I thought for a bit about what my grandma would want me say, what her words would be. And it didn’t take me but two minutes figure that if I asked her what she wanted me to say, her response would likely have been something like - , “Nothing. I have had 98 years to tell these people whatever I needed to and if I didn’t get it said by now, it probably didn’t need saying.”
But, she did ask me to speak, sort of putting me between a rock and a hard place, so my next thought was to thank all of you for coming here to celebrate my grandma’s life - but if there is one thing I’ve learned, these last couple of weeks, it’s that she isn’t mine. She didn’t belong to me. I’ve learned that her life, and her love was so far reaching that I can’t even begin to get my arms around who she was to all of you, to her community. The more I talk about her, the more I realize how many more stories you all have to tell about how she cared for you, loved you, supported you, made you laugh, cried with you. I’m sure we could all stand here and tell her thank-you for a thousand things - I know I could.
Thank you for showing me how to get nacho cheese out of a prom dress, for teaching me the meaning of “enough” (which in case you’re wondering is exactly ⅓ of a fun-sized snickers), for being my maid of honor seven minutes after having heart surgery, for making burritos with love, for holding me accountable, for being the only grandmother my third child ever knew, and being really good at it, for keeping the cookie jar full, for letting me snuggle in her bed and steal the electric blanket, for never missing a choir concert, a basketball game, a dance recital, for trading the very best years of her life for the very worst years of mine. I could say thank you for all of those things - yet I’m sure that for every Leora story I know - there are fifty I don’t.
So instead of thanking my grandma for every single thing, I wanted to take this time to thank her for the ONE thing that has made my life better, richer, more peaceful. It’s something we talked about a lot during the last few years of her life. It’s a notion that she really hoped we all could embrace
You see, my grandma knew life wasn’t always gonna hand you what you wanted or expected or even what you thought you could handle. She learned that right from start. Born with a congenital vision defect so severe that she was wearing glasses and receiving monthly treatments before she could crawl - things didn’t start out smoothly. Her father was a farmer who also dabbled in the manly sport of boxing, you can bet that neither one of them planned on having his terminally nearsighted second daughter working as his right hand farm-man, but that’s how it was. Leora didn’t plan on having to cut high school twice a week to help care for two ailing parents and a baby sister. She never expected to work right next to a Nazi double agent in a hazardous weapons factory during WW2 - but it happened. She didn’t plan on moving to California, or living in Wisconsin, raising two generations of teenagers, losing her husband, losing her child, or dealing with cancer, at 96. She didn’t plan on any of it - but she rolled with it.
In addition to her ocular disability, she suffered strokes before the age of 40, which further compromised her visual acuity. In light of this, it makes perfect sense that no one would have issued this woman a driver’s license. But this is Leora we’re talking about, so of course she got a license - several times.
I know this, because I forced her to show it to me when I was 10 years old. We were spending the summer in Northgate, ND near the US/Canadian Border, and Grandma had decided we were in desperate need of honey that only Saskatchewan could provide - she told me to get into the car with her. Now, I was 10 - but not stupid, I’d never seen this woman steer so much as a lawn mover and furthermore, I’d heard nothing but horror stories from people who had. I wasn’t getting into that car without some validation - which she DID manage to provide. Somehow, she produced a completely valid North Dakota license from her wallet - which still had 15 years left on it, so I had no recourse, but to slide in next to her, and buckle up.
We were the only vehicle on a two lane road and we were about 3 miles into our 10 minute journey, when a single car approached from the opposite lane. Grandma very calmly pulled over to the shoulder, waited for the car to pass, and pulled back onto the asphalt.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“It’s the law,” she said. “If you see another car coming you have to pull over until they pass.”
Now, I didn’t have a license yet, but I knew a few things, “That’s not the LAW!”
“Well, it is in Canada.”
I pondered this for a second, but logically, something didn’t add up. “Grandma, wait - why didn’t he pull over then? Why just us?.”
She was patient when she answered me, “Of course he didn’t pull over, then we’d be at an impasse and nobody would get to go. It’s only if you’re in the northbound lane.”
Hmmm - seemed like a weird rule, but when in Rome . . . .
So, twenty minutes later, we’ve loaded up our honey and are headed back down to the border - and soon enough, a lone, northbound vehicle appears in the opposing lane. Gramma once again, pulled over to the shoulder, waited for the car to pass, before veering back onto the road.
“Wait a minute!” I said to her, “That’s not right, we’re heading SOUTH..”
She just shook her head calmly, tapped the dashboard clock and said, “Yeah, but now it’s after 3.”
And that was the beauty of Leora - when there WAS no rhyme or reason - she found some, or created some. Whatever life handed her she made it work. Because what she knew is that the good lord deals us all a hand - maybe not a winning hand, maybe not even a good hand, some people might even say they didn’t get a fair hand.
But a hand - you get a hand.
And YOU get to decide how to play those cards. You can complain, and moan and whine about losing, or about how the deck was stacked against you, or you can have fun playing. You can grumble each time you lose or celebrate the joy of the game. You can make the experience great or you can make it absolutely miserable, but make no mistake about it - it is YOU who will make this game.
My grandma was all about playing the game - deal me in, teach me to dance the macarena, just one more cup of coffee, let’s have some cookies,, stay just a little longer, YES I’ll play chinese checkers with you, let’s play another hand of whist - win or lose, gramma enjoyed being surrounded by love and laughter and family and friends. She knew she wasn’t always going to win - but she always wanted to play.
When I grow up - when all of us grow up, I hope we’re just like her.