A lot can happen in 91.5 years. While raising five kids (who in turn had 12 grandkids, 30 great-grandkids and 5 great-great-grandkids), my Great Gram wrote thousands of letters, canned a metric ton of sauerkraut, handmade baby quilts for all her descendents and for her friends’ grandkids, too, and spent decades serving the homeless and hungry at her church's meal program. She lived frugally and simply in the same house for something like 60 years, and she spent the majority of her time (at least since I’ve known her) helping others.
So many things that I learned from books, Gram actually lived through - World War I, World War II, Pearl Harbor, the Atomic Bomb, the Korean War, Vietnam; the evolution of the automobile industry, microwaves, computers and cell phones; Prohibition, women’s suffrage, desegregation, space travel. Gram said she was older than root beer, since it was invented in 1919 and she was born in 1918. Sliced bread wasn’t even around when she was born… can you imagine life before sliced bread? The invention that Gram said most impacted her life? The washing machine. And try to wrap your head around this: Gram experienced the presidencies of Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama – that’s the New Deal, the Space Age, assassinations and foiled attempts, the Cold War, resignations, movie stars, sex scandals and the first African-American president. Kind of a lot to process, no?
In spite of the maddening pace of progress during the 20th century, Gram was a lesson in steadiness. We all knew her definitive rules and didn’t dare break them: 1. No walking on the hill where the flowers bloomed 2. No whining 3. No talking back 4. No wasting food. As the tiniest member of the family by far, she was also the feistiest, and you certainly wouldn’t want to cross her. Though she had a somewhat tough exterior persona, I think she was one of those people whose actions said “I love you” more than her words ever could. If she canned you some tomatoes, or brought you some homemade carrot chili, or sewed you a blankie or served you a meal at the church, that meant you were loved.
Outgrowing our diminutive Gram was a rite of passage for the 30 great-grandchildren, though some of us sprouted faster and taller than others (looking at you, Stark boys!). You may have noticed I was one of just a few descendents to receive the shortness gene from her, and I also apparently got her nose, which I never noticed until I was rifling through pictures of her in her 20s.
Despite certain unbending habits that I always attributed to her having lived through the Great Depression, Gram always had a zest for life and sparkle in her eye to go with a not-so-subtle sense of humor. I won't share details on some of the more shocking things she said (stories recounted ad nauseum at the funeral and wake much to my dismay), but trust me, it would be enough to make you readers blush and to lure some unsavory Googlers to my site.
I think she was secretly gratified that her grown great granddaughter (me) had a nervous breakdown (or two) over one of her famous homemade blankies. (We'll get into that at a later date, but for the record, I’m not ashamed.) She was a great letter writer, and though her handwriting got worse as she grew older and arthritis crippled her hands, she always wrote me back. Each letter included an update on canning, the flowers in her garden and her work at the meal program, and often there was a Polaroid folded in with pictures of the snow in the front yard or the canning she’d just finished.
Though I always suspected she'd outlive us all, Gram passed away on Feb. 17, 2010 -- Ash Wednesday. That's 33,402 days, 2,885,932,800 seconds, 48,098,880 minutes, 801,648 hours and about 4,771 weeks of living. Life expectancy for US citizens is approximately 77.7 years. Gloria Kralicek, FTW.
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