Grandmother’s 102 year Birthday

Celebrating my Grandmother’s 102 year Birthday

Nan and Jade
CW and Pop
Jacqueline’s grandmother, Nan, with her niece, Jade, in 1986
Jacqueline’s grandfather, Pop, with her brother in 1986.

Last Monday was my grandmother’s birthday. She would have been 102 and though she died a dozen years ago, my sister, mother and I still celebrate her birthday.

Nan was born to be a grandmother. We have the most fond memories of her. Everything she touched became something special to us and, decades later, still makes us smile.

My mom had a houseful of kids. When any of us got sick, she’d bundle the sick one up — hoping we hadn’t infected each other yet — and off we’d go to Nan’s house for full 24 hour attention. When it was me, Nan would tuck me into bed for a long nap under my great grandmother’s pink satin quilt which we now call “Nan’s Healing Quilt.” She’d decorate a tray with doilies and sea shells and fresh flowers from the yard and when I was done napping, sweetly wake me up for lunch with flowered teacups with Cambric Tea (hot water with sugar and milk), oatmeal toast with the crusts cut off, buttered sweet rice and mashed bananas. When I finished eating she’d tuck me in again and give a “butterfly kiss” by fluttering her eyelashes on my cheek. Of course we got better!

Nan and Pop lived in the home where my grandfather was born, a white two story farmhouse with a sitting porch out front where you could set in a rocker and watch people walk by on their way to the store. In our small New England town their yard bloomed each spring with fragrant lilacs, splashy flowering red quince, white pear blossoms, bright yellow forsythia and tiny purple violets. Even now that’s my very favorite bouquet.

Five years ago in winter Joseph and I moved onto our farm in Washington state. As spring woke up in our yard a patch of bare trees near our mailbox became lilac, quince and forsythia with purple violets underneath. I felt like my dear departed grandmother was saying hello again, years after she died. I was thrilled and immediately called my sister to tell her.

I had those thoughts because I truly miss Nan’s presence in my life. She believed in my sisters and brother and me in ways that defy logic but that we loved nonetheless. One memorable time when she and Pop were watching Lawrence Welk’s musical show on television, the Lennon Sisters sang and did a bit of choreography.

My blinded-by-love grandmother turned to my two sisters, my brother and I and said, “You all are so talented I bet you could be like the Lennon Sisters and go on Lawrence Welk.”

We all rolled our eyes at each. My brother said, “If we were all girls.” My sister Jenna said, “… and if we could sing.” Darlene said, “… and if we could dance.” Ah well.

It’s a wonderful quality to see in your grandkids (or husband or parents or anyone for that matter) endless potential. Nan was like that. She looked at us and judged us to be perfection. She told us over and over that we could do anything we set our minds to. We were filled with possibility. And we believed her. In many ways she opened the world up to us and gave us immense scoops of self-confidence along with the homemade fudge she and Pop made on winter evenings.

Pop went in the hospital at 95 for a routine procedure and while there the doctors foolishly tried an experimental medication on him. He told us the minute they gave it to him, he knew there was something wrong and sure enough, he died from complications a few days later. After being married for 68 years, my grandmother pined for him and died a short while later.

Oh, we do miss her.

As we do every year, the night before her birthday my sister called and we decided how to honor it this year. We review all the things we loved about Nan and come up with how we’ll dress (always a glittery pin and often in lavender), what flowers we’ll put on the table, and what to make for dinner.

I picked a big bouquet of lilacs, forsythia and red quince and set them on the table. I had shredded wheat with warm butter for breakfast (you pour boiling water over them first, then drain them and put a pat of butter on before you pour the milk in). I used doilies under my plates for the macaroni and cheese with a crunchy top (Jenna made Nan’s creamed salmon and peas) and we both wore a sparkly pin like Nan always did. And of course we were kind to everyone around us all day, just like Nan always was.

My grandparents, Evelyn Darling Stone and Forrest Stone, flirted with each other well into their nineties. Pop would give a deep, husky laugh as he tickled Nan and she’d wiggle away, tuck her head and shyly bat her eyelashes. Delightful to watch. They embodied love, patience and believed in the goodness of themselves and others. They had a sweet, strong marriage and I learned from them the secret that shouldn’t be a secret:

Long love is built on kindness.