My grandmother was known as Grammie. Didn’t matter if you were related to her or not, almost everyone called her Grammie. And the few people who didn’t, thought of her as Aunt Ruth. Because that’s who she was. She was the matriarch of the Boyd family, the high priestess of the Woodland/Roxmor clan and everyone’s grandmother.
Grammie celebrated her 100th birthday last summer, surrounded by all of her kids, most of her grandchildren and almost all of her great grandchildren. People flew in from Seattle and Germany and even Papua New Guinea. Surrounded by more than fifty family members, we celebrated a life that spanned a century, crossed a millennium and went from a time of horse-drawn carriages and staticky radios to facetiming with her family in Europe.
We took turns at that party sharing what having Grammie in our lives meant to us. I only had a few moments to think about it before a video camera appeared in my face and I had to speak. Having Grammie in my life meant growing up with someone I could talk to when I didn’t feel like I had anyone else. My friend Kristin and I were among the youngest of the group of kids at our vacation cabins in upstate New York, a place I still affectionately call Woodland. We were probably ten or eleven years old and some of the teenagers were talking about leaving the council that night to go to the inn and make out. We had no idea what they were talking about, so we promptly went home to a house named Boulder Camp and asked Grammie to please explain what making out meant. Without a trace of hesitation or embarrassment, she told us the best she could. I understood what she was saying, I just had no idea why anyone would want to do that. There were many other times I turned to Grammie when I had questions I didn’t think could be answered. Why didn’t my parents live together anymore? Why were friendships so complicated? What in the world was wrong with boys? Grammie never turned me away and she always held my hand and looked me in the eye, even when she had to say the hard stuff.
Grammie and Pa founded a colony of old, charming cabins in Shandaken, New York. No, you don’t know where that is. One of my favorite books growing up was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I was so fascinated by that story, by the way those children slipped through the closet into a magical world. That was Woodland for me. When I was little, we’d pack up the wood-paneled station wagon and head to Woodland for the entire summer. This was well before cell phones and cable, but it wouldn’t have mattered. We were so far removed from civilization that TVs didn’t get a signal, pipes froze in the winter time and there were no electronic gadgets of any kind. There were seven or eight other families who spent most of their summer vacation in Woodland, as well as many of my cousins. Our days were spent making leather belts, stamping intricate and unique designs into each one, swimming in an always freezing stream, digging up clay from the banks of the stream, swinging on a knotted rope and my favorite, rolling down the hill at the Inn. Our nights were filled with playing flashlight tag, catching lightning bugs and participating in the council where we’d have talkfests, one-legged chicken fights and sing slightly disturbing songs about using an axe to kill a fly. Years later I’d sing those same songs to my children when they were babies when I was trying to get them to sleep. We also spent hours square dancing, sitting on the porch at the inn, telling ghost stories and eventually drinking beer and making out with boys. Don’t tell my mom.
We even went to Woodland during the winter to go skiing. There were two mountains nearby and I learned to ski as soon as I could walk. I still remember my favorite trail was called Long John. Being about a hundred years old, the cabins were not winterized and, as I said, the pipes would freeze in the winter making showering impossible. We’d get metal buckets full of snow and put them on the wood-burning stove to melt. Then we’d use that water to flush the toilets. All this was done after we’d park our cars at the bottom of a steep and long hill and carry our suitcases, sleds and food up to the house. It was exhausting and we were always cold, but we begged our parents to take us up every weekend.
Woodland was my very own Narnia. A magical place where I spent almost all of my free time doing things that are unheard of today. I still contend that square dancing is one of the most fun things you can do with your clothes on, and strangely, no one I know outside of Woodland knows how to do it. I can tie sheepshank, clove hitch, bowline, figure eight, granny and square knots. I can tie knots I’ve never heard of and have no idea what they do. My best memories of childhood are of Woodland. And all of them happened because of Grammie.
Grammie had five children, ten grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren and countless others who thought of her as their surrogate mother or grandmother. She was one of those people who everyone knew and loved. Sometimes I would watch her interact with people I didn’t know and I’d wonder what it felt like to be loved the way she was.
Grammie was more than a hundred years old when she started to decline. The week before she left us, I called Kurt crying at the imminent thought of losing her. I said to him that it was hard to imagine a world without Grammie. He responded that it’d been a long time since there was a world without Grammie. I thought about that statement. How the world, the universe had been graced with a century of Grammie. Generations of families grew up being served Grammie’s lemonade and baked beans at the annual 4th of July parade. Countless kids led more charmed lives for having been loved by her.
Minutes after Grammie left us, I heard my aunt Ruth on the phone with her brother, Jim. She was telling him that long ago Grammie told her that all she wanted was for her children to be happy and love each other. Simple but powerful words.
I have made mistakes and spent years missing some of the people I love the most. Grammie’s 100th birthday party was the first time I’d seen them in far too long. Although we were supposed to be giving Grammie presents that day, she gave me the opportunity for the greatest gift of all- forgiveness. I was welcomed back. I don’t know that that ever would have happened if Grammie’s party hadn’t brought me back together with them.
That was Grammie. The sun of our universe. Making our lives better and brighter. She illuminated our world. For the one hundred years that she was with us and for all the time to come. Grammie was and always will be our sun. We love you now and forever.