This little lady is my Gram Irma, and she
would have been 101 last month. Oh how I wish we could have celebrated it with
She left us when she was only 72. I was in my
30’s, so that seemed like a reasonable age to die. Except it’s not – the older
I get the farther away I push that “reasonable age.” Losing her at 72 feels
almost like a ripoff now.
But because we are a family that tends to have
babies when we’re young, my kids were in relationship with Gram Irma from their
birth to her death. My daughter was 12 and my son 10 when she died – it’s
really pretty remarkable to still have a great-grandparent at their ages.
Let me tell you about Irma Irene. She was maybe five feet tall, and her hair was red as
far back as I can remember. I have no idea what her natural color was, but since
she dyed it herself there was a
surprising and sometimes shocking number of the possibilities. I remember everything
from pink to fire engine red, with orange thrown in for good measure at least
She wasn’t very modest, could cuss like a
sailor, and was famous for throwing her cards across the room if she was losing
the game, most especially if it was my (preteen) daughter she was losing to.
(Who taught you how to play this game?!?!. SHE did, of course, and she knew
She was bossy and feisty and she laughed a lot
… and she loved me. Completely, with no strings attached.
Gram had no easy life. Abandoned at 14 and
destitute, she dropped out of school after the 8th grade, and was
pregnant by 16. She married my grandfather, a man who wasn’t very nice and had
bad habits. She stayed married to him for 45 years, enduring much more than
I’ll ever know.
He was gone all summer every summer with his
work, and typically left her with very little money. Throughout my childhood
years I have distinct memories of these summer leavings.
Did she dissolve into angst or fear? No. She
marched down to the Burger King and got herself a job in the dining room. Every
year she did this, and every year he came home to a “surprise” – her way of
asserting herself, I suppose, but sometimes her surprises were astounding.
One year she tore out a wall between two
Another time she painted the outside of the house
a lovely pastel pink.
Did she bring trouble on herself for these
acts of defiance? I would expect she did, but she never lost her sass or her
My brothers and I spent a lot of time there
during the summers. We had free reign of the place, with a few notable
exceptions. Number One: Stay out of her flower beds. This was serious business
and she was not to be trifled with.
So the day she caught the three of us jumping
off her front porch “over” her flower beds, we knew we were in for it! Now, as
was usual in those days and times, she had full spanking privileges. She lined
us up in front of the house, yardstick in hand, prepared to give us the good whack
we had coming. She swung that yardstick back like she was up to bat … and
smacked it on the side of the house so hard that it broke in half.
Of course we collapsed into laughter and she
stomped into the house. And that was the end of that.
She was a constant presence in my life. It
wasn’t unusual to come home from school to find her helping around the house,
and I don’t think she ever missed a concert or performance or competition if
she could help it. Throughout my childhood, I spent millions of nights at her
house, often with my brothers or one of my cousins, sleeping in the stifling
hot treasure trove that was her attic. I remember exploring the rafters in the
basement, cooking and cleaning and playing cards and … just doing life together
She loved me. Simply and purely and
undeniably. She told me so with few words and in many many ways. She was proud
of me, and she also made sure I never got too “full of myself.”
She was brave,
and strong, and I learned so much from this little woman. I KNEW that she loved
me fiercely, and being loved like that made a difference in this kid. I’m
forever grateful, and I still miss her as fiercely as she loved me. I’d guess I
I could write a whole book on her life and her
antics – she divorced my grandfather after 45 years, and sometime later she put a personal ad in the newspaper. (No surprise – she was brave, remember?) That
was how she met Ivan. They married, and he gave her 10 wonderful, loving years.
What an ending!
Yes, her life was full of difficulty and tragedy, yet
she never changed. She was steady and she was present, and SHE LOVED ME.
Did you have a Gram Irma in your life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!