Friday, December 18, 2009

Incredible Woman #18 - Francis Irene Evans - Friday

I'm going to wrap up this week by talking about the years after my grandmother's kids were married - this is when I knew her, when she became a grandma.

I loved going to my grandparents' home. I remember the little house they had in Bountiful, Utah. It was one of those houses, probably built in the 1950s or 1960s, reddish-orange brick.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table - I think the cabinets were all white - watching my grandma cook. I loved the fireplace surround - beautifully carved wood, painted white, where there sat a very cool mantle clock - I can remember watching the inside of the clock going around in a circle. I remember my grandparents room, where I could always find "treasures" on their dressers - love gifts made by their children years earlier. Downstairs was Grandpa's pool table. Outside, the yard was divided - with a small hill in the middle. I remember rolling down that hill. I was a lucky child. My mother told me that my grandma LOVED being a grandma. She loved when we came to visit, and loved to babysit. She would watch me and my sister for a week, once a year, while my parents went away on vacation. One of my favorite stories - although I don't really remember this, I was too young - is when I was 3 years old. My grandma was babysitting me. I went out to sit on the porch. Grandma told me to stay there - don't go out of the yard. A while later, she found me sitting on the porch, eating a candybar. I'm sure she was confused - she hadn't given me one. When she asked where I got it, I told her that I went to the store. Apparently, I had walked all the way down the huge hill in her subdivision, and then walked a few blocks (I don't know how many), to the little store, walked in, took a candy bar, and walked back home with it! I'm sure my grandma freaked out. I would have. I do remember what happened next. She marched me right back to the store (no, we didn't drive), and made me go in and tell the manager what I had done. I had to give the candy bar back. It was very humiliating for a 3 year old child. I was embarrassed and feeling very bad for letting my grandma down. She rarely got mad at me.

Each Christmas Eve, our family went to Grandma and Grandpa's house for our family party. Grandma loved parties. Our family was pretty small. My parents had 2 children, and my uncle had 3. The parties were great - super good food, presents (my friends were always jealous that I got to open a bunch of presents before Christmas day), and time with Grandma and Grandpa. What could be better?!

One of the things that I found fascinating about my grandmother is that she never did get a driver's license. Ever. Whenever she needed to go somewhere, my grandpa would take her. I could never understand this. I always felt bad that she couldn't drive. And, she was such a good "backseat driver", that I thought she would be able to drive, even without getting a license! She knew all of the rules of the road - at least it seemed to me that she did - and could tell you exactly what to do (and often did). ;-)

My grandma was a devoted wife. She loved my grandfather very much. She took very good care of him. My grandparents were both the same age. They retired when they were 54. My grandfather decided that he wanted to go where it was warm (I think because of his health), and so my grandmother went with him to Arizona.

They became snowbirds - coming "home" to Utah in the summertime, when the heat of Arizona was too bad. They had an Airstream trailer - one of the cool silver trailers that always looked like a bullet to me - and they would park it in my parents' driveway during the summers. This was their new life.

Knowing how much my grandma loved her kids and grandkids, I think this must have been hard for her, but she loved grandpa too, and she went because he wanted to. Their life in Arizona was fun - they met many other couples, and had a great time. They golfed (I always thought the sight of my grandma in golf shoes and gloves was so cool), they learned to square dance, they had tons of parties. They had "Happy Hour" with their friends almost every day - getting together to visit. I found out from my mom that they belonged to a motorcycle group call the Geritol Angels. They rode all over Apache Junction - in parades too!

