Friday, October 21, 2011

Grandma

Marion Miller - March 27, 1924 - October 16, 2011


I am writing from Plattsburgh, New York, at the airport, after saying a final goodbye to my grandmother today. I helped my father write the eulogy, which my sister gave at the funeral service, and in the process I collected many stories and memories of this beloved woman.

Marion Bouyea was the second of 6 children, and grew up in Dannemora, New York. Her father worked at the local prison, and her mother was a housewife. Marion was the first female in her family to go to business school and then get a job (at the bank).

She fell in love with Edward Miller shortly before he left to fight in World War II. Some of our earliest photos of her come from that time period, when she would send pictures to him overseas. When he came back, they were married, and subsequently had five children (Ron [my Dad], Jim, Kathy, Marilyn, and Rob). Her role in those years was primarily a homemaker, but she also held down her job as a bank teller.

My aunts and uncles' stories of those years are always fascinating.

KATHY: When we were kids, we shared a garden with Uncle Willard and his family, who did most of the work. We’d sneak in and steal carrots from the garden, and wash them off with the hose to eat them raw. Mom found us out every time – we didn’t learn till later that it was the running water of the hose that gave us away.

JIM: The only mistake she ever made was to let her brother Vernon babysit us when she had to work. It was like we’d remodeled the house every time she came home.

ROB: She stopped coming to my football games after I got hurt one time. She couldn’t watch the games after that.

MARILYN: One time Bob, my date, was waiting for me at the door, but Mom wouldn't let me go out until I balanced my checkbook, which had a 2-cent discrepancy. Bob said, "I'll give her the 2 cents!" But Mom said, "Oh, no, you won't" and made me stay there until I found the error.

Her children grew, and some moved away. My Dad settled in Massachusetts to raise his family. And as I grew up, trips to Plattsburgh were a regular ritual. We came for at least a week in the summer and a week at Christmas, always staying with my grandparents. Their house remains etched in my memory, especially in a tactile way - I can remember the feel of the furniture, the dishes, the staircase railings, the doorknobs. There was always a jumble of who's-sleeping-where, always a vast spread of home-cooked food, and there were always card games after dinner. Their home was a warm and welcoming place, a place guaranteed to find a sympathetic ear, a refuge. Grandma was always up before dawn, and the early-risers among us would often join her for quiet conversation at the breakfast table.


She continually baked doughnuts (impossible for anyone in the family to replicate), and fresh rolls, and peanut butter balls. She knitted and crocheted constantly, and all of us in the family own afghans, sweaters, mittens and washcloths that she made for us.

Memories were made, now by even more family members - her sons- and daughters-in-law, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

BOB (son-in-law): Remember that time I brought that whole bag of fish in her kitchen and the bag broke? There were fish covering the whole floor of the kitchen, and she just laughed.

TERRY (daughter-in-law): She was always smiling, always so happy to see her family. I remember even the first time I came to Plattsburgh, she made me feel so welcome.

SHELLY (granddaughter-in-law): She sent birthday cards to everyone in the family, every year!

SHANNON (granddaughter): She taught her grandkids to play pinochle. Inevitably we all forgot, and she had to re-teach us every time we played.

LISA (granddaughter): Her face would light up whenever she saw her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

EMILY (great-granddaughter): Even when she was getting older, she could always make us laugh.

JEREMY (grandson): She was the only person who could balance my checkbook when I had my first bank account, the smartest math whiz in the family.

ERIK (grandson): I remember playing card games with Grandma – Uno, Skip-Bo….

ERIN (granddaughter): She learned to use the Wii at the Senior Center!

However, my grandmother never learned to drive a car. She never used a computer, never figured out the VCR. And I don't think she ever fully understood the strange career path I've taken, no matter how often I brought photos and videos. But no matter how old-fashioned or out-of-touch these things seem when I write them down - Grandma never seemed remote from my life, no matter how infrequently I saw her (or, towards the end, no matter how much her memory faded.) I always felt close to her, in the unspoken bond of a shared history.

At her funeral, when I looked around at all of the relatives in attendance, I realized this is the same bond that connects us all. People who see each other perhaps once a year, who sometimes have very little in common on the surface - and yet we have known each other all our lives. Something deep in our hearts connects us as family. It was important for me to be there with all of them, and remember that.

The last paragraph of her eulogy was this:

We know that she would be happy to see us all here together – the loved ones who made up the fabric of her long and beautiful life. We hope that we can continue her spirit of tremendous generosity and love of family – for she has left a spark of herself in each one of us. Marion, Mom, Grandma, Nana – we love you.

3 comments:

  1. This is beautiful Shana.... big big hugs..

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  2. So beautifully written, Shana. I'm sorry for the loss but happy for your wonderful memories.

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  3. Also, thanks to PMS, I'm also crying at my desk...so thanks for that too.

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