Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remember When

As I was looking through my library of photos for pictures of Nick's grandmother, I found this priceless moment captured on our wedding day. For one of the songs at the start of the reception, we did the classic anniversary dance with a soundtrack of Alan Jackson's song "Remember When." The deejay invited everyone who was married to come to the dance floor, and every few minutes he excused the dancing couples (except the bride and groom) who had been married for one year, five years, ten years, etc., with the goal of finding the couple in the room who had been married the longest. At 59 years, Nick's MomMom and PopPop were the clear winners, and the four of us---the shortest married and the longest married---were the only ones on the dance floor when Alan Jackson came to "swore we'd do it all again, remember when."
This November, MomMom and PopPop would celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. SIXTY-FIVE YEARS!! That needs to be spelled out because it's just so remarkable! I feel I am somewhat of an inadequate party to try to tell you about MomMom in detail because I have only been in the picture for the very last of her more than eight decades here. So I will let some of the stories that emerged during the weekend of her memorial service do the talking as I do my best to replicate them here.

One thing I learned about MomMom this weekend is what a difficult childhood she had. When she was eight years old, her father suffered a series of strokes that left him bedridden for the next nine years. He died when she was 17. Her adolescence had been spent as a caregiver, a skill she gracefully and flawlessly wove into her roles as wife of one and mother of six.

The other thing I learned was how much MomMom loved the water. Apparently during WWII she became the first female lifeguard on the Jersey Shore (that's the actual Jersey Shore, ahem). The night before the service at the family dinner, we did a memory ceremony in honor of MomMom. We gave each adult child and grandchild a lump of modeling clay to mold into a figure that represented a favorite memory of MomMom. Nick's favorite memory of MomMom was represented by a wave (not a blue snake). While other grandparents at the beach club would be sitting under umbrellas in the sand or reading in beach chairs, MomMom and PopPop were the only ones out in the water, not just wading, but actually swimming, completely submerged in the waves playing with their grandkids. MomMom showed us all that you are never too old to stay active and jump right in.
My favorite memory of MomMom was represented by a golf club. MomMom played golf until she was 82---EIGHTY-TWO---years old. I am the proud recipient of her most impressive set of clubs, which I picked up last year when we came to visit ahead of our move to Guam. It was after that that I started playing regularly and began really loving the game. Throughout the past year, we have loved calling to tell MomMom about our golf milestones, especially those made by me with her clubs. Every time I step out to play, I carry her legacy of lifelong activity with me onto the golf course. And in some of the last moments of her consciousness here on earth, MomMom heard (via text to Nick's mom) about my miraculous birdie on a par 5 and my best round of golf ever played (the day before I left Guam for the States). They said her eyes lit up when she heard. And from now on, my eyes will look upward every time a birdie graces my scorecard.

There were similar stories told by other children and grandchildren about memories of the beach. These sweet memories, though, were somehow all different. The youngest, little Kevin, talked about how special it was when he and MomMom went for walks on the beach. Audra told about a week when she and MomMom went to the beach together every day for an entire week after she graduated college. She and MomMom sat together under a beach umbrella reading books and just existing together as friends by the sea. Kate's clay shape was a pretzel stick, and she laughed with tears in her eyes as she reminded everyone of how MomMom would coax her blue-lipped grandchildren out of the freezing ocean with pretzel chips and port wine cheese, the only thing that would get them to come in after hours of swimming. No question the ocean was a part of MomMom's soul.

Others told stories about what a good cook MomMom was. Whether it was bowtie pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches, liverwurst sandwiches, German stolen cake & lebkuchen at Christmas, or Thanksgiving turkey, MomMom made some incredible and memorable meals. Even better than the flavor of her food was the pleasure of her company as she'd sit and talk with her grandkids one on one, making each of them feel somehow like the most special. MomMom was also an exceptional gardener, and images of roses told the story of how she grew perfect roses on the sunny side of every home they ever lived in. In many ways, she was the rose.

Of all of the stories told, my favorite (because it was the funniest and most unexpected) was by MomMom's sister, Aunt Lorraine. When they were young, they had a chicken. MomMom named him Johnny and started treating him like a pet. Apparently the night their parents killed and cooked him, MomMom wouldn't come to the dinner table because she was so sad that Johnny the chicken was, well, dinner :) (This was also my favorite story because the chicken clay figure looked remarkably like an elephant).

When asked about their favorite memory of MomMom, at least half a dozen people of all ages went with their first instinct and molded their clay into a heart. For some, it represented how big MomMom's heart was. She was a shining example of selfless love and service for all of them, comforting them when they fell off bikes and got hurt, and always putting others before themselves. Susan's story was of a sweet moment when they were out to dinner and she realized MomMom and PopPop were holding hands together under the table. For others, the heart also represented that their own heart is now broken for having lost someone so dear. And one of my favorite heart stories was by John Howard, who said his heart figure was made of two colors. One color represented him and one represented MomMom, and even though she is no longer with us, she will be forever in our hearts.

I join the rest of the family in sharing my sadness that this amazing woman, mother, grandmother, and friend is no longer among us here on earth. For the last year, Nick's parents have printed out the stories from Peyt's Island and mailed them to her so she would be in the loop about what was going on with us here on Guam (since they don't have internet). MomMom put each post into a binder and would take it down to the dining hall at their residence to show their friends what we were up to. I loved knowing she was reading and how much she loved each post and picture (which is one of the reasons I have always been so quick to mention and share photos of our golf escapades). It makes me sad knowing she will no longer be one of our most dedicated readers. It's a small example of the significant hole that now exists. And knowing what I know, I absolutely cannot imagine what a 65-year hole must feel like.

Turns out, it is somehow equally fun and painful to recount all of these wonderful memories. Remembering the past is a worthwhile and necessary instrument to get us through times like these when together we must face permanent eternal change. And yet, I am comforted to know that, according to those with her in her room in those last hours, MomMom's last words were, "I know that God is with me." In her last moments, MomMom was looking into the future, and as it happened to be, into the very eyes of God. And so while I am sad to know she will no longer be present here to look forward to getting Peyt's Island printouts in the mail or prepare grilled cheese sandwiches for her grandkids or swim in the ocean with them this summer, she will, as John Howard put it, always be with us in our hearts. For many in this family, MomMom was one of our best teachers. She taught us how to love. And now it's our turn to take that love into the future and give of it freely and selflessly. And as we carry her legacy of love forward into our lives and the lives of those around us, we will always be sure to remember those sweet times together. Remember when...


  1. What a beautiful post. Grandmothers are so special.

    PS - I can't believe I forgot how GORGEOUS your wedding dress was. Sigh.

  2. Peyton, this post made my eyes fill with tears. You've summed up Mom Mom and our family weekend so beautifully! I'm glad you were there to provide support and guidance, and that you're part of our family. It was so great to see you and Nick, and I hope it won't be too long until we can get together again.


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