(adapted reprint from my former blog August 13, 2012)
The above date may or may not mean anything to you. For me it is a wonderful day. It is the anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s birth. Kathleen Harriman came into the world in Bar Harbor, Maine. She had 4 sisters and one brother. She married and had three children. For the most of her life she worked in upscale ladies dress shops in Florida, Cape Cod and Bar Harbor. She was a great saleslady and very attentive to her clients. More she was a great grandmother and I am honored to carry her name. She was not typical. No rocking chair for Grammy.
She left her first husband in the 40’s. That was an unheard of thing at the time. She remarried in 1947, survived a fire that devastated most of the town and lost most of her belongings. She moved where the job took her with second husband. They lived in an Airstream Trailer in Florida in the winter. She was the first to speak about this – she smoked and didn’t inhale! She carried a flask to card games with the ladies. She had the best looking legs, my uncle used to say, of any old lady. She was stylish to the day she died. I do not believe I ever saw Grammy disheveled. She could tell an off-color joke like a bawdy sailor! She rarely made waves.
After she retired to Bar Harbor, she and her siblings would have lunch together every Thursday. The local paper did an article on them and called it “A Reunion Every Week” and included a group photo with the article. Any of us who were in town on a Thursday would join them. On occasion we took over multiple tables!
She wore rings that were costume jewelry though looked real not caring either way. If she liked them she wore them. She had charm bracelets. One bracelet had charms of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her other bracelet had charms from her life’s travels. Together they made the loveliest tinkling noise. It was hard to know what to do with them after she left us. The grandmother’s bracelet was broken up and we each got our charms. The other bracelet we put in a gold framed shadow box as we just could not cut it up.
One of the nicest things Grammy did for me was to support me in various ways. She rarely sent me a note when I was in college that did not have a $5 bill in it. “Pin” money she called it. One summer I lived with her – more shared her room – when she was living in her sister’s house. We really got to know each other well then. When I would come home for lunch with a cooked chicken I’d bought on my way, we would gorge ourselves while laughing at the decadence!! One time when Grammy’s Aunt Ruth was verbally tearing down my generation (the 60’s) I spoke up to her saying that we were not that bad. After Aunt Ruth left, Grammy said, “I was very proud of how you stood up to her, Dear.” We were always called ‘Dear’. I was relieved to hear those words. That praise, knowing that I had not overstepped, was written in my heart to be remembered. Another summer she had my sister and I serve as her models for a fashion show held at a local hotel for the wealthy that summered in the area. I got to wear a beaded top red cocktail dress that led me to the love of sparkles to this day.
Three weeks before she died at age 86 in 1989 she was at our house for Easter dinner ‘dressed to the nines’! She looked beautiful in her pink and black suit. If you did not know it you would not see she had cancer. She usually had a drink before dinner. She always told the person who was making it not to put in too much coke with the rum as it spoiled the taste. On Easter she was having trouble tasting so declined her usual. My husband’s offered her a beer to which she replied that sounded great! I think that was the first and last time I ever saw Grammy drink beer!
Sunday April 16th at noon I called the hospital and my sister answered the phone. I asked if I should get up there right now. She said no rush. I was scheduled to come up the next day which was the beginning of spring break for our kids. The next morning we got the call that Grammy had passed away earlier that morning. My aunt (her daughter) and I were on the road by ten. Our families came up later. As I said Grammy made no waves. She knew we were all arriving for spring break so just like her she made it convenient for us to say good-bye while losing no school time for the kids.
She gave me the greatest gift before she died. During that phone call we chatted. She sounded surprisingly good. I said I was coming up the next day and I would see her then. The greatest gift is love we are told. I carry the gift of her last words to me in my heart now forever.
As I ended the phone call I said “I love you Grammy.” She said “I love you too, Dear.”
…..ONWARD TO MORE MISADVENTURE…