In my grandmother’s time, gracious giving was the acceptable way to honor someone. At a wedding shower given for her by a small group of friends, she was gifted with a set of six hand-painted plates—each one signed on the back with her friends’ names and a message for a successful marriage. I cherish them.
My grandmother, Nana, passed on this trait of gracious giving to her family. She and my mother and my two aunts gifted me all my life with spiritual, intellectual and material gifts. Though Nana and my aunts have died and my mother’s dementia has deprived her, the memories of my life with these strong and amazing women holds me up every day.
Elizabeth, my Nana, not only gave me my name but also quietly brought me into conversations when my status as a middle child caused me to hold back. She had eight siblings, but was selected to attend teacher’s college and work outside the home. She taught school and in her spare time, as women of her time did, she painted water colors, made quilts, knitted and crocheted. She also sang in the church choir and played the piano.
After her marriage to my grandfather, these talents helped her raise and care for four children while he traveled selling oriental rugs for Marshall Field’s in Chicago. During the depression she baked bread, raised chickens for eggs and meat, and used her skills with a needle to darn socks and mend clothing. Nana always put her children first and denied herself new clothes or trips out with lady friends so that her children could attend private schools and take piano, voice and violin lessons.
She stimulated love of literature and learning by reading to her children every night. My mother kept many of these books, like the Maida series by Inez Haynes Gillmore Irwin. When I was ready, mom gave them to me, opening a world of gentle lives and loving experience that made me a reader forever. Now my daughter Carrie has been gifted with them.
The sixties ushered in major cultural changes, but Nana and I were always close and she continued to gift me: a bright red sweater which she knitted; a quilt of the Tree of Life, a labor of many hours of stitching, her wedding gift to me; and an Elizabeth Birthday Party that honored her turning 80 and me graduating from grade school.
Because of Nana’s giving nature, she also received. Living until 91, she was able to stay in her home with my two aunts until her death. She was gifted with California trips to see grandchildren, a great granddaughter and periodic announcements of her grandchildren’s graduations, marriages and career moves that often made her raise both hands to her mouth in a gesture of amazement and pleasure. She died within hours of a gathering at her church with her oldest and dearest friends.
I love to think of her as I search the depths of two of her lovely watercolors. In my life, I was gifted with Nana, a woman who knew the importance of family and provided all of hers with amazing memories—because of the most gracious and meaningful gift of all—herself.
What gracious gift have you been given in your life that you will never forget?