Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Happy Anniversary George and Betty

Ten years ago I was in the Target parking lot in Greenville, NC when I called my grandparents. My Grandaddy answered with his usual jubilee when talking to me. Eventually Grandma got on the phone as well. I called to wish them a happy anniversary. It was their 60th. They thanked me with their usual humbleness. Then Grandaddy asked me, "You think we'll make it another 60?" I replied, "If anyone can, it'll be you guys."

Grandaddy died in April of last year, and this summer Grandma followed. They lived to be 90 and 91 years old respectively and today is their 70th wedding anniversary. Even though they aren't celebrating here anymore, I am celebrating for them. 

As many people have gathered from this blog, I do enjoy writing, but rarely feel like I have something passionate to write about. I wrote eulogies so to speak for both of my grandparents when they died. I didn't speak at Grandaddy's service - although I did learn that Grandma volunteered me to do just that. My mother rightfully declined on my behalf. I could not imagine talking about Grandaddy, especially in that church - which he, my grandma, my mom and I have all been life long members of - without crying. And I especially didn't think I could do it with Grandma watching. I do not regret not speaking at his service. But surprisingly, when Grandma died, I did speak at her service - without tears, which I hadn't been able to do before or since that service. 
What's funny now looking back at what I wrote for both of them is how similar they are and how I can't really talk about one without the other. 

So these are my grandparents. These are the people I adored for 28 years. These are the people I celebrate today and always. 

Goodnight Grandaddy 2015

When I was in kindergarten, my favorite joke to tell my classmates was that I was Chinese. When they would stare at me and wonder how that could possibly be since I didn’t look Chinese, I would tell them its because my Grandaddy was born in China. Most of the time I got away with it because my classmates were too young to understand that I had just lied. But as a kid it was one of my favorite facts. China seemed forever away and the fact that my Grandfather was born there, and somehow managed to come back to North Carolina to have a family here was just amazing. 

As a kid, two of my favorite people in the entire world were my grandparents. I was always very attached to my parents, but the only people I would willing leave their side for were Grandma and Granddaddy. As a toddler here in this church the only reason I would even go to the Sunday morning daycare was because I knew my Grandaddy was there. But Eventually every Sunday he would leave to go to the 11 o’clock service and I would scream and cry. Yes I was very attached to my grandparents. 

When I got older and got to sit in the 11 o’clock service, my parents would sit up in the balcony while Grandma and Grandaddy sat below on the side, sometimes in the pews against the walls that used to be there, and I could watch them during the service. Or I’d get to sit with them which was equally as exciting for me. I remember thinking as a kid how lucky I was to have George and Betty as my grandparents. All the other grandparents in church didn’t seem as fun. 

I spent nearly every Sunday with my Grandaddy until I was 18. At church, but then for Sunday lunch. Every Sunday we went to Wendy’s, and eventually just at our house, although occasionally to one of my uncle’s places. And I always sat beside Grandaddy. 

Grandaddy was a talker and sometimes at lunch I would get exceptionally bored by his goings-on. But he talked about a lot of things. China, the war, his parents, his siblings. He was usually somewhat serious, but always chipper. One particular Sunday I remember my Staunch Democrat Grandfather telling this joke: “Chelsea Clinton was asking a Marine back from Iraq what were his worse fears. The marine responded, ‘Osama, Obama, and your Mama.” My mom choked on her soup. 

I usually got to ride in the car with Grandma and Grandaddy from church to lunch. I sat between the two of them in the front seat of their Oldsmobile. There was always classical music playing. I loved that car. When I was 15, Grandaddy let me drive that car, and it was the first car I felt comfortable driving. Not long after Grandaddy got a new car and to my shock and surprise, my grandparents gave me the Oldsmobile on my sixteenth birthday. I cried. Then 3 year later, once I had gone to college, the Oldsmobile started acting up, and wasn’t as reliable as it once had been. Grandaddy didn’t like the idea that I could be in Greenville without him or my Dad to help me when something went wrong with the car. So he took the Oldsmobile back and gave me his newer, nicer Buick. Being an only grandchild has it’s perks.

My favorite babysitter was always Grandma and Grandaddy. When I stayed with them on Saturday nights, We’d watch As Time Goes By, if I stayed any other night, Grandaddy would take me to Blockbuster to rent a movie to watch with them. Grandaddy could probably quote The Sound of Music, An Affair to Remember, and White Christmas just as well as I can because those were the only movies I’d want to watch and he sat thru them, sometimes sleeping, because they were me and Grandma’s favorites. He never complained. But we’d also play Scrabble, Fan Tan, Rummy or Checkers. Grandma usually won Fan Tan, I usually won Rummy, but Grandaddy was hard to beat in Scrabble and Checkers.

