“The Old Gray Mare” – A Reflection on my Grandmother

This blog is not read by a whole lot of people. The people who do read it are usually close to me and so I feel it appropriate to share this reflection with all of you. This post is for my Grandmom who passed away last week.

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Perhaps it seems strange to you that I titled this piece about my grandmother referring to her as a character from an old folk song. “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be…” My Grandmom, always one to lighten the mood, used to break into this song practically every time I saw her for the past 15 years. She wanted to make us laugh, even though it was at her own expense. But that was her. Grandmom loved to bring joy to everyone. She went out of her way to make the people around her happy, from her relatives to the random person sitting near us in a restaurant while we waited to be seated.

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As a child, I was spoiled because I spent a large amount of my time with all four of my grandparents. They each shared a special and unique place in my life. My Grandmom was the grandparent who lavished her grandchildren with goodies. Every Christmas, we went to visit her and my Grandpop at their house in the Poconos. Grandmom would take me outside on the porch and we would step into the snow and throw ripped up pieces of bread onto the yard for the deer to eat. The family would gather together and sit by the tree exchanging gifts and eating lots and lots of food!

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We also went to visit during the summer, sometimes for a whole week. My brother and I would share the guest bedroom bed and Grandmom would frequently check in on us to make sure we were asleep and not talking. I would lay in bed, the bright green nightlight easing my fears of the dark, and listen to the locusts buzzing in the trees outside. We would take trips to the candy kitchen, visit Knoebels theme park, and even visit the local library where we rented VHS tapes. My favorite tape to rent was the Wizard of Oz and it is a film I will always associate with my Grandmother. We used to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow together. She always loved when I would sing, which was a lot. I remember being in the car at Christmastime and singing Silent Night with her. It was one of her favorite songs around the holidays.

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And I can’t forget BINGO! Grandmom loved Bingo. The closet was full of colorful daubers and bingo sheets that us kids would play with along with the various other toys our grandparents had stored in containers for us. We attended some BINGO games with her on occasion and got to see her in action. I think she grew frustrated with us when we weren’t paying attention. We just weren’t as skilled as her at the BINGO table. She was a pro.

When my Grandfather died, we spent a lot more time with Grandmom. She moved a bit closer to us making it easier for her to drop in and visit more often. We took trips to Lancaster and Hershey, Pennsylvania. At Christmastime, we created a new tradition. Both of my grandmothers would come over Christmas Eve and we would go to church. After, we would get pizza and eat at home while watching Christmas specials. Then we would spend Christmas morning together, opening presents and eating a large breakfast and an even larger dinner afterward. She was lonely at her apartment and always loved coming to visit. We too loved having her.

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Grandmom was goofy. She would always be cracking the craziest jokes. And she loved to clean. She was always helping out around the house. When we went out to dinner, she would tidy up the table when everyone finished. It was comforting to her. When going through old pictures earlier this week, I noticed that my Grandfather was in a lot of them but Grandmom was either missing or you just saw her legs or back. I brought this up to my mom and she pointed out that Grandmom was always helping around the house and in the background. While the family was enjoying time together, she was making sure things were clean and asking people if they wanted more to eat. That was what made her feel loved, making sure that everyone else around her was comfortable and loved. In some regards, I find this reality very harsh and sad but I also know that Grandmom wouldn’t have it any other way.

Grandmom always loved to tell people about my obsession with books and my love of writing. When we would get together with her friends, she would always brag about what a good writer I was. This always touched me, more than she ever knew. One summer, we stayed at a house in the Poconos and I was sitting on the couch reading a Harry Potter book. Meanwhile, Grandmom stood off the the side with her friend and talked a little too loudly about how great it was that I loved books. I couldn’t help but smile. She used to be a big reader as well. While I was in high school, I used to give her a new book every time I saw her. She always returned it shortly after with a rubber band around it to keep the book cover from becoming stiff.

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Last week, we went to visit my Grandmom where she lived and my cousin suggested we break out into a group rendition of “Old Gray Mare.” It would be the perfect way to celebrate her life by singing the song that had become Grandmom’s signature track. For the past three years, Grandmom had not been herself. Her memory was failing her, but she did not forget one thing. Us. Every time we came to visit, her face would light up and she never wanted us to leave. I find it comforting to know that now she can be with us 24/7.

Grandmom lived such a full life. She traveled. She had a large family that loved her to pieces and an equal amount of wonderful friends. I will miss her a lot. What I will miss most is visiting her and seeing her face light up. She was so proud of every single one of her grandchildren. I can only hope to live as full a life as her when I reach my 80’s, surrounded by the people I love. She may have seen herself as an old gray mare, but I saw her as so much more. She was a nurturing and selfless person, a beautiful soul.

I love you Grandmom, and I will miss you.

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