Today I am writing to you from a hotel room in Folsom, California. I am here to bid goodbye to and remember my dear Grandma Judy Wagner. There are few people on this planet that I love more than my Grandma and as one might expect my emotions at the moment are quite tender and overflowing, but I thought I might take a second to explain why I loved her so much.
It’s interesting because we all have those people in our lives who are complicated to love. That are difficult, demanding, frustrating, even cruel but they are a part of our lives so we learn to love them. This was not the case with my Grandma. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t adore her. Sure we had a few mild tiffs but they were always resolved by mealtime and quickly forgotten. She was just so darn lovable.
There are a lot of reasons I loved my Grandma but one of the biggest is that she got a lot of joy out of life and out of introducing her loved ones to what she loved. It’s always been strange to me that she enjoyed morose books like Ethan Frome because whether it was a new place for muffins or a Broadway show her love of what she loved was contagious. When I was 9 or 10 she took me to see Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco, and we both sat mouth agape when the chandelier came crashing towards the audience. It was a magical moment!
When I was 10 I saw Home Alone with her and it is my earliest memory of laughing uproariously at a film. I will always be sad that I never got to go to Hawaii with her because we both shared a love of the ocean and those beautiful islands. I remember many times her coming to visit us in Maryland and since it was the old days when calling long distance was expensive I enjoyed writing her letters for many years as a child.
My Grandma loved Christmas, Easter, the Rockettes, yummy platters of simple food, theme parties, New York City, Hawaii, tap dancing, Gone with the Wind, cozy detective novels, and getting her hair and nails done each week.
One of the last real conversations I had with her before her heart troubles made communication more challenging I had sent her a cheesy bracelet for Christmas with the saying ‘God couldn’t be everywhere so he gave us Grandmothers’. After she received it she called to thank me, and we chatted for an hour so. We talked about the family, my various activities, and we both said our I love yous. I remember the conversation because I had to step out of a church activity to take her call. Boy am I glad I did! Life is funny like that. It gives you moments of connection that are so easy to miss! I’m going to try and grab them from now on.
My Grandma loved pomp and ceremony. She loved attending graduations, weddings and celebrating the accomplishments of her family. I am sure more than one of us grandkids have gone through the processional of graduation more because we knew how much Grandma would love it than it was our true desire to so. I think she was just really proud of us and loved being a part of our lives. We loved her right back for it.
When my Grandma first had her heart problems my sister lived nearby. I remember calling her and saying ‘make sure to let me know if I need to fly home because Grandma and I have an extra special bond’ and Megan saying ‘you’re like the 10th cousin who has called saying that today’ and it was the truth. Everyone felt like they were the most special of all grandkids and the most loved. That’s such a gift. I hope I can love people in that way.
One of my happiest memories with my Grandma occurred in December 2000. My cousin Lisa and I developed a scheme where we would promise to go to see the Rockettes if my Grandma would go with us to New York. Of course in reality we loved the Rockettes so it was a win-win situation. The 3 of us spent 4 or 5 days in New York City eating pizza, going to shows (Beauty and the Beast, The Music Man and the Rockettes Spectacular) and enjoying Christmas in New York City. Little did we know that Lisa would pass away the next April. Now they are both gone, and I’m so grateful for that sacred time we had together.
Other memories…I remember her calling to cheer me up when I was depressed at work each Wednesday at lunch. I remember swimming at her very unique pool that had a huge shallow end. I remember hearing of her trips and the yummy things they had and looking through her stamp collection (or her collection of Mickeys, Santas, watches etc). I always loved the way her home smelled like a new car and the way you could run through the hallways with glee (to the point once I ran my hand through her stained glass window and had to go to the hospital). I remember going to a family reunion with her brother’s family and how much that meant to her (we had whole lobsters!).
I remember when she was babysitting us, and we brought home a nest of quail a neighbor had ‘given’ us. I remember watching Christmas Vacation and her laughing so hard she could barely breathe when the aunt offers the pledge of allegiance as grace or when the squirrel comes out of the tree. I remember watching Gone with the Wind with her and looking at her beautiful Scarlet O’hara inspired doll collection.
When I was 8 or 9 she got me my first doll but only did so after I swore I would take care of it. I was a messy kid (and messy adult), and she didn’t believe I was ready for such a special doll. After that, it was most prized, and I’m proud I still have it to this day, box and all! When my little cousin destroyed one of my dolls she had given me I was furious not because of my heirloom but because it was a betrayal of a promise I had made to my Grandma. A betrayal not of my own doing! How dare she!
I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t want to be like my Grandma. She was simply the best, and I will miss her dearly. I hope she is enjoying catching up with Lisa up in the Spirit World and that she knows how much I love her.
As for me down here on Earth I will cry a lot today and recommit myself to be more like her. Thanks Grandma for all the memories. I love you!