My grandmother (my mom's mom) passed away last Sunday at the age of 98. She was born in 1912 in San Antonio at the old (as in the first) hospital at Fort Sam Houston. She was the oldest of 7 children and the last one to die. Pretty amazing, huh? Her father died fairly early in life, so her mother raised my grandmother and siblings on her own, with assistance from the older kids. One of her siblings died very young. She married an Army guy, had 4 children, then he died in 1957, 8 years before I was born. Grandma was left to raise 2 teenagers on her own, living on her benefits from the Army.
To help make ends meet, she took in sewing as well as making clothes for her own children. Later on, she worked at the corner drug store in the make-up department as well as the main cashier. Grandma always hemmed and mended my clothes when I was younger. I also remember visiting her at work at the drug store as well as "helping" her when I was off during the summer. The pharmacist who owned the drug store was wonderful to her and to me. I would stock gum, candy, and cigarettes. (My how times have changed!) I'd even get to operate the BIG, OLD cash register. It had a handle that you pulled down to make the drawer open. So much fun!!
When I was sick and had to miss school, I often spent the day with Grandma. During summer break, while my parents worked, we stayed with Grandma. We helped her cook, played for hours on end in her big backyard, and generally brought chaos to her normally quiet life. I can remember laying on her kitchen cabinet while she washed my hair in the big, deep kitchen sink. I remember spending the night with Grandma and hearing the train whistle blow. (Grandma lived about 4 blocks from the railroad tracks.) I remember spending Saturday mornings with Grandma while my mom got her hair 'done' at the beauty shop next door to the drug store. She would make me canned biscuits, a treat for me, since that was the only time I got to eat canned biscuits. She taught me to warm up flour tortillas and dip them in syrup. We'd go to the local Mexican bakery and buy bolillos and then come home and have sandwiches or toast them and then slather butter on them. On special days, she'd load me up and we'd go to the base PX (Post Exchange aka grocery store on post) and do the weekly grocery shopping. As a military dependent, she had access to every military base in town. Even though my grandfather was in the Army, she would go to the Air Force PX that was close to her house. This was way before 9-11 when security wasn't so tight.
When I was in high school, she basically moved in with her brother and his wife and nursed him after he had a stroke. She took care of him until he passed away. A few years later, she took care of her sister-in-law until she passed away from cancer. Then, in 1996, she moved in with my parents and cared for my mother until she passed away from cancer. All this time, she still had her own home, but would pack up and stay for a week or so then go home for a few days and come back. Finally, in 2000, after a fall where she broke her hip, my grandmother moved in with my aunt and uncle and sold her house. When they were divvying up the household belongings, she knew I wanted her table, hutch, and bedroom furniture, so those became mine.
My grandmother was a strong woman; she had to be. She was extremely outgoing and never met a stranger. Once when she was in the hospital (back when they had wards), she knew every person and why they were there by the end of her time in the hospital. If you were in need, and she could help you, she did. She was an avid garage sale goer and constantly picked up things she really didn't need at garage sales. When she'd come to visit, before she left, she'd drag us out to her car, pop open the trunk and say, "Do you see anything you need?" When you went to her house to visit, you never left empty handed. We were often told, "Here, you need this." even if we didn't! When we'd go out to dinner, she'd never eat all her food before offering it to someone else at the table. She'd also manage to snatch something off your plate if you weren't careful.
You always knew what Grandma was thinking. She wasn't afraid to tell you how the cow ate the cabbage, or tell you off if you needed it. She encouraged us to have an opinion and to not be afraid to voice it, even if no one agreed. She wasn't afraid to discipline us grandkids either. On more than one occasion, she'd tanned my hide or washed my mouth with soap. Many a time, I've gotten a pinch under the table or a yank of the hair as a reprimand. Because she wasn't afraid to speak her mind, you'd never really know what she'd say. Sometimes the most embarrassing things came out of her mouth!
Most of all, though, she loved. She loved us all, warts and all. She never stopped believing in us or encouraging us to do our best. I'll miss my grandmother, but when I stop to think of the long life she lived and all the things she's seen in her life, I'm thankful to have had her in my life for so many years. I have so many wonderful memories of my grandmother, and even a few not-so-wonderful memories of her.
Farewell, Grandma. I love you!