Two thanksgivings ago, I sat down with Grandaddy and asked him to tell me about China. He had a remarkable memory and the exact details that he remembered were impressive. I was able to record the hour and a half conversation. I knew he had gone back to China as a boy, but I had no idea he was there when Japan invaded China. They were aware of the fighting going on, but stayed in one town because they thought it was safe to stay put. One day, Bombs were dropped a block away from their home. He and his family were able to escape one town on the last boat that left before the Japanese took over. They stayed in Shanghai until 1940.

Grandaddy lost his brother Evan during the war. Somehow, on the first Thanksgiving after Evan had died, Grandaddy and his brother Wilson who were both serving in the Pacific were reunited and were able to spend the holiday together. But Grandaddy was an officer and Wilson wasn’t, and they were not allowed to sit together. So, Grandaddy stole another officer’s uniform for Wilson to wear so they could be together. The story goes that Wilson was so nervous he would be caught he didn’t eat anything. 

Grandma and Grandaddy have been married for 68 years. He walked into Ms. Mary’s English class at Reynolds high school wearing a blue sweater, and that is the image Grandma remembers most of him. They knew each other from school and First Baptist, but it wasn’t until they were both in Chapel Hill for college that they went on their first date. Grandaddy asked Grandma to go to a dance with him, and they had quite a good time. Grandma recalls that he didn’t really dance, but Grandaddy would argue that fact. I called them on their 60th Anniversary, as that was no small feat I wanted to wish them well. Grandaddy said, “I look forward to the next 60.” Ask Grandma to tell you the story of when they went skating and Grandaddy fell. It never fails to make her laugh. 

I may have first gotten my love of costumes from my Grandaddy. He was the first person I ever saw working in a costume, when he worked at Old Salem and Historic Bethabra. I remember him taking me to the bakery and showing me off to his coworkers. He took me behind where normal tourist were allowed to go. One year on the fourth of July, I got to dress up with him and walk in a parade with him. He was a very good historian, and therefore a really great tour guide. 

In my grandparents old house there was a sticker on the mirror in Grandaddy’s bathroom. I stared at that sticker long before I knew how to read and it always puzzled me. It had one sentence, and a bunch of lines in some sort of pattern. I never asked about it, I decided it was a weird map. When I was old enough to finally read the sentence, it said “what do you see?” I still didn’t get it, nor did I “see” it for sometime. But one day I finally "saw" it, I couldn’t unsee it, Those randomly placed lines so I thought, actually outlined the name Jesus. Grandaddy was a man of faith and he wore it well. 

Grandaddy is heaven with his mother and father that he always talked about so lovingly. I can’t help but be happy for him that he’s with his brothers, sister and cousins that I know he has missed. 

I like hearing that the nurses and home care ladies at Heritage Woods would fight over who got to give him a shave. Because they all loved George. He was a hard one not to love as he loved and accepted everybody. He never wanted to make a big fuss or show about anything, and never wanted the attention on him. He always took care of everybody else first. All the cousins loved to visit him.

I can’t say that I wasn't spoiled by Grandaddy. But can you blame him? He had four children and one grandchild. But here’s why Grandaddy was so special to me; I may be his only grandchild, but he was my only grandfather. WE were each other’s one and only. There’s not a lot of people in the world that get to have that relationship with their grandfather. Yes, I’m the lucky one. 

To meet him was to love him, to know him was to cherish him.

Running to Grandma 2016

I don't know how old I was when this happened, but my Grandma told me a story once, from when I was very young. I must have been less than a year old, I know I couldn't talk yet and probably had not yet learned to walk. But evidently when my mom was at home taking care of me, Grandma would come over to help her out. On this particular day, she came over, let herself in and I was in the front room of our house. She said I turned to look at her and I smiled so big, and I hurried to her in whatever fashion I was able to at that age. Grandma said it was the first time that she knew I recognized her, and I was just so happy to see her. 

