I made a tough trip last week; a nine hour round trip drive to say goodbye to someone truly wonderful whom I love dearly. Someone who had a tremendous impact on my life and the way in which I interact with others. Someone who taught me grace, and humility, and above all, love.
My Grandma June, whose spirit, acceptance, and kindness I felt from the very minute we met, is gone.
That was a moment I’ll never forget, the day I met her.
It was late spring in 1986, and I was getting to know the family of my Dad-to-be. I was pretty stoked to meet this lady, even in my youthful innocence, because my Dad is a pretty awesome guy. Like, if I could go to the Dad Store and pick out a Pop, I’d pick him, hands-down, every time. So, in my five year old head I figured she must be pretty amazing too, you know? Seemed logical to me. Still does, actually.
In any case, I remember being there, in her house up on the hilltop, its grand windows framing the commanding beauty of the green valley below and the blue mountains beyond. I was crouched behind the boxy tweed couch, playing in a giant toy box full of treasures she kept there to entertain all six of her (current) grandchildren, already feeling myself at home as I tinkered.
I can recall clearly my dad entering the room, his long strides carrying him across the floor before he knelt down beside me. I remember our introduction, and I can envision my big smile as I looked up to see her, my joy at the occasion obvious. Those things I can see. But, almost thirty years later, I can still feel, in my heart of hearts, the giant hug she gave me; her warmth still lingers. And my ears? They still ring with her first words to me, “It’s great to meet you, call me Grandma June.”
I’ve never known her as anything else since then.
This was a woman who embraced me, fully and with open arms, from the get go, no questions asked. I was never treated as a step-grandchild or in any way as less of “real” family member. I was just her Granddaughter and she was just my Grandmother.
I delighted in her company. I marveled over her sparkling silverware, her shiny china, her delicate teacups. I listed to her stories of moving to Alaska before it was a state, spending dark and frigid days working in a dry cleaning shop while my Grandfather built his business. I laughed at her tales of international adventure with her best friend Jane. Jane and June, best friends for life. What an inspiration they were, those ladies, independently traveling the world well into their eighties.
I spent summer days and nights traipsing through her house with my cousins, lounging in the depths of the giant orange flowered couch cushions watching “satellite t.v.,” (which, when you grow up on a farm in the middle of nowhere is quite a luxury, let me tell you), and spending hours upon hours learning card tricks on the pea green carpet that cloaked her massive living room floor. I recall nearly every holiday seated around her dining room table enjoying home cooked meals and learning which fork to use, and when. No matter how many people came Grandma always had a seat for everyone, even if it meant she had to wait to eat.
I cannot remember my childhood without her. She was always there, always. Feeding a crowd, taking my cousins and I shopping, dropping my friends and I off at the river for a day of inner tubing, loading a crew of kids in the back of her pickup truck to go into town for ice cream. She was always ready. Always smiling. Always love.
Over the years although I moved away I would visit every few months, and make a point to see her. To visit with her, to hear more stories, to share more smiles, to give more love. She would make me eggs and coffee each morning, despite my protest that I was happy to make my own breakfast. And the toast. Oh, the toast. White “Lumberjack” brand bread buttered just right. There was something so perfect about it; to this day nobody makes toast quite like that, perhaps because all others lack her secret ingredient of love. Each time I left she would thank me for visiting, but really, I was the lucky one, getting to spend that time with her, what a gift.
At the end of my life, I can only hope to be known in this way by my friends and family. I want to be remembered as she is. As good, and kind, and generous. I want the people in my life to know, with that same steadfast knowledge and security, that I love them, so very much.
I have written about this before, about the legacy I’m leaving for my children. This is yet another reminder, another lesson from the universe to live, and to live well.
What lessons am I offering my progeny? What memories am I creating for them? When they grow older and have children of their own, what stories will they tell of me? What will they say I taught them? What will they say they remember doing with me, for me, and because of me?
What kind of imprint am I making?
I may never know the exact answer, but I know for certain that this powerful premise impacts my day, every day, all day. Who am I to them is the sum of my words, my actions, my habits, attitudes and beliefs. It is the example by which I lead, not that of which I speak, that they will carry forward.
Of Grandma June, I remember only good. Only love. Only happy.
If, when my time on earth is over, I have lived as she lived, with such profound value and admirable action, then I will have done well. The world benefitted from having a woman like June Sweezey in it. My life, and the lives of so many others, are better, because of her.
Life is short my friends. Be amazing. Live joyfully. Live kindly. Give love, receive love, be love. Live today as if it’s the day you’ll be remembered, because it just might be.
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