For those that haven’t heard the news or seen me explosively cry in the past week, my grandma passed away last Monday morning.
I, along with my brothers and our two cousins, was asked to speak at her funeral. These following words are the words that I said to hundreds of people at a Baptist church in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.
I think everyone here, if I gave you just a few minutes, could come up with a solid handful of stories about my grandma.
She was a lady who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, had an undying loyalty to the people she loved, and did not care what other people thought of her.
I’ve come to realize that this was the perfect combination of traits to make a whole LOT of good stories.
For me, my grandma Mimi, can be summed up in one trip to Disney World.
In 1998, my grandparents boldly decided to take me, my brothers, and my cousin Eric to Disney World for a week during summer vacation. I was ten, my brothers were 12, and Eric was seven. We rented a little cottage on the property to stay in at night, and would explore different parks during the day. Most days were a blend of visiting with the characters, buying cheap souvenirs, going to those 3D shows that squirt water at you, and riding the rides.
Mimi…was not a big fan of the rides. She would pose with Timon and Pumbaa, and get excited about princess parades, and elbow people out of the way for the best seats at a 3D show. But rides…they were not her thing.
So one day when we got in line for a roller coaster called Thunder Mountain, I expected her to find a bench and tell us that she’d see us when we finished. Instead, she confidently stayed with us, insisting that this was an easy one and she could handle it.
We didn’t question it, mostly because we were so surprised and excited to have her company.
But, after a little while, my outgoing, chatty, talkative grandma became quieter and quieter as the line drew nearer to the front. Finally, we got to the front of the line and got into our respective roller coaster cars.
For any of you that have ever been to Disney World, you know that there’s something about the rides that make you want to share the moment with everyone that you’re with. So during it, I kept looking over at Mimi to share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Wasn’t that drop great?
- Wasn’t it crazy how big that loop was?
- Can you believe how fast we’re going?!!
She did not return my unwavering enthusiasm. Instead, she had her head between her hands, her face looking straight at her feet, and her eyes completely shut throughout its entirety.
After the ride was over, we all swapped high fives and favorite parts and “Wasn’t that fun?” “That was SO fun!” “It was the most fun I’ve ever had!” I looked over at Mimi with a high five ready, waiting for her positive input on how much fun that ride was.
But as it turns out, while our “fun” had been heightened by the rollercoaster loops and extreme drops, Mimi’s “fun” was being purged out into a nearby bush.
At the time, we thought this incident was hilarious. What kid doesn’t love a good throw up story? But as I’ve grown older I’ve come to see it in a different perspective. She so much wanted to spend this vacation with us, and get as much out of it as she could, and to be with us as much as possible, that she rode that ride with us, weak stomach and all.
For her grandchildren, to squeeze in as much grandma time as possible, she was willing to sacrifice her comfort, her dignity…and her breakfast.
The second Disney World story I have is kind of the the opposite. This story is not about her losing control, but about her taking control.
It was Day Five of our seven-day trip.
We decided to eat dinner at this restaurant called the Rainforest Café. We had spent the day walking around in 105 degree Florida heat, so the fact that this place had air conditioning completely made up for the hour long wait. And it was just as well anyway, because the Rainforest Café is set up just like a Cracker Barrel, with a restaurant on one side and a huge gift shop on the other side.
So, us 12-and-under crowd were thrilled to have time to spend with the stuffed animals and toys and this life-sized talking tree named Bruce.
The only thing missing was a place to sit down.
Which, again, wasn’t a big deal to us kids, because frankly we were too busy feeding plastic bugs to Bruce the talking Spruce while he opened his mouth to tell us about the environment.
But, to my almost 70-year-old arthritic grandmother who had been out in 100-degree heat all day, a chair would not only have been helpful, but was completely necessary. And whenever she tried to make due by pushing stuffed animals aside and sitting on a shelf, she would get shooed away moments later by a staff member.
We had been told that the wait was an hour long.
Two hours later, we still found ourselves wandering the gift shop of the Rainforest Café; my brothers and I trying to find more things to shove into Bruce the Spruce’s mouth, and my poor grandmother trying to find a place to rest her feet.
And it was on that day that we learned, two hours was too much for Betty Marsh.
I’m not really sure how to explain the scene, exactly. But my grandmother is from the South, and in that moment she threw out all of her southern etiquette. After two exhausting hours of waiting, she marched right up to the staff. Her voice escalated. They huddled together in fear. She forced them to look at the hunger and exhaustion in her grandchildren’s eyes. I’m not saying she was screaming, but everyone in the nearby vicinity knew exactly how she was feeling.
Like I said before, she was not afraid to speak her mind.
But one immediate table, many apologies, and a free meal later, we were all well-fed, well-rested, and, as always, well taken care of by our grandmother.
Finally, this is not so much a story as much as a…realization.
…She took us to Disney World.
Along with our grandfather, this sixty-something year old woman, with back pain and heat intolerance and a strong dislike of roller coasters, voluntarily drove four elementary school aged kids 13 hours each way to the busiest park on the East Coast in the middle of July just because she wanted to spend time with us.
And bond with us.
And because she knew we would love it.
And she knew that we would all share these memories for the rest of our lives.
And we do.
As you can tell from these previous stories, and the fact that she was…NEVER…afraid of making a fool of herself, memories are not something she failed to provide us with.
So it’s these memories…
…and the other hundreds of stories that we’ll be telling about her for the rest of our lives…
…that are the greatest thing she possibly could have left us with.