Friday, September 26, 2014

Great Day in the Morning: A Tribute to Grandma Penny

This will be one of the most difficult pieces of writing that I have ever done. Emotionally, because it forces me to conjure up memories that are branded on my heart. And I love those memories, but usually memories are about those that are no longer with us...not how they used to be anyway. Creatively it's difficult because...well, how do you incorporate such strong feelings of admiration and sadness into your writing while at the same time have it convey what a truly magnificent spirit Grandma Penny was? No words seem to suffice. People like Grandma Penny built their own set of vocabulary words - adjectives - that describe them as a person as well as the affect they had on you as a person -more specifically, a husband and father. For most of the time I knew Penny, I was a husband and father. Her complimentary words - which she tended to repeat a lot...and I'm thankful for that - fit snug in my soul like a wallet in the back pocket of your favorite worn-out jeans. 

Penny would visit as often as she could, always coming on holiday weekends and dates surrounding my daughters' birthdays. I always admired her because despite her fragile-state and her residence being in St. Petersburg, Florida, she never gave it a second thought. Always flying solo, her independence (and a few dashes of blunt honesty) evoked both respect and laughter. Nobody spoke their mind more than Penny. And more times than not, they would be words of love - whether you realized it or not.

When she would be visiting, I would always leave after school and drive to Reagan International following signs for US Air - always US Air. After pulling into the garage, I would walk past the moving walkways where I could see the airplanes prepping for takeoff or just getting settled after a long flight. Hanging a left, I would make my way down the terminal to the arrival-gate where I would sit and wait for her to turn the corner. Once her plane arrived, slowly, but surely, she would be the last one to walk up the corridor. "Hi, Darlin'" she would say, hugging me. -her lipstick tatooing my cheek and her perfume - Fendi - the same as it always was. 

While waiting for her luggage to come down the belt, she would tell me about her flight and how she had to get up and walk around - being she was always at risk for getting blood clots. She would always ask about the girls and how work was going. The fact that she was so impressed that I had written a novel made me feel proud and important. Penny was good at that. She would tell you or anybody if she didn't like something. She was terse - no dancing around anything. If she thought a restaurant was too cool, she'd let anybody working there know about it. If her food wasn't prepared properly and to her liking, she wouldn't hesitate to say something. And she always wanted a kid-sized cup for her tea. When they brought her the smallest size they had - "Oh, that's too big!" She spoke her mind. She was never mean, never spiteful. There's a right way to speak your mind and she knew how to do it.

Penny also spoke her heart. And she had a big one. Rare and unique that bled and beat for family. She absolutely loved my wife Angie. One of the best parts about my relationship with my wife is that I had a front-row seat to one of the most loving friendships I had ever seen. Their connection left me awestruck and amazed of just how beautiful their love and bond were. I knew losing her would make Angie crumble. Penny, although over a thousand miles away made her presence, not only known, but felt. I never doubted her love for us. How could I? It would be like doubting the skills of a great athlete. Good athletes leave you disappointed often enough that you don't forget. But the greats? Sure, they may have struck out a lot ending a rally or even the game, but when talking about a Hall of Famer, you never say, "Yeah, he was alright I guess." Penny loved her family unconditionally and with weak legs and a sack of bricks in her bag, she'd walk to the ends of the earth for us. Not to boast and not to prove she was a framed picture of grace. But simply because she was grace. Humble and true to herself and never thinking twice about lending us a hand. And her heart.

Penny would often -very often- help us out of a financial jam and would always give us money towards the consignment sale (the best way, hands-down, to buy kid clothes). She and Angie would frequent Uno's and the Olive Garden quite often. Always her treat. We would often go as a whole family as well and as memorable as those outings were and how much of a staple they were when she was visiting, there was one outing that until I die will make me think of Grandma Penny. Nobody else in the entire world - and I'm being quite literal - loved (or was addicted to) McDonald's Coke like Penny. No matter what was going matter where we matter the weather conditions...Penny had to have her Coke each and every morning. She marveled at the prices of senior Cokes. Only 38 cents! She of course would tell the McDonald's employees in Florida about the prices of Cokes in Virginia because 74 cents was outrageous.

I ashamedly admit, with a sad heart, that I wasn't always keen on driving to get her a Coke. Yes, believe it or not, I grumbled about it. Penny, as I write this I know you're smiling, looking over me, but I need you to know that I am so very and so truly sorry for not being more gracious. After everything you had done for us, I had the audacity to put up a fuss. Never to her face, but still inexcusable. That was the great thing about Penny. She didn't see my grumpiness or agitation. It was there, for certain, but she didn't see it. Too much grace in that heart of hers. No matter my mood, and don't get me wrong, I wasn't  Oscar when she was here (I loved having her), but she would never leave us without telling me how great I was. How great I was with Angie and great I was as a father to my girls. There is no better compliment. I'd be upset at myself for showing impatience towards the girls and thinking to myself "She won't be saying that to me this trip." She never saw that. She would just rave how much I helped with the girls - changing diapers and playing with them. Every time. Every single time she would say that.

Boy did she ever love her great-grandchildren. She would feed them, read to them, play with them, shower them with gifts and hugs and kisses. My girls loved their Mimi Penny. It was a true blessing having her in our lives. She was everything a great-grandmother should be. My girls were lucky to have two like that. I'm sure they'll playing cards or Rummikub or Canasta up there or something and talking about how much their family meant to them.

Penny would also mention, at least once per visit, how beautiful Virginia was and how it was her daddy's favorite state. Mimi Penny was a big part of our lives.  A genuine soul, a graceful heart. Saying goodbye to her after her visits was hard. Long weekends would go by so fast. Such is life. Life whirls in the wind blowing right by us and she swept through our lives leaving a mark of everlasting love. Everywhere we go, everything we do and see, we think of Penny. A big part of our lives, a big part of our happiness went away three years this month. I miss her "darlin's." I miss seeing her with her great-granddaughters. I miss her "Great day in the mornings" when something shocking happened on the news or some other kind of story. I miss her "Where's Ryan?" when I would leave the room for just a moment. And I miss seeing her with my wife. Angie loved her so much and no matter how much I miss her, I know it can't be measured compared to how much she misses her best friend.

I even miss getting her Cokes.

Penny, I thank you for being a light as bright as a hundred cities. I am a better person because of you and I will always remember your kind words and how much you thought of me as a father and husband. I try every day...every single live up to those words. Thank you for loving my family so much. Thank you for your unique and loving spirit.

With all my heart...I love you and miss you.


p.s. Eating Mike and Ikes are not the same when they are not from you. I still eat them though...but they're not the same.

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