilient.
My heart ACHES to feel her arms hugging me again, to hear her laughter and see her smile, but she’s somewhere else now. She’s probably trying on halos: “Well, now this one would be ok, but it keeps sliding forward.” she’s probably saying to the (hopefully patient) angel in charge of wardrobe. Although she’s closed the book here on earth, she’s by the side of those of us who knew her, in what she taught us about living. About the benefit of making the right choice, not just the easy choice when it comes to giving something of yourself every day. Nothing would make her happier than to look down and see all of us hugging our families, helping our neighbors and for heaven’s sake…finishing our pie.
God bless Grandma Beck,
(With her great-granddaughter 13 years ago.)
December 10, 2013 at 8:02 am
OMG, Laura, that made me cry! What an incredible woman your grandmother was! She touched so many people with her love and her wit. And she passed on a part of herself to your mom, and to you, and I’m sure to Hadley as well. How wonderful is that!? You are are an incredible writer, and your descriptive abilities are amazing. I feel as though I have just been right there, in your Grandma Beck’s kitchen, eating a piece of pie with you and your mom. And boy was it delicious!
December 10, 2013 at 8:39 am
Thank you Pam! That makes my day…she was so special. 🙂
December 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm
You could not be more right about your Grandmother my Aunt Beck. I wish we could have gotten back this year to she her and the rest of the family. She had cookies made when we stopped by a couple of years ago. I had not been back to Spencer since my Grandmother Ona Board past away. I did not want to go back with her not there. I am glad I did though, seeing Aunt Beck was like walking into the past and beging young again. She was always smiling and happy. I would go see her at the outlet when I stayed with my grandmother. We would go to her house and Aunt Blanche’s house also. It was always like I had several Grandmother. She will me missed and always loved. Just like my Grandma Board.
December 10, 2013 at 8:52 am
How could I read what you wrote about Beck and not have a lump in my throat and tears teetering on the edge of my eyes ready to spill over? I have a myriad of memories and stories to tell–all in context with what you wrote about your grandmother. Your mother wrote (paraphrased), “Our friends’ mothers were mothers to us all.” That may not be exact, but it touched me and I will not soon forget Mary Ann’s words. It’s not even a contest that Beck was number one on that list for me. When I think of Beck, this is what I remember most. “Now Elizabeth, I want you to eat your breakfast. It’s not good for you to go without breakfast.” She was adamant about that. So, I had two people coercing me to EAT–Beck and my mother. Somehow I couldn’t do breakfast no matter what was set before me. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. I loved Beck and I know how blessed you are to have had her as your grandmother and her to have had you as her granddaughter. You write beautifully from your heart, but then you had a perfect subject to write about. Well, quite sure not perfect–if she’d been perfect she wouldn’t have been Beck Nester!
December 10, 2013 at 8:57 am
Thank you so much Liz!! I love what you’ve said and feel honored that you approve of what I wrote. 🙂 ❤
December 10, 2013 at 10:54 am
Wow!!! Loved reading this!!! This was totally Beck!! We loved her. I use to love to go into the store, Ashley’s Outlet, to hear her stories and see her and mom hiding. Lol She definitely has a halo!!
She loved her family!! I still have a phone message on my phone that she left for my sister, Kelly, when she got burnt. Beck, was like a grandmother to me. I so enjoyed visits with her. Life is short, so lets make the most of each day, and do for others, like Beck would do.
You did a wonderful job and I loved the pie baking pic!! Dear memories you have to cherish.
December 10, 2013 at 11:13 am
Thank you so much!! I enjoy so much hearing what other people remember most about her. It’s making me feel so good. 🙂
December 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm
Thank you so much for this story of Aunt Beck, she used to babysit me when I was little, I remember that I wanted straight hair at one time so she said well we will iron it , so we did, had to get most of it cut off but she was always such fun to be around, she will be missed!
December 10, 2013 at 2:11 pm
Although I never met your dear grandmother, I feel like I know her through your beautifully written tribute to her. Thank you for sharing it with me.
Terry Omasta (Anita’s neighbor)
December 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm
What can I say about Beck, she was a wonderful, honest, very truthful, Frank person and this is what I loved about her, whatever she was thinking she would say it, my mother(Icie Davis) knew her forever and they were so much alike, when they would meet they would tell each what was on their minds, I enjoyed hearing them talk, reminise, and tell each other about what they had been doing. Ona Board was another fantastic lady, my mom and Phyllis Jeane Atkinson would go to her house and Ona would make me cookies, one of favorites that I still today make is the Orange Drop Cookie, they are so good and Ona and Beck was both wonderful cooks. My mother passed away a couple years ago, I had not seen Beck for a long time and when I had my mother to the doctor at the hospital, Beck came in and she asked me how my mother was, my mother had dementia and saw me talking to Beck and asked me who it was, I told her but she could not remember, but Beck remembered my mother. So glad I got to see her that one time again for a minute. Beck and Ralph was a cousin to my Uncle Archie Miller who married my mothers sister. We are no relation but I wish I was, she was a great woman and I love the tribute that you made to her on here for everyone to see. I hope that I can leave that kind of a memory to my grandsons, the memory that will never die in the eyes of a child.
December 11, 2013 at 8:24 am
Laura, there is an interesting story she told your mother and I one day sitting in the sun room in Sun City….It was so sweet and how I may have ended up on Oak Drive….Have you mother to relate that story. I love you sweetie. You are a treasure. All my love Anita Kay
December 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm
I can’t add to anything that has not already been said about Beck except that Beck was a woman that subsequent generations should emulate. Laura, as you noted that she was a lady, feminine when appropriate yet tough as nails when necessary. Importantly, Beck plus others of her generation knew when to be one of the other or something in between. Beck was of the generation of true ladies and gentlemen.
Also, as the little hellion up with street (Oak Drive) I was always welcome at her and Ralph’s home. A home, so much more than a house.
December 13, 2013 at 3:56 am
Beautifully written and oh so true!