As I said before, she was devoted to my grandpa, and so when he was diagnosed with Lymphona (one of the worst cancers), she took care of him. He lived with Lymphona for 5 years, and my grandmother took care of him that whole time. It made me so sad to watch him deteriorate from that strong grandpa I remembered to a man who was so weak and sick. It must have just killed my grandmother. It was hard to take care of him - because she didn't drive, they had to have neighbors, and friends drive them to the hospital for treatments and doctors' appointments, 90 minutes away. Until last year, when I went through cancer, I didn't fully appreciate how hard this must have been for both of them. It was terrible. My grandmother was determined to take care of him - she wanted him home. At the end, she got a hospital bed for him, and had it set up in their small trailer. She took care of all of his needs. That one sentence says volumes to me. I visited them a few months before he died, and it was sad, but so inspiring, to watch my grandmother take care of him with such love, devotion, and tenderness. At the very end - when he had only a few months left, my uncle moved to Arizona and was able to help with the hard stuff - moving him, and helping with other things. I was so grateful to my uncle for this - I know my mom was, too. My grandfather died at age 75.

My grandma lived on her own for the next 14 years. I know she was lonely. That always made me sad. I wished that she lived closer, so that I could visit. Imagine living on your own for that long, without being able to drive!

Some of the things that my mom told me about this "grandma" time of my grandmother's life:
She stayed very close to her family in Virginia - especially her sisters. One of my favorite memories was of my grandmother's 80th birthday. All of her sisters flew in to stay with her. My mom, sister Kris, and I also flew in. It was a huge "girl's night" - for days! These were all little old southern women, and they cracked me up! They first things they said when we walked in was to my sister - "Krissy, you lost weight! You're just too skinny!" Then, I walked in and they said "Kara, you look like you gain 30 pounds since we saw you last!" Yeah. They spoke their minds, without any qualms. I can laugh about it now, but boy, was I mad then. ;-) The things that made me laugh the most was their obsession with food! They would get up and make a huge breakfast, and then when that was all cleaned up, they would sit down and start talking about what to make for lunch - this lasted until lunchtime. Then they would repeat this for dinner. It was so funny! Of course, the food was great!

My grandmother was a very frugal woman - like most people who had lived through the depression - and she took care of the bills. If I remember right, there was only one time that my grandpa came to her, wondering where all the money was going. She just gave him the bills, and told him that he could take care of them from now on! He tried, I think, but quickly gave her that responsibility back! My mom told me that my grandparents always bought the best you could buy - of anything. It took them awhile to save up enough money to buy something, but when they did, it was really nice, and never wore out. The stuff they bought was always taken care of and it lasted forever. They rarely put anything on credit (probably only their cars and house). They were very happy to live within their means - and taught their children that valuable lesson.

During the last years of her life, she would talk to her sisters every Sunday. And, they would talk for hours! I always wondered what they could possibly be talking about - there is no way that things changed much during one week! She loved talking on the phone, and she called me several times each week while I battled cancer - it was so nice to talk and become closer to her this last year. She would get very emotional and start to cry, saying that she wished she could go through this for me - she wished it was her instead of me. That meant so much to me. I know, without a shadow of doubt, that if it was possible for her to take that burden from me, she would have. During the last few years, her health got a little worse, but she mostly was able to live at home by herself. She had a huge heart surgery several years ago, but seemed like she was in pretty good health until she died. I had the privilege of visiting her earlier this year with my sister. It was fun - it's always enjoyable to visit with your grandmother. I was thinking how lucky I was to still have both of my grandmothers at my age! Then, a few months ago, she had an aneurysm, fell and hit her head, and was taken to the hospital. She died a 1/2 hour before my mother got there. It was devastating. The thing that touched me the most, was that my mother said she just wished she could have touched her mother's warm face one more time - to say goodbye. I feel just the same way.

This is a picture of my sister, Kris and her daughter, Ellie with my grandmother during our last visit with her.

This picture is very special to me - all of my sons and my sister's sons - all of my grandmother's 7 great-grandsons - carried her casket. My uncle was there to help. What a special opportunity for them.

My grandmother was an extraordinary woman. She lived an incredible life. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to tell you about her.

Grandma - thanks so much for your selfless life, for the examples you set, and the lessons you taught. I love you.


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