Listening to: Help Yourself - Sean McCann
Reading: back issues of Archaeology Magazine
Watching: Cathing up on the Daily Show
Drinking: black tea with raspberry
The tomatoes are up, and have just been separated into individual pots. They are bright little sprigs of green in a still muddy, brown, yellow, and grey spring from a winter that just wouldn't go away. Seedling tomatoes will always make me think of my grandma. She was something of an epic gardener...
In February, my 98 year old grandmother passed away. It was as peaceful and quiet as things like this can be, I suppose. My mother, father, and myself were there with her, during a terrible blizzard that prevented the rest of the family from getting there. In a way, I think that's how she would have wanted it. She wasn't aware of individuals, but knew she had loving, warm hands around her. She was a private, quiet person, who didn't like much fuss or bother about things. She was a nurse in the Canadian Women's Army in World War II, and was very proud of being a veteran. She then came home and farmed with my grandfather for decades on the farm that my uncle now has... And during that time, she grew a lot of very delicious tomatoes.
We had her funeral, also on another terribly snowy day, during which I had a snowball fight with the aforementioned uncle in the parking lot of the funeral home. It seemed like the most appropriate action at the time. Up until now, it has been helping do running for my ma to help her and her brothers settle the estate. Mostly driving so mom can sign off on things.
But I got a note in the mail the other day from a woman, 86, who knew my grandmother well. My mother had sent her a copy of the short eulogy I gave at her funeral. She said that it was so lovely and well-written that she hesitated to reply. Consider me floored. Not everyday you get confirmation that you impressed an 86 year old... Here is what I said if you'd like to read it...
It's difficult to wrap your mind around a life that encompasses daily horse and buggy travel to space tourism. It's easy to get caught up in the length of time and not in the quality of it.
Grandma's life covered a lot history, but there are equally important things to be learned in how she lived it. Looking around today, I think she did okay. She was an excellent teacher in her quiet way, and here are a few things that even a bull-headed grand-kid like me managed to pick up on.
In our hyperactive world, we get caught up in screens, and worry, and distraction... I'm not saying we should give up the wonders the modern world has afforded us with. All I'm doing is giving a gentle reminder to look up and around yourself and take a moment to appreciate the world around you.
In her later days, grandma really appreciated textures, and she would without hesitation reach out and gently touch whatever it was that had caught her interest. That lesson is simple. Don't be afraid to experience the world. Engage yourself as fully as you can under the circumstances. Grandma and her sisters would spend hours walking to places for dances or skating and often the journey was as important as the event itself.
From her military service we can learn an important message on the nature of service. Service, for your country or your fellow beings, should not be done for reward or recognition. You do it because it's the right thing to do. You do it well because it's worth doing... Achievements, and in particular money, are not everything, but they don't hurt. Just be sensible about them.
The last thing I have to ponder on is grandma's sterling record of how she treated others. She would assert herself where necessary, and she would gently correct people where needed. Lately, it would have been my spelling when I would write messages in large print when she couldn't hear me... Don't worry though, I've run this through a British spell-check. It's okay.
Mildred is rock solid proof that a good life, a life of value, doesn't need to be high profile. What you need to do in this life is what you're good at, and be good to others. At the end of your century or so, what will matter in the hearts of others is how you treated them. Even if they are people who will pass very quickly out of your life, kindness shown is a thing people carry with them and then give to others. It is the simplest and most humane thing we can do for others.
I'll end with a somewhat obscure, paraphrased quote from Stephen Fry. It was about a literary figure, so I think grandma would approve: "(She) taught (us) something about good nature. It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind."