When you first begin dating someone, there are many awkward situations you will be thrust into. For me, the peak of awkward situations with the woman that would one day become my wife arrived in the spring of 2007. After only a handful of dates, I was reluctantly dragged to a wedding of two people I had never met. While this was awkward enough, she had one more cherry to place on top of the uncomfortable sundae.
“While we’re here, we should go see my grandmother,” she said.
Very few people get to knock off the first wedding and the first meeting of a family member in one day. I sat in the car, my palms growing sweatier and sweatier. I imagined the worst, her grandmother quietly scoffing at the presence of me. We walked into the condo and I prepared for the worst.
There she sat, watching the Game Show Network as people her age tend to do. She looked up from Chuck Woolery’s game show antics and introduced herself.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said. “I’m Pauline, but you can call me Grandmother.”
From that day forward, that’s who she was. That’s who she was to everyone. Not in the way that she was like everyone’s grandmother. She took it upon herself to be everyone’s grandmother whether they wanted one or not.
As I dated, became engaged, and later married my wife, I found myself thrust into a family that valued their clan an unbelievable amount. At times, it would have been easy to feel like an outsider. After all, I was not of blood relation. There were dinners and family gathering after family gathering and me in all of my awkwardness. Instead of allowing me to sit there and contemplate the worst flavor of pudding (FYI, it is pistachio), Grandmother would go out of her way to talk to me.
I found myself many times speaking to her as the rest of the family erupted into family craziness. As everyone discussed a family from Altamont, KS, we would sit there speaking amongst ourselves.
I enjoyed every second of these talks. Whether it was discussing the wastefulness of our current society as she boxed up rice from a Mongolian Barbecue or telling me I look better clean-shaven, I was pulled into the family by her. Sure, she was not always right (Everyone knows my face looks best when partially covered by hair.) but it didn’t matter. I was involved.
I like to think that she was as happy to have someone to talk to as I was. For Grandmother, nothing mattered as much as family. We may have officially become family at the end of my wedding ceremony, but thanks to her, we were family before that.
At 9:16 last night, the world lost one of the kindest, most stubborn, most genuinely caring people ever.
This Thanksgiving, while everyone across the country is shoveling turkey down their throats and pronouncing their thankfulness for family, dozens of others will be thinking about Grandmother. They will be thinking about the strong family that she built, about her ability to set aside her own self for others, and about those conversations.
This Thanksgiving, I will be thankful for Grandmother and the time I was privileged enough to spend with her. I will be thinking about how much she would hate the fuss that people will be making over her for the next few weeks, about the horror she would feel knowing that the hospital she was in did not perfectly maintain her newly cut hair. I will be preparing for the hundreds of seemingly useless platitudes about life that people will be sending to my wife and me.
Grandmother will be remembered this year, but her legacy will be left with each and every person she met. That is what we should be thankful for.