Ever since I stopped working a real job and became a full-time domestic engineer, I’ve thought often of my maternal grandmother. She was an expert home-keeper, and I aspire to have a living space as serene, clean, and organized as hers. She tried to teach me a million things – sewing, cooking, finances – but I resisted each lesson. And what happened? I ended up having to teach myself, from scratch, many years later. I wish (OH HOW I WISH) I had listened more. She died in June of 2008, at a time when my life looked messy and bleak, and I hope she knows somehow that things got better.
This is my grandmother, Winifred (original flavor), or if you prefer, “Big Winkie”:
And this is what I said at her funeral:
June 10, 2008
My grandmother believed in rules. Not just little rules, like no white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day, and the relative superiority of English antiques to French antiques, but big rules, important rules. Ideas. She believed in Travel, and Education, and Self-Discipline. She held everyone to a high and exacting standard, but held herself to that standard first. Her home was always immaculate – her sink clean, her carpet vacuumed, her counters uncluttered, the beds made, her Ferragamos lined up in the closet.
As a child, these rules seemed oppressive and old-fashioned. This impression was strengthened by the fact that she never let me win at cards.
This is not to say she was no fun at all. When I was in elementary school, she had surgery and spent some time at our house recovering. I came home from school one day to find her wearing pants, of all things, and riding my bicycle. I was sure it signaled the end of the world. Of course, the pants were fully-lined trousers with a smart little belt and a silk blouse, but I’d never seen her wear pants before.
She loved a dirty joke, especially the ones my father told. He always joked that this year, she’d put sparklers in her hair for the Fourth of July.
When my father died, people came to the house. My grandmother, who was 93 at the time, stayed every day until the last visitor had departed, sometimes at 11:00 at night. She was just as gracious to the last guest as she was to the first, and I never heard her complain. I never even saw her yawn.
After she died, my mother and I went to her apartment. It was, as always, perfect – her sink clean, her carpet vacuumed, her counters uncluttered, her bed made, her Ferragamos lined up in the closet. And I realized, standing in her living room, that she didn’t follow these rules because they made her life easy. She followed these rules to make other people’s lives easy. She followed these rules so that anyone could walk into her life and feel comfortable, so that she wouldn’t have to fuss with preparations, she could focus her attention on you.
The order she imposed on her own life was her way of trying to bring peace to those around her. She radiated calm control. Maybe that’s why her favorite prayer was that of St. Francis, which reads:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.