Monday, July 14, 2014

With sadness and gratitude for a life well-lived

It is hard to think about my grandmother, Helen Paulsen, without thinking of food.  From roast beef to lobster to pie to corn on the cob, she prepared dinner with love--for both people and food.  When I made my first roast beef, I took a picture of myself holding up the pan and posted it on Facebook.  I was so proud when I heard through the grapevine that she had been pleased to see it.  When Charley wolfed down three ears of corn on the cob the other night at dinner, I opened my mouth to say "Your great grandma would be proud!" but I didn't say anything, because that was the day after she passed away at the age of ninety-two and I had a lump in my throat.  This has been a difficult summer.

Having grown up in Boston, my grandma had a distinct New England accent. Once, as a young child, she said something about Mount Katahdin (in Maine). Thinking she had mispronounced it the same way she said car ("cah") and park ("pahk"), I "corrected" her, "No, Grandma, Mount Ka-TAR-din." She spent her girlhood summers in the same house in Maine we visit every summer. There are pictures of her swimming on the same beach we swim on, wearing a belt of cork to help her float. She and my mom once drove into the