Cleveland, Ohio. 2007
ALICE ELIZABETH SIZER LEONARDS KRISS WYGANT LEONARDS
We loved our grandmother.
Grams, as she was known to us, had a twinkle in her eye and a skip in her step that always brought us great pleasure. She had a zest for life, a quick and intelligent wit and a true appreciation of the delicious details of family life. She loved to teach, to take the lead, to show an example – but she never moralised or judged, or at least never to her granddaughters.
I remember one trip to Florida when I was fourteen. Grams took me out to lunch at a fancy restaurant with three of her old work buddies. They were all elegant women, well educated and well groomed. The conversation veered from politics to interesting menu items to changes in the public health system to the unseasonable weather. There was a lot of raucous laughter and hugs all round when departing. A few weeks later, when I was back in Australia, I received a letter from Grams. Grams told me that she was concerned that my lack of table manners, as demonstrated at that lunch, were going to prohibit me from getting along in the world. Respectable and influential people, argued Grams, would expect a fine young woman like me to exhibit exemplary table manners. She then proceeded to outlines my etiquette misdemeanours and provide the correct method of deportment. At the time, the words stung somewhat, because I was always sensitive to criticism, but I knew Grams honestly had my best interests at heart and her words of advice were offered out of care and mutual respect. I knew that for Grams to take the time and effort to scrutinise and direct me, I must truly matter to my grandmother.
And there were numerous other ways in which Grams conveyed her love and appreciation: cards at birthdays, generous and thoughtful gifts (I am still reading my own daughter many of the books that Grams sent my younger sister Rachel over the years), sharing recipes, passing on family stories. In her last years, before dementia stole the clarity and precision of her mind, Grams sent many long, ‘newsy’ letters. She faithfully accepted my choices, adopting my husband Damien into her heart and warm family embrace. She used to send photos of herself; on the back she wrote: ‘I’m all for you’.
The last time I saw Grams was on her final trip to Australia in 1999. By then, I had 2-year old and 4-month old sons, in whose company Grams delighted. Grams was 83 years old, but she crawled around on the floor on her hands and knees playing horsies with my toddler. She was in her element when dealing with exhausted and anxious new mothers and their grizzly, demanding babies. Grams just loved to jiggle and burp the little boys, and fuss over me. Was I eating enough to look after my needs? Was I eating the right foods to make good breast milk? (Grams was very proud of the fact that she nursed her own babies at a time when the drug companies were pushing formula as the milk of choice; more than that, Grams’ breast milk was taken and analysed to use as a model for a new formula that came to sweep the market. She was the only nursing mother on the ward.) I deeply regret that Grams could not have spent more time in Australia with her great-grandchildren, as I know they would have mutually benefited from each other’s company and attention. My redhead son, in particular, has inherited Grams’ cheekiness as well as her locks.
Grams provided an important anchor point for me. When I was feeling lost and alone as an 18 year-old travelling abroad, Grams consoled me with the words, “Always be true to yourself”. She didn’t mean that it was okay to be self-centred or individualistic; indeed Grams showed through her deeds that she was committed to public service. What she meant was to trust in your heart and have faith in your judgment, staying true to your principles and beliefs.
No doubt Grams made many mistakes in her long and eventful life. Her own judgment and choices were not always sound or sensible. But I have no doubt that the true north of her moral compass was love. And she loved us truly.