We knew this day was coming, someday, yet somehow it felt like you might live forever. You were stubborn and bounced back after each close call, and it seemed like you might actually live to be one hundred like you told us all you were going to. I admit I had mixed feelings each time you pulled through—I knew you had lived a good, full life, and I didn’t want you to be in pain anymore. But I was glad for just a little longer knowing my Grammie was still here. It makes my heart glad that I was able to see you one last time at your ninetieth birthday party this summer, and I’m so glad that you felt well enough for that one day to enjoy it.
The first day I knew you were gone, it didn’t feel real. I knew you were in a better place, in no more pain, and I was happy for you. The sadness felt distant. The next day it got harder. You were an incredible woman, and it hurts that I will never feel you hug me again. I cherished those hugs and never ended a visit without one.
Others have said it, probably better than I will, but it bears repeating: you had a big heart with room for everyone. I remember you sticking up for people whom others were criticizing. When I was younger, it used to puzzle me how other kids could possibly have just one or two cousins when I had over fifty of them. Eventually I realized that most people didn’t have nine sets of aunts and uncles on one side and five sets on the other. Now I like to brag about my big-hearted grandmother who bore, adopted, and fostered so many children with love enough for every single one of them. I’ve heard the stories and know my dad and his siblings didn’t have a “cushy” upbringing in any sense of the word, but I know they knew they were loved. You are a big part of the reason I hope Jordan and I can foster and adopt needy children too. Even as you got older you never stopped giving—when you were in your eighties you were taking care of “old” people who were sometimes younger than you!
Going to Grammie’s house was a treat, and we used to do it often. You loved having your children and grandchildren and eventually great-grandchildren around you and always made us feel welcome. Even though it’s been years now since you’ve made them, I think molasses cookies will always remind me of you. I loved getting to spend the night—sleeping on the floor with my siblings or cousins in the back living room, where you had lined the wall with pictures of all your children and their children, and listening to the sound of the furnace coming on and shutting off all night long. I never cared for the powdered milk you served with the cereal in the morning, but I got to put sugar in my cereal, which I wasn’t allowed to do at home. Once when I was at your house, you asked me to smell some laundry to see if it was clean because you had no sense of smell. I had no idea what dirty laundry smelled like, Grammie, but I told you I thought it smelled OK.
Everyone used the side door at your house (and we hardly ever knocked) since your front entryway had long ago become a storage room full of toys and books and relics from when our parents were children. We cousins spent many hours there and upstairs playing and imagining what it was like when our parents lived there. One of my favorite “toys” was the box on top of the bookshelf full of the old eyeglasses your kids had worn over the years. We used to enjoy playing the old piano, too, even though it had gone out of tune a long time ago.
Christmas and Thanksgiving get-togethers at your house are some of the most cherished memories of my childhood. Seeing that little house packed with as many aunts, uncles, and cousins as could make it—and so much food!—the best word I can think of to describe it is “homey,” or maybe “comforting.” I missed those gatherings as more family moved out of the area and fewer people were able to attend. I remember you giving a little money to each of your children to buy presents for their kids so we’d all have gifts to open around the tree in the back room at our Christmas parties.
We kids loved exploring your house and its surroundings. The old barn was a favorite until it became so dilapidated that we were no longer allowed to play in it. Even the outhouse was fun and exciting. We would pick berries or apples in your backyard and run around to our hearts’ content. I remember when one or two of my cousins and my sister and I discovered that we could get into the forbidden attic by climbing up some storage shelves into the loft over the woodshed. It was great fun until you heard us moving boxes and furniture around. You told us we weren’t allowed up there because your foster kids might come back someday and want the things they’d left in the boxes up there. I’m fairly certain we still went up there, but we made sure to be quieter after that.
In 2002 I got to travel with you and my cousin Jenny to Papua New Guinea to visit Uncle Ben and his family. I remember at one of our layovers somewhere in Asia, just as we were about to board the plane, you were selected for a pat-down. You, of all people—the thought of my sweet, seventy-six-year-old grandmother getting searched before boarding a plane still brings a smile to my face. Everyone at Uncle Ben’s church loved you, and you loved them right back. When we weren’t sure about some of the food they ate there, you told us a story about a Filipina woman bringing Grampa a dish of “special” food when he was stationed there and sitting there with him to make sure he ate it all. I remember your obvious confusion in one of the airports we had a layover in when you ordered an espresso and it came in a tiny cup.
I know you prayed for me when I went through my rebellious period as a teenager, and when I turned my life around and went to college, I used to pray that you would live long enough to attend my wedding. Having you there when Jordan and I got married meant the world to me, and I will always treasure the afghan you knit for us as a wedding gift. You have a special place in Jordan’s heart, too. He likes to talk about your spunk and the way your eyes sparkle. After we were married, I started praying that you would be able to meet my first child. When Jordan and I started trying to have kids and I had one, then two, then three miscarriages and it was obvious that you were in declining health, I began to think that it wouldn’t happen. I cherish the memory of you holding my three-month-old little boy when we spent his first Christmas in Maine. I’m sad that he won’t remember you, but I know he’ll grow up hearing about you. Now I imagine you up in Heaven loving my little ones that are there with you.
When I complained about my middle name when I was at an age where it was “cool” to hate one’s middle name, I think it was my dad who told me it was a special name, because it was YOUR name. Dear Esther Andrews, I’m proud to be your granddaughter.