Among the Flowers

As I walked into my classroom on my last day of school, I checked my personal email on my phone. My mom had sent out an early morning message to my brothers and me: Grandma died.

It was not unexpected, but it was startling nonetheless. My dad asked us kids to send him some memories for the pastor to use during the funeral. I wrote mine out in a two-page narrative. Of course I did. My dad and the pastor asked if I would read my writing, and I obliged.

I could just copy/paste that here, but honestly, it wasn’t my best writing. It was thrown together so that those who knew her would smile at the memories that they shared too. But I have been thinking a lot about what to put in this space.

My grandma with her two younger brothers
She always commiserated with me about being the older sister of two younger brothers.

My Grandma was a little white-haired old lady for my whole life. She was 94 and a half when she passed on May 31, 2019. She and my grandpa lived in the same house since my dad was very small. She had a cookie jar that was always filled and her house was filled with things that were antiques.

She wrote us notes and sent us actual dollars in the mail for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Easter…even when we were in college. My roommates thought it was adorable that my sweet Granny would put $5 cash in a card for me a couple times a year.

Life stopped at 3pm on the dot each day for my grandpa and her to have hot black coffee. Even before the days of central air in the muggy heat of summer, they would sit at the kitchen table with their steaming cups of coffee with Talk of the Town on the am radio and take a break. Every day.

My grandparents on Senior Skip Day in the spring of their senior year at Zeeland High School (class of 1942)

My grandparents were married for 75 years. “Happily married for 75 years,” the obituary said. I feel like there are hours of stories that could come out of that brief statement that spans so much time, but I do know that my grandpa and grandma knew each other for almost their whole lives. They went to grade school together and then high school.

Listening to them was always educational and humorous. They would pick at each other in a way that only two people who had been through a life time together could. My grandpa would fuss about they way my grandma sliced pie, and my grandma would fuss about my grandpa’s hearing aids. But once you asked them about something from the past or if they knew a person, they would look at each other and play off each other’s memories filling in a piece of local history you might not otherwise ever hear.

My grandparents’ wedding photo 1944

When my Grandma was 19 years old, she decided to take a train across the country from West Michigan to California to marry my Grandpa before he shipped out for WWII. They were married at the courthouse and had nowhere to stay that night. They walked around looking for a place and ended up sitting on a park bench.

My grandparents were best friends. I know his heart is broken having to go on in this life without her there.

My grandma’s senior photo

I have lots of wonderful memories of my Grandma, but there is one that seems small, but ended up having a huge impact: my Grandma read to me.

We don’t usually realize what we are becoming while it’s happening to us. I sure know I was developing into an advocate for literacy while the adults in my life surrounded me with books. My Grandma was a part of that.

She had a cabinet filled with old books–many published in the 1950’s and 60’s. As a kid, that made them more exciting and special than the ones I had at home. Two stand out to me as being especially pivotal: McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss and an incredibly old book of fairy tales my Grandma had as a little girl. I can’t remember a time we visited that Grandma didn’t read to us.

She gave me the fairy tale book when I was at her house once as an adult. I was looking through all the old books of my childhood and she said to take what I wanted. The fairy tale book wasn’t in there, so I asked about it. She got it out and handed it to me. As a little girl, I asked her why she liked it since it didn’t have many pictures. She told me you don’t need pictures if you have an imagination.

Looking back, those moments snuggled up next to my soft Grandma listening to the stories of Rapunzel and Cinderella were life-shaping. It was another instance of the adults in my life valuing the written word and showing me how much love can flow through words.

My grandma age 2

Ortha Jean DeJonge Riemersma was adventurous, sassy, and funny. She poured herself into her family and did her best to always keep the peace. She was a strong survivor–both of younger brothers and breast cancer, among other things–just like me.

Or I should say, I am just like her. At least I try to be.

Alice asked me last week where heaven is. I don’t know how to explain it to a four-year-old when I am not even sure myself. So I told her that “heaven is wherever there is something beautiful.”

“Like flowers, mommy?”

“Yes. Yes, like flowers.”

“Yours grandma is with the flowers now?”

“Yes. I believe she is, Alice.”

I love you, Grandma. I will always look for you among the flowers.

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worry
You belong somewhere you feel free

“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty
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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. This was beautiful. <3

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