But that's been the case as long as I can remember. I was always happy to see Grandma and I would always run to Grandma. She was my first friend. She was the only woman I would dare leave my parent's side for. Many remember, I was a very shy, scared little child. But you can understand why I had separation anxiety from my parents and my grandparents as a kid. You see, the first times you're supposed to be away from your parents at First Baptist Church is when they drop you off at the nursery to go to Sunday School - the same nursery that my Grandma volunteered in every Sunday for 30 years. And when I graduated to the toddler childcare, that's where Grandaddy volunteered every Sunday. So those first times away from mom and dad, I always still had Grandma and Grandaddy. And when I started going to worship, I'd usually want to sit with them. They were the babysitters I wanted. They were the only ones I would spend the night with away from home until I was 12. In fact the first Christmas present I ever bought with my own money for my grandparents was a heart that said, "There's no place like Grandma and Grandaddy's house." Incidentally that Christmas was the last Christmas I got a present from them that wasn't a check - a real leather bound Bible.

Yes Grandma was my first friend and she helped shape my likes and opinions from very early on. She had quite the sweet tooth. She always had desert after every meal. and Chocolate Chip became my favorite ice cream simply because she ordered it at Mayberry's. Every Sunday after church when we went to Wendy's for lunch I would wait to tell my mom what I wanted to eat until I knew what Grandma was ordering. If Grandma got a backed potato, I got a baked potato etc. No one ever caught on to this. She liked Cary Grant and Clark Gable so I liked Cary Grant and Clark Gable. I could always count on Grandma wanting to watch whatever movie I wanted to watch because inevitably it was one of her favorites as well. In fact when I was 9 years old and professed my first celebrity crush was Anthony Hopkins, Grandma confessed she had a crush on him too. Grandma watched As The World Turns from its very first episode in 1956 to the day it went off the air in 2010, and people wonder why I love soap operas so much. And As Time Goes By was my favorite TV shoe because I watched it on Saturday nights with Grandma and Grandaddy while eating After Eight mints.

She took art classes at the Miller Park Recreation Center, which just happens to be down the street from my parents house. I remember knowing that she was in there having a class and being so excited to get to go see her. And she loved getting to show me off. I was her only grandchild afterall. 

Yes I was always running to Grandma. She gave the best hugs. When my other grandmother died when I was nine, she was the one I ran to at that funeral and I still remember what she said to comfort me that day. And when Grandaddy died, I ran to her again and she held my hand during that service.

Grandma loved babies. That's why she had 4 and then volunteered in the nursery at First Baptist. Some may say how its unfortunate that a woman who loved babies so much didn't have more grandchildren to dote on. But it sure made it sweeter for me, and if Grandma was disappointed, she never let on to me. 

When my friends would tell me how annoying their grandmother was, I didn't understand. Or friends that didn't enjoy spending time with their grandparents - I didn't understand that because I didn't know what that was like. I loved being with my grandparents. And I remember I even looked at other grandmothers in First Baptist and felt bad that no one had a grandma as pretty as mine. 

Grandma's skill as an artist was impeccable and beyond impressive. Before I owned one of her pieces myself, I loved showing off pictures of some of her work and watching people's faces when I told them that they weren't looking at a photograph, they were looking at a hand drawn or hand painted landscape. Her attention to detail was beautiful. Her instructor at Miller Park would even tell her fellow classmates, "Don't compare your art to Betty's." And her artistic talent was thankfully passed on to at least two of her children and some even say me - if only I could be so talented.  

She was married to Grandaddy for 68 years. She had no problems getting a date when she was young. But when he walked in to her English class her senior year at Reynolds High School, she never forgot his brown eyes. And he was the one she wrote during the war, and when he surprised her and showed up at her post college graduation celebration at Virginia Beach, it became clear that George and Betty were meant to be, forever.  

It's hard to separate my love for Grandma and Grandaddy as two individual people, because they were always a unit for me. And the greatest joy I have now is knowing they are together again.  

They left us with a wonderful legacy. Alex, Mom, Rob and John already know they had the best parents they could have asked for, and Dad Alice and Matt have also experienced that same fortune as each of them were embraced by their parents-in-law as their own. And I have the greatest honor of all, of being their one and only grandchild. They took our friends as their other children and our families as their families.  

They lived with humility, strength, love and kindness. They taught us the importance of family. They showed us hot to be active members of our community, to volunteer and to help others. They embraced people no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender. They emphasized the value of an education and they wonder of the arts. They loved a good game, good fun and a good laugh. And they lived a life of faith. that through Christ all things were possible. George and Betty left a great legacy to us, and that is what we will continue. 

Happy Anniversary Grandma and Grandaddy. I love you!