Friday, February 4, 2011

Bye Millie

From Christmas at home 2010

My grandma died yesterday. She was a few months shy of 89. She's suffered from dementia for quite a long time now, but she began to really deteriorate in the past 12 months.

I'm so glad I got to go home for Christmas and see her one last time. I'm also happy my family moved to Florence while she was still mobile and we could take her for walks on the beach and trips to the grocery store.

She grew up in Chicago, made it through high school - despite her mother's misgivings - and when she was 21 she joined the Women's Army Corps (with her parents written consent, which was required). She went to Australia and the Philippines. She typed secret messages. All the typing girls were just given one piece of the message to type, the idea being they wouldn't be able to decipher it, but grandma said often she figured it out. I always wished she'd talk more about that time in her life but she just dismissed it with, "Oh it's all in history books now."

After the war she moved to the Oregon Coast to marry my grandfather, Vake. They ran West Lane Plumbing together and raised four kids (a lawyer, an architect, a doctor and an IBM project manager).

Behind her home she maintained a huge, beautiful garden. One of the highlights of visiting when I was little was getting to pull carrots out of the ground - always more delicious than what you get at the supermarket. I also liked to listen to her curse at the crows in German.

It's funny how the human mind works, but grandma maintained her sense of humor her whole life. This last Christmas she had more trouble recognizing us than ever before, but she still managed to stick her tongue out in a photo and on another occasion she told me I needed an accomplice in Shanghai, that I ought to stick her in my suitcase.

I remember when I was younger that at the end of family vacations, as we pulled away in our rent-a-car, she'd stand in the driveway and pull up her pant leg a bit, twirl her foot and give us a peek of ankle. That joke never got old.

I'm sure there will be longer, more detailed Millie stories over at my aunt's blog. I've always liked the one about how Grandma quit volunteering for sky watch patrols because WW2 was over and it was pointless. She was pragmatic and couldn't be counted on to do what was conventional. I think that's the real spirit of living in the West (and by that I mean Western United States).

She lived through the Great Depression, received more education than many women of her time, fought the good fight in the Pacific, left home for good to marry on the Oregon Coast and raised four kids. She has 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

I like the term Tom Brokaw coined, greatest generation. It seems unlikely I'll ever be called upon to do something so important as what my grandparents did in World War Two. Then after that, they worked hard and on their own merit produced a successful business and four self-sufficient kids. I've been given more than they ever were by ten fold and I know that the opportunities I have received must be credited in part to the work ethic and educational values they instilled in my mother's generation.

Today I'm a little bit sad, but mostly I'm grateful and proud.


MW (My Wish) said...

Best to you and your grandma who has moved on. It was cool to have a grandma like yours.


Leslie said...

Thanks girl, I appreciate it.