My grandma Penni was a high school home economics teacher. Unfortunately, she passed away a few years ago; she had a heart attack while Christmas shopping during a department store sale in August.
She was an inspiration to me and definitely a mentor, and probably was the driving force behind my choice to study nutrition and home cookery. She kept a “file” on each of her grandchildren, collecting articles she clipped from newspapers and magazines she thought we would find interesting. She would photocopy each article, store it in the appropriate file, and then mail out the original copy to the appropriate grandchild, so that we could read up on things that pertained to our particular interests.
When she died, I was visiting my sister and parents on the east coast, from the west coast, where I lived at the time, so luckily I was able to attend her end-of-life celebration in New Jersey. During all the commotion of planning the funeral and reception, I asked my father if I could speak and read a Wendell Berry poem in her honor during some part of it. Berry coined the phrase, “Eating is an agricultural act.” My dad agreed, but we never hashed out the details of when I was to do this.
During the half hour car ride to the funeral, I asked my father when I was scheduled to read the poem. He then said, “Lizzie,… you are giving the eulogy.”
What? I was definitely not prepared for that! It was a miscommunication during a very emotional time. I grabbed a pen out of my pocketbook and furiously scribbled down some notes about her, in the few minutes remaining until we reached the church, as best I could on the back of a credit card receipt. My mother’s advice during my madness was, “Just get up there and cry if you can’t find the words you want to say.”
When it was my turn to speak, I went up to the podium and said the things I cherished most about her, including her loving act of keeping “grandchild files,” then cried a lot, and then read:
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
When I arrived back home of the west coast, I checked my mailbox. Inside, amongst junk mail, bills and catalogs, was a large manila envelope addressed to me, containing a New York Times article about child nutrition, and a note reading, “I thought you would find this interesting. Love, Grandma Penni.”
How has your grandma acted for you with the kindness of her heart? Please share with us your story.