A Mimi Named Julia

It was almost exactly a year ago that I stood before many of you eulogizing my grandfather, Louis. Now, here we all are to say goodbye to my grandmother, Julia. My parents and I would like to thank each of you for your support during this very difficult time, and we would like to thank the truly caring and wonderful staff at Apple Rehab for making my grandmother part of your lives, and your families. I know that you welcomed her into your hearts and cared for her as you would your own mother or grandmother. It did not go unnoticed by my parents, by me, or by my grandmother. Thank you.
When thinking about what to say today that would paint a picture of my grandmother, and her life, I realized that to me, she was always a bit of an enigma. Maybe it was the glint in her eyes, or the proud way she held herself. Maybe it was that one moment she said just what you needed her to, and the other moment she was stubborn as a pack of mules. Whatever the reasons, I stand before you all today blessed that I was able to spend so much time with her, and also wishing I had more time to figure her out.
One thing I never quite figured out was the Blue Room. Some of you may recall my grandparents’ house in Higganum, CT. The Blue Room was literally ALL powder blue, and was the decorating brainchild of my grandmother. The sofas, the rug, the throw pillows were all the same exact shade of powder blue, and the room was absolutely off limits for anyone to actually use. If you remember that room, you might also remember the clear plastic that covered everything a human being might actually come in contact with. Once when I was about 10, I thought I’d play a joke on my grandmother and lay on the forbidden blue couch. Let me just say that it was summer. It was hot, and I was wearing shorts and a tank top. After five minutes, I felt as though I had been duct taped to the plastic. The joke was on me.
One of my grandmother’s best qualities was her sharp sense of humor. She loved my father like a son, and she loved that he would joke around with her as much as she did with him. She also was so proud at how my father could build or fix anything, although she tried for years without success to organize his garage workshop.
Sometimes she was a source of great amusement for everyone, even without really trying. My mother recalls sitting in the back seat of the family car with Ralph as my grandfather taught my grandmother how to drive. Practicing in an empty parking lot, my grandfather told her to go left, and she turned right. He told her again to turn left and she turned right. After driving in circles, my grandfather lost his cool and said, “Julia! I said go left!” She replied, “Louie, I am!”  He also told her to beep her horn if she saw something in the street ahead of her. She took this quite literally, and frightened a young boy so much with the blare of her horn that he smashed his ice cream cone right into his mouth and ran.
There was also the year that my grandmother dressed up for Halloween as a clown. She rang the doorbell at her parents’ house while my mom and grandfather hid in the bushes. So convincing was her costume that when my great-grandmother answered the door, she had no idea who it was and she slammed the door in her face. In between bouts of hysterics, she rang doorbell several more times only to have it slammed in her face. Finally, my great-grandfather opened the door and told her unceremoniously to go home, that there was no more candy and it was too late to be out trick-or-treating!
My mother also learned the secret of Christmas Club shopping from my grandmother. For those of you who don’t know, a Christmas Club is way to save up some money throughout the year for Christmas gifts. Except in my grandmother’s book, no one ever said that those Christmas gifts couldn’t be for yourself. Some of my mother’s best memories with her mother included these shopping sprees, where they would spend the day out together, shopping and having lunch. When they arrived home with bags of items, maybe one would be for my grandfather or someone else in the family. I have since learned this same skill.
My grandmother also taught me the importance of appearance, and more specifically, wearing makeup. When I was small, I used to sit in my grandmother’s bathroom and watch her apply her makeup so often that I had memorized the steps. Again and again, she would try to trick me - put on her mascara before her eyeliner – or blush before foundation - and I would yell at her that she was doing it all wrong, and we would laugh. My grandmother told me once that it didn’t matter how old you were, that you should always take pride in your appearance. I often marveled at how nice she looked in the nursing home. Even if she wasn’t feeling well, she would dress up and fix her hair and makeup, no matter how long it took her. I know she did it because if she looked good then it would transcend into her feeling good. Within that daily routine was her will to live. It served her well, between that and genetics, she hit 92. And for those of you women in the room who always marveled how few wrinkles she had on her face, my grandmother gave me permission before she passed to give you all her two beauty secrets: one – stay out of the sun and two – Pond’s cold cream every night on your face and neck. 
Singing, if you can call it that, was another one of my grandmother’s favorite past times. I’m sure many of you recall my grandmother cheerfully belting out Happy Birthday as off key as possible. Her sister, Aunt Josie, did the same thing, so perhaps that’s a Mirando trait. They used to sing duets and that was enough to shatter windows. The more off key her voice, the more she loved you. I never could understand how those two things were related, such was the enigma that was my grandmother. One moment you thought you knew her, and the next, she was a mystery.
Now that my grandmother is gone, the title of the family’s slowest eater passes to my cousin, Paul, with her blessing. For as long as I can remember, at every family meal, my grandmother was the last one left eating. She ate slowly and with great purpose and could care less if she was the last one at the table. I think she was quite pleased when we all realized Paul ate as slowly as she did. She finally had company when everyone else left! One of her more memorable birthdays, we had taken her out to brunch buffet and a boy in our neighborhood was the waiter. After he saw most of us finish our meals, he lit the candles on her cake and proudly walked to the table. We waved him off. He blew out the candles and ran back to the waiter’s station with the cake. He waited a few minutes and tried again. We waved him off. He did this three, maybe four times before my grandmother finally finished her Eggs Benedict. By the time the cake arrived, the candles were almost totally melted into the cake.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was to point out to my grandmother that we all had blue eyes except her and Sam. By we, I meant my dad, mom, grandfather, me and even our Siamese cat Charlie. Sam was our black Labrador retriever, who had brown eyes. Even though we laughed at that for years, she never quite forgave me for comparing her to the dog, although she did love that dog, and she absolutely loved animals. Recently, she took great pleasure to learn that my yellow Labrador retriever has been chosen by an animal talent agency to do commercials and even possibly television. She absolutely loved this, and loved the idea that the dog could possibly make some money, and that my mother has been lobbying to become my dog’s official manager. Just before she died, she was lobbying to take a split of the manager’s role from my mother.
As a child, I never realized how extraordinary she really was. My grandmother was educated, and for her time, she was quite modern. She worked full-time and became a manager in an era where women didn’t oversee much other than family. She did both, and always did so with grace and with style. She loved to hear stories about my work, and was very proud when I told her I was starting my own business. She told me she always wanted to have her own business and be her own boss. And, she believed fervently in keeping one’s mind sharp. I barely have the patience to do one clue of a crossword, and at 92, my grandmother would power through the crossword puzzle every single day without fail. She was, right up until the end, sharp as a tack. And trust me, she never missed a trick.
She worked extremely hard, but she liked to have fun. She loved to play cards with my aunt Betty and Uncle Ralph. During some of our more serious conversations as she aged, she made us promise to leave her with a deck of cards for the ride. “Who knows, there might be plenty of time to play with Betty, Ralph and your grandfather and I’d like to be prepared,” she said.
I’d like to think she’s sitting in the kitchen with my grandfather, my aunt Betty and Uncle Ralph, playing a round of Gin Rummy with a glass of Southern Comfort in her hand. There’s a tray of lasagna cooking in the oven with a pot of sauce bubbling on the stove. Music is playing on the radio. I can see them sitting around the table laughing and throwing their hands up in the air. When my grandmother wins the hand, I can hear my grandfather complaining that she cheated, and I can see that elusive smile on her face where you just aren’t quite sure if she cheated or not.
May we all live to play the hand that my grandmother played, and may we all live our lives as she did: with dignity, humor, pride, and a little bit of mystery.
Thank you.


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