If I want to conjure up my grandmother in my mind, I will think of the color yellow.
And the color pink.
Treasure hunting at garage sales.
China painting with the ladies.
An endless sea of books.
A gift for gardening.
And flowers, flowers, and more flowers.
…And most of all, I will think of her with my grandfather, Jack. Theirs was a love story that cannot be matched. Soul mates to the end…and beyond.
Recently, when I showed their wedding picture to a colleague, her reaction to it was palpable. This was a woman who had never even met my grandparents, and yet when she saw the photograph, she inhaled deeply as she pressed her hand to her heart. She could literally feel their love exuding from a mere picture.
I was fortunate enough to bear witness to it first-hand.
And for that I am grateful.
Both Jack and Bette had a traveler’s soul. They wanted to not just see the world, they wanted to experience it. They didn’t just go to Ireland. They grabbed a local phone book, to find a local Tunney. Someone with our last name. Not someone they knew. Not someone who was related to us, but the first Tunney who picked up the phone!
“Cousin Tunney,” the Irishman said on the other end of the line, “You must come stay with us!”
And they did.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” My grandparents adhered to this principle. They lived deeply. And they sucked the marrow out of life at every available opportunity.
But for me, it wasn’t just about the two of them together. Although she was indeed a part of this magnificent coupling, she was also an individual. She had dreams. She had passions. She once told me that the secret of their marriage was that during the day, they did their own thing, and then at night they would come together and have something to talk about.
I liked that. A good lesson to be sure.
One thing that impressed me the most about my grandmother, was that she was a consummate storyteller. For over a half a century, I had the great fortune to be able to listen to her stories. One after the other, they captivated my attention. I told her only months ago, that listening to her speak was like reading a novel. She was able to whisk me away from the room we were sitting in, and bring me into the spectacle that she was sharing, as though I too, was a part of her story—and of her history.
I was with her when she was seven years old, as she and the neighbor boy joyfully slid down the hills of Oakland on top of old crate lids for hours at a time. I was with her when she opened the front door to her beloved after not seeing him for a while and with one look, she knew that this was the man she would marry. I was with her, when she and Jack lived in Virginia in that first dingy apartment. They may not have had much money, but they threw great parties with their friends in the building.
Of course, I wasn’t even born, or even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes when these events occurred, but it always seemed that a part of me was there just the same. Her writer’s heart made me feel at home in all her stories.
And I am grateful for them.
As a teenager, I stayed up late with my grandmother at our slumber parties, talking about boys and other important matters of the day. As a now middle-aged woman, we talked about history, philosophy, and spirituality. But no matter what the topic, we were always able to connect.
She had the most extraordinary grandmotherly touch. From the time I was a little girl, until last December, she could put me in a trance, simply with the caress of her soft hands lightly brushing my arms and my face.
And then in April, during those final hours, our roles were reversed. It was no longer her caressing me, it was my turn to take care of her. My hands stroked the length of her arms, hips, legs and her feet. It will never pay back all the love she gave to me, but it was my honor and greatest pleasure to be there as she took her last breath. She was there at my birth and now I was there as she released her soul from her body. This is the cycle of life.
And I am genuinely grateful for that too.
I will (and do) miss my grandmother, but I will cherish every moment I had with her while she was here on Earth.
I recently read a quote by Sir Roger Moore that seemed appropriate. It goes like this:
"My attitude about death is, going into the next room, and it's a room that the rest of us can't get into because we don't have the key," he said. "But when we do get the key, we'll go in there and we'll see one another again, in some shape or form, or whatever."
So, until I get my key to the next room, where we can meet over a cup of tea, I will not say goodbye, only farewell—until we meet again.
I love you forever, Bette.
~Your granddaughter and biggest fan