There's a lot I want to tell you about my Grandmother. First, that she lived to be 89 years old, which is a pretty big accomplishment all by itself. She lived from 1920 to 2010; think about all the things she saw and all the history she lived. Some good, some bad, but still--almost an entire century of history.
The next thing I want to tell you about my Grandmother is that I am named after her. But not really. She was born Margaret Virginia Riley, while I am Margaret Ann Riley. My Grandmother hated the middle name Virginia; apparently she really disliked the Virginia she was named after. Remember, she was born before Social Security, so when the time came to sign up for her card, she told them her name was Margaret Ann Riley. From then on, she was known as Margaret Ann Riley on all official documents. And so am I. Although I have to admit, I've always been partial to the name Virginia and would have must preferred it to Ann. But I didn't get a vote owing to the fact that I was still a good 40 years or so down the road.
Names were always important to my Grandmother. When she was in fifth grade she was expelled from school. The reason? Some kid on the playground called her Maggie. She responded by beating his head repeatedly into the asphalt until the nuns pulled her off him. But nobody ever called her Maggie again after that.
My grandmother married my grandfather in 1945, right before he left to fight with the Navy in World War II. When they met, they hit it off right away, and he introduced himself as Earl. He asked if he could call her sometime, and she replied, "Sure. As long as you have a name other than Earl." Good thing his name was actually William Earl, or I might never have been born to write this blog post.
People throw around words like "feisty," "spitfire," but Grandma really was. She was also tenacious, stubborn, and very set in her ways. There was a right way and a wrong way, and hers was the right way. And usually it was best just to get out of the way and let her take care of whatever needed doing. It was easier on everyone.
At her memorial service on April 27th, Father Chuck noted most of what I said above, but he added that Grandma was always classy, always a lady, and always elegant. Not only were the things that she did done well, they were done right. Grandma took pride in presenting herself, her home, and her family in a proper way with all the care that many years experience can bring. She was the type of woman who would not venture out of the house without properly combed hair, and perfectly applied lipstick. Example: at around the age of 80 she was helping my Dad dig the holes for the foundation of her deck (in the summer heat having given blood earlier in the day no less) and passed out. When the paramedics arrived, she refused to go to the hospital, as her hair was still in curlers. They made her sign the release form and everything, but damned if she was going to the hospital with curlers in her hair.
But she would go anywhere, no matter how far the distance, if someone in her family was in need. She was always the first one to offer help, whether it was a hug, a hand, a casserole, or a word of encouragement. She was the head of our family, our matriarch, and our center. There's a hole now, no doubt, and it's up to us all to try to live up to her example. After all, you could do much worse than be feisty, tenacious, and classy.
Oh, but you can call me Maggie. Or Margaret if you like. Either way, I think of her when you say it.