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


When I was little, sometimes my mom would take me along with her “for coffee with Grandma.” We would stop in at my Grandma Jo’s house on a Saturday so my mom could chit chat and have coffee with her.

At least that is what I remember.

Saturday at Grandma’s house was different than Sunday at Grandma’s house.

Sunday was full and noisy.

Sunday’s dinner table was pulled out with all the table leaves in covered in a vinyl table cloth that could easily be wiped down with a wet washcloth.

Sunday was warm–sometimes too warm–from the oven being on and all the bodies squished around the table reaching over one another to fill plates.

Sunday was filled with laughter.

Saturdays were slower and quieter. The table was small and round with a lace overlay and a green leafy centerpiece. It was comfortably warm with the smell of fresh coffee. Sometimes a radio played quietly, but not always.

Visiting on a Saturday felt special. My mom and my Grandma would sit at the table cradling mugs of coffee as they talked about work and sisters and cousins and acquaintances. I would sit quietly–or not so quietly–swinging my legs gulping my juice or soda and munching a cookie.

These visits weren’t about me–my mom would go with or without me. But being there meant that I had proven that I could behave that day. That I could be a partner for my mom for “running errands.” It was something special that I got to do with my mom and with my grandma. Even though I was usually just sitting there while they chatted, they were allowing me to be part of their visit.


When I was little, sometimes my dad would take me along with him to pay a visit to my Grandpa and Grandma. My grandparents were very routine about their coffee breaks. There was one in the morning and one at 3pm. They drank coffee all day, but those were the times they would sit down with their coffee. So that is when we stopped by.

My dad would lean back in his chair and talk with my grandparents about our small town and the people and doings in it. Between the three of them it seemed they knew everyone in our town and all the history behind it.

Grandma always had a cookie jar with Oreos. She always had chocolate milk–the kind you make with whole milk mixed with Hershey’s syrup. The best kind.

The kitchen wasn’t fancy; there wasn’t a table cloth or silverware out. But there was still so much to look at.

The window sills were filled with knickknacks of all shapes and sizes.

There were pretty colored vases and glasses in the window by the sink that caught the sun.

In the fall there was always a turkey in the window behind my grandpa’s spot at the table.

There was a huge jar in the corner for spare change.

It always smelled like food and coffee–like someone was about to get a delicious meal, even in the middle of the morning on a Saturday.

Again, these visits rarely focused on me; I was just there because dad let me be his sidekick for the day. But they made me feel special, like I was getting a history lesson about my own town and family. Occasionally I would inject a question and my dad or grandpa would look up, squint a little in thought, and begin to discuss possible answers to my question, which would send them on a whole other tangent.

It was where I learned to appreciate coming from a small town.


I visit my mom and dad often. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I didn’t like going for too long without seeing my parents. My mom and I exchange emails about something or other about once a week, but if it starts to feel like I haven’t seen her in person for awhile, something feels…off.

When I have nothing pressing on a Saturday, I’ll throw a kid or three into the car and head over to see my parents.

Every single time I drive up my parents’ long, winding, gravel driveway, it feels like coming home. How ┬ámany times have I gone up that driveway by car or by foot or by bicycle?

At the top of that driveway is the house I grew up in; the house my parents still live in. And inside that house, when my mom knows I’m coming over with a kid (or three), she has baked something. Usually. Not always, but lately yes. This weekend it was fresh gingersnaps to bring to my grandpa and because she knew I was coming over for coffee and would have Charlie and Alice with me.

My dad always razzing the kids making them overly hyper and hiccuppy from laughter. My mom always has coffee because they drink it all day long. She even buys creamer because she knows I like my coffee as non-coffeeish as possible. She encourages my second (and third) cookie that I help myself to.

Charlie finds my brothers’ old matchbox cars; Alice finds my old dolls and strollers. They wander in and out of our conversations.

I wonder what they will remember about visiting grandma and grandpa.

Now that I am an adult, I know taking me along when they visited my grandparents was because grandparents love to see the grandkids, but the visits themselves were for my parents. Somehow we don’t grow out of needing our parents.

Those Saturdays of visiting my grandparents were really laying the groundwork for me for what a parent/child relationship could be once both the parent and the child become adults. I’m grateful for that, because I very much enjoy the relationship I have with my parents now.

And I hope I am making warm memories for my own children with these visits.

Left to right: My Grandma Jo (my mom’s mom). I’m the one on the left in the braids. My Grandma R (my dad’s mom). I’m the pre-teen mess on the left. My parents with all seven of their grandchildren last Christmas (Charlie is next to my dad; Eddie is in the front left with Alice in his lap)


Cortney and I have wonderful memories with all of our grandparents. I have gotten to listen to stories about camping trips with Cort’s maternal grandparents and Christmas’s with his paternal grandparents.Since we have been married, we lost both of Cortney’s grandfathers. Both deaths were very hard on our family because the men were such huge influences on Cortney’s life.

I have fond memories of my Grandma Jo. She was my mom’s mom and she taught me so much about being a kind, generous, strong woman. She was also hilariously fun and never shied away from a challenge. Including having me, my two brothers, and our five cousins all over for a weekend while our parents went skiing.

My paternal grandparents live across the street from an elementary school and I can remember them taking us there to play. I also have the best memories of my Grandma R reading me fairy tales from a book she has since given to me. It is big and old and falling apart. The pages are yellowy brown. It has been taped by ancient masking tape hundreds of times. These stories inspired me to want to tell stories too.

I could go on and on about our grandparents, but those are different posts.

Today I have been thinking about my parents and Cortney’s parents and the relationships they have been building with our kids.

We are so lucky to live within miles of both of our parents. Our kids have grown up seeing them often, and they never hesitate to babysit for us.

They build wonderful memories.

I can only hope that our parents live long lives so that our children get to have years and years of memories with them.

I also think about how they will never have memories of their Papa Steve, who died four years before Eddie was born. It’s hard for me to not wonder what memories they would be making with him.

One thing I know for sure is that our parents are the best grandparents in the world for our children. They love them unconditionally and spoil them the way grandparents should spoil their grandchildren–the way they never ever would have spoiled their own children!