Friday, November 6, 2015

Grandma Mary

My mom's mother, Mary, passed away on Wednesday. I wasn't particularly close to her but she was certainly the matriarch of the family. Thanksgiving was the big holiday for my mom's side of the family to congregate. My mom was one of nine children, although not all biologically belonging to Mary. My mom has one biological brother and sister. The three had been in and out of foster care most of their young years before going to Mary's house. Mary took my mom and her siblings into her existing family of six. They were never formally adopted but Mary treated them as her own. I only knew her as my grandma.

It was a tumultuous household that my mom grew up in, filled with alcoholism and abuse. It can be easy to question why people didn't do better but we all know how that works. We do the best we can with what we have at the time. Mary did the best she could. She loved everyone and wanted everyone to be happy. She had a big laugh and even bigger earrings. I was fascinated with her ear lobes when I was little as they seemed to hang so low! I thought for sure they must hurt.

My memories of Mary are as the sweet Grandma who always had cookies on hand when we visited, and sometimes It's-It ice cream sandwiches! Several times as a child she took my mom and sisters and me, to see the Nutcracker in San Francisco for Christmas. She took us to see our first Broadway musical, Annie and to other shows as well. We'd often have dinner after the show at some old-time San Francisco restaurant. It was after seeing Guys and Dolls, that I learned what "sweet breads" are. We were at the restaurant and my Aunt Leslie couldn't wait to get her order of sweat breads. Leslie had previously announced that she didn't know what sweet breads were, and she didn't want to know because she loved them. Someone at the table (most likely Aunt Sharon) announced their origin. I'll never forget the look of disgust on Leslie's face staring at her sweet breads, realizing what she was eating. Grandma played quite a role in shaping my belief that money is best spent on experiences rather than things.

You could say I owe Grandma Mary my life. In the early 60's Grandma was a waitress at the Mill Valley restaurant, Sabella's. My dad happened to be a busboy there as well. Dad was a bachelor at the time, and in seminary. It was Thanksgiving and dad wasn't going home to Tehachapi. Of course Grandma invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner as she couldn't stand for anyone to be alone on the holidays. So my dad went to dinner at Mary's house and there he met my mom. Shortly thereafter on July 25 (which is also Mary's birthday), they were wed. Grandma even made my mom's wedding gown.
Grandma at my parent's wedding, 1964
My mom and dad on their wedding day.
When I was three of four years old, my mom and sisters and I were going to visit Grandma for the weekend. I wanted to make a gift for Grandma. I dug through my mom's stack of cards and found a beautiful blue card that had flowers and glitter on it. I couldn't read yet but the card was certainly pretty enough to be a great gift for Grandma. I was sure the words were equally as nice. I "wrote" something inside, glued it to a piece of wood, and made drawings on the wood. When we arrived at Grandma's I presented it to her -- I was so excited to give it to her! Grandma stared at it in confusion and my mom looked like she wanted to crawl inside a hole. Turns out I had chosen a lovely condolence card! My mom was mortified. That may have been the first time my mom was mortified by me but it certainly wasn't the last!

Up to the end Grandma was still a "mom" and instructing her daughters what to do. The morning of her death, my aunts Sharon and Robin were with her. Grandma kept pestering Aunt Robin to get a haircut. Robin didn't want to go but Grandma was insistent. Aunt Sharon told Robin, go, she would stay with Grandma. Robin went to the salon, had her cut, and returned. Robin made sure Grandma saw her new "do". Twenty minutes later Grandma died.

Mary was 93 when she passed and is preceded in death by three of her sons. Her remaining six children, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren will miss her sweet voice and her gentle nature. Thanksgiving will never be quite the same without her. This year, Grandma, my dad, Uncle Skip, Uncle Kirk and Uncle Kevin will be having their own Thanksgiving.

Mary Baker
July 25, 1922 - November 4, 2015