Monday, April 5, 2010

Some reflections on the life of Grandma

"Mother could be both extravagant and frugal, generous and somewhat stingy, loving and exasperating, full of praise and full of criticism, thoughtful and impulsive, diplomatic and tactless, in other words, just like the rest of us. But when we look at the finished tapestry of Mother’s life, it is rich and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to change it a bit." -- Karen Christenson McEuen, from a talk given at Grandma McEuen's funeral
I've been wanting to post something about my Grandma McEuen since her death on March 17. But the words haven't really come. I'm not so much in sadness or overcome with grief. By this stage in my life, I've experienced enough of the life cycle to know that everyone does die eventually. And Grandma's death wasn't catastrophic or unexpected.

But even still, like my father said after my 97-year-old Grandma Christenson died, "We prayed for my mom to be able to leave this life, and now that she's gone, I miss her." And I miss Grandma, and it's hard to sum up my life experiences with this lady, because my feelings for her are so diverse. Like my mom said in her talk, Grandma exhibited attributes from all over the human psychological spectrum.

I've tried to add up all the months I spent living with Grandma. Between me and my sister Mary, I think we lived with Grandma the longest of all the grandkids. So I do feel justified somewhat in telling a little bit of Grandma's story, but from my perspective.

Grandma and Grandpa were the "cool" grandparents who lived in Southern California. So during my grade school years, visiting Grandma and Grandpa McEuen's meant the beach, Disneyland, and all the glories of Southern California.

Grandma liked to send us small newspaper clippings from her favorite newspaper: The National Enquirer. She'd always include a few lines of advice and instruction. My mom unburied a small piece of advice she left us:

“I believe getting along with people is important to our personal happiness. And the only way to live happily with people is to overlook their faults and admire their virtues. This is a tall order. Faults and virtues are both real, but we can become skilled in the art of human relations and people (loved ones especially) become more valuable in our eyes. There is always something good in all people, if—we look for it. And when we find it, we ought to express sincere appreciation. The poor human ego gets quite a kicking around.…It is grateful for any expressions of admiration.”

Grandma and Grandpa moved from their home in Montebello, California to Orem, Utah in 1987. They had both retired and wanted to live closer to their children. They built a brand-new house in an upscale neighborhood in Orem. To us, their house was a beautiful, extravagant place.

Grandpa died in 1993, but Grandma continued living there. I graduated high school in 1994, and was determined to go to BYU. I wasn't accepted for fall attendance, but at that time, BYU allowed students to come during the summer, and if your grades were good, they allowed you to stay for the fall, winter, and beyond.

Because I didn't have that summer to work and save, I asked Grandma if I could live with her rent free. She allowed me free room and board, with a constant supply of cottage cheese in the fridge.

Grandma didn't cook a whole lot, but what she did cook was good. She made really good chicken. Cooking chicken is a bit of a dark arts for me. It can either be burnt or too dry, but both my mom and my grandma could and can cook great fried chicken.

Living with Grandma had its pluses and minuses. Grandma expected a lot out of you. Perhaps its that pioneer stock that seeped from her very core.

Her great-great grandfather had been pulled by a Missouri mob from his house at night, was tarred and feathered, his health ruined, and was considered to be one of the first martyrs of the restoration.

Her great grandfather was with Brigham Young in the first pioneer company into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. He colonized San Bernardino and spent years away from his family doing missionary work. Her grandparents left relative ease and comfort in Sweden to join with the saints and come to the harsh desert environment of Southern Utah. Her own mother was the Relief Society President for many years as she cared for her family of 11 children in difficult circumstances. Grandma Johnson instilled a fierce loyalty in her children.

As if magically, this heritage of sacrifice and faith could be intensified down into one look from Grandma. The look that said, "Me and all of my ancestors have sacrificed everything for YOU, and if YOU disappoint us, there will be hell to pay." Never, never, did I want to disappoint Grandma. (Side note: My mom also inherited that look, and luckily for me, I have too. One look and my girls know I mean business. It's a top-secret weapon I only use sparingly so as not to lessen the affect.)

Grandma didn't need to yell or browbeat. It was just that look and we knew she expected greatness. To which more than anything else she taught, I'm grateful for that expectation she had for us to rise above ourselves and be great. (Not that I'm great--far from it. But the goal is there.)

She didn't make it easy to live with her. She wanted me in bed and asleep by 9:30 p.m. I had an early morning custodial job, and she wouldn't allow phone calls to reach me past 9 p.m. While other college kids my age were partying it up and wasting their parents' money on flunking grades, I was chilling in Grandma's basement or watching reruns of Matlock with her. At 18, I was atrophying into an 80-year-old.

That summer I moved back home with my parents in Idaho and worked two jobs to be able to afford college in the fall. I saved enough that I was able to move into my own apartment.

I moved from Grandma's upscale basement apartment to the cheapest apartments near BYU. There were six girls living in three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and buckets full of hair everywhere. And I loved it. I loved my independence. Living with Grandma helped me to value independence.

And in the end, isn't that what a good parent does: encourage the kids to leave the nest, to live on their own ... to make their own way in this world? Not one of Grandma's 24 grandkids lives with their parents or relatives. All have managed to make a spot for themselves in this world, some in nicer living arrangements than others. When times were hard, we may have leaned on Grandma a bit, or our parents, but it was only a temporary stop.

Grandma was quite the lady indeed.

Some pictures of the ones she left behind:
My sister Hetty sporting some of the bling Grandma left behind. Grandma loved jewelry and all of us granddaughters inherited at least one piece of her bling-a-ling.

Pallbearers, from back to front: Bryce McEuen, David McEuen, Kenny Greer, Keith Greer, Anthony Thomas, Dan McEuen, Edward Christenson. You can't see Wayne in this picture.

Edward and Amanda Christenson. Ed is the youngest of Grandma's grandchildren.

Family members listen for the family prayer. From left to right are Liz McEuen, Kathy Christenson Heslop, Hailey Heslop, Liz's daughter, Nathan Smedley holding his son Ty, Amy Smedley, Sarah Smedley, Grace Smedley, Brian Christenson, Kelsie Christenson, Carson Christenson, and Dan McEuen.

Mom and Aunt Kathy sharing a story of Grandma, while Uncle Pat tries to listen in. Cousin Kenny is also in the picture.

When Kulani graduated from law school, we lived with Grandma for a short time while he looked for a job. Lilia was about five months old in this picture. Grandma loved little babies.

I wanted to find a picture of me and Grandma on my wedding day, but this was as good as I could find. I was probably thinking only of myself to take the time to get a picture of me and Grandma. Both my Grandma Christenson and Grandma McEuen are pictured in the left of this photo.
Grandma's four children from left to right: Fred McEuen, Karen McEuen Christenson, Kathy McEuen Greer, and Patrick McEuen.

Me and my girls next to Grandma's casket.


MarySquare said...

I want to share more reflections later but I too inherited the stare, but I also have inherited the great and abiding love of cottage cheese. I always have a tub of it in my fridge. Delish!

And I have a few stories of Grandma being upset when someone called past 9pm.

侯淑真 said...

how do u do?................................................................

Anonymous said...