A year has passed since I lost my last grandparent. My father’s parents died when he was very young so I never had the chance to meet them, and my mother’s father died when I was in a freshman in high school, so my grandma was my only grandparent for almost two decades. She was the only grandparent to see me graduate high school, college and medical school (and she traveled so that she could be there in-person for each). She was there through my wedding and the birth of my two daughters, and all the other personal and professional accolades I accomplished along the way.
So much has happened since we lost her. I wonder what she would think about the current ongoing pandemic and how it would have affected her. I wonder how she would have reacted when I shared with her the news that we were expecting another baby (and then that we were not). I wonder what she would say if she could see how everything unfolded with her estate and the fate of the farm.
I will never know for sure. But what I do know is that, even now, I carry with me all the things that she shared with me in the thirty-something years we spent together, imparting in that time, the wisdom of her ninety-four plus years. These are just a few of the many things she gave me:
A love for music. One of my favorite things about visiting the farm was listening to grandma play on the baby grand. As a pianist, she did this without fail on a daily basis, usually hymns that rolled seamlessly from one into the next. Even when she started to lose her short term memory, she never lost those songs, which she had memorized in her fingertips by playing thousands of times over the years. Each winter, whether sitting around her at the baby grand or in the pews of Belleman’s Church, we looked forward to singing Christmas carols with her as she played. She tried many times to teach us piano during our brief visits, and I regret not getting past that little red book. But we each did take up different instruments, it was flute for me, and she took great joy and pride in seeing us learn those well and appreciate the beauty of music. Not long ago, her baby grande arrived at our home in DC and my sister has already started working on songs with the girls. I know that she is smiling at the small ways that we are trying to instill in our girls her love of music.
A gratitude for the land. Coming from a family of farmers for many generations, my grandma always took her role as a steward of the land seriously. She applied for a conservation easement to protect the land that my family farmed on. The creek running through the land provided fresh water for the cattle that roamed the fields, as well as the home where she lived. We spent summers at the farm as kids and explored the woods that were home to deer and other creatures, climbed the magnolia tree in the front yard and made mud pies and picked watercress from the creek. For my grandma, the land had provided decades of food for harvest but also food for the angus that was my family’s livelihood. The land held generations of family memories, and a house built in 1819 on that land. On that land is where my grandma’s two brothers were born, where my two brothers got married and I celebrated my baby shower and where we played football games every Thanksgiving.
An appreciation of the diversity of people. Every year when we gathered 60 deep around the Thanksgiving table my grandma would proudly joke that we were like a mini United Nations. My grandparents were a mix of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Pennsylvania Dutch in a fairly homogenous community. Through marriage, however, they acquired family members of many different backgrounds including Chinese, Korean, Filipino, German, Jamaican, Italian, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Albanian and even a couple of adopted Indian and Lebanese roommates. Each addition was welcomed and made part of the family immediately, and grandma embraced the opportunity to learn more about the new and different cultures that made up our family as a reflection of the world.
An interest in my history. For my grandma, our diversity was a beautiful and evolving part of our family, but equally important to her was our history. She was proud that she could trace our arrival in America back to the Phoenix ship, a story that she told us many times, including her last birthday that we spent together. The genealogy of our family she documented on hundreds of papers and passed on orally ever chance she could get. Even in the later years again when she lost some of her memory, her tact for the details of her heritage remained strong.
A middle name for my firstborn. My grandma’s name was Catherine, my mother’s name is Cathy and my name is Katrina. All variations of the same name, meaning “pure.” When I found out that my first born was due on my grandmother’s birthday we left open the possibility of giving her her middle name. She came right on time, the day after Christmas, exactly ninety years after my grandma’s arrival. To this day, my daughter loves the fact that she was born on her great-grandmother’s birthday and that her middle name is Catherine.
Beyond these ideas that my grandma instilled in me, I’m lucky to also have a few tangible items to carry with me as well — items passed down through our family for generations, each with it’s own significance and sentimental value. These items that have now become part of my own home, where they serve as beautiful reminders of someone we love and who will always be with us. Seeing my children enjoy and play around these items gives me hope that their value and her memory will continue to live on.
And some video and photos of these items before they left the farm: