When Old is old

I’m not sure exactly what I mean when I say “Old is old.” But it seems fitting when I think about my dear grandmother who recently passed away. She had just celebrated her 97th birthday a few months earlier and in February of this year, her body was just done.

I wonder how tired she must have been. Not just physically, but in her whole being, knowing that her last day was imminent. Did she wake each morning with astonishment? Did she appreciate her time up until the very last second?  During those last few months, though living with her daughter, Grandma was mobile and quick of mind. Her hearing was pretty much shot, so the visits we had were her just taking in her surroundings and doing her best to be pleasant, even though she had no idea what we were all talking about. I’m sure it must have been very frustrating for her.


Grandma with her son Steve. Notice the busy-ness of the room around her. I imagine this image captures what she lived in for quite some time.

I had a nagging feeling for months before her passing that I should write her a letter- an authentic letter that was just me really talking to her with no expectation of reply. I wanted her to know me on a deeper level than just what I was up to in my life or how the weather was in my part of town. When I wrote that letter, I felt connected to her. Her life experience, though I am only aware of bits and pieces of it, (like the time she and her sister Clea kept messing up the pastry recipe and ended up making 10 pies instead of just two), speaks volumes when she herself does not. Grandma was the most quiet woman I knew. I have only ever heard her speak up in a group setting at my little brother’s baptism. And even then, she did not get up in front of everyone, she sat directly in front of him and spoke just to him. The picture below reminded me of that. Very touching.


Grandma with her son, Gary.

I sent that letter with peace, knowing that I had truly opened my heart to her. I shared deep feelings, fears and secret stories that only she and I know. I wanted her to know I still believed in her. I appreciated her and our special relationship. I told her that I still counted steps like her. (Four on her front porch. Seven on mine.)  I reminded her that “a sigh is from the heart” as she always said.

Her quiet presence actually helped me notice her. I have fond memories of sitting with her at her pink kitchen table painting her nails. I would buy her outrageously loud red nail polish, which she’d refuse to accept. She did let me paint her nails a bright neon pink on one occasion, but when I returned a few days later, she had taken it off. How nice it was for her to humor me and share fun time with me! She let me paint her nails one last time on her last birthday.



Aunt Vera also joined in the fun!

When I was in high school, her home was a safe place. Staying at grandmas house was a delight for me to escape my own home for a while. Her big beautiful Victorian home sits on a large plot on the corner a few blocks from the high school. Lilacs and peonies dot her yard. It is one of a few original homes of the Kamas Valley that are still standing. (The house she grew up in is just a few blocks west!)

Like most people who have lived a long time, Grandma resisted change. Each day, her breakfast consisted of a fried egg and toast. Day in and day out- an egg fried up in her little black cast iron pan on that ancient electric GE stove. When you do something so frequently, it just becomes second nature. A fried egg will always remind me of Grandma. And I find myself frying one up just in honor of her.  Of course they always tasted so much better when she fried it. Add to the egg a slice of her famous white bread (whose recipe has unfortunately has died with her) with a dollop of strawberry freezer jam and a piping hot cup of *Postum (brewed with milk, not water) and my life could not get any better! (By the way, how tragic that Postum has been discontinued!)

There are many little things that will always remind me of Grandma. Her small frame lives on in me. My hands move as hers did. My feet are her feet. My children and I will continue sit around her pink table.  What an honor it was to be able to share space with her for as long as I did.  But truth be told, that old is old and she must move on. I pray there are happy friends and family to greet her on the other side and plenty of lilacs to brighten her spirit.

Lorna Carpenter Butler, 1915-2012

Peace to you Grandma. Until we meet again. Maybe you’ll have a reply to my letter then.



4 thoughts on “When Old is old

  1. Holly,

    What touching memories you write of. It brought tears to my eyes as I felt what she means to you. Reminds me of my own grandma who lives only a few blocks North of yours. 🙂 I am sure there are thousands greeting her in heaven. Thousands of lives she touched while here on earth greeting her to honor, embrace, and welcome.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Jamie,
      That whole town is changing so much. The more the “originals” die off, the more saddened I become at how much is lost. The influx of new people overshadow those Elders who are still hanging around. I wonder how they must feel…I wonder if they eagerly await the Other Side.

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