(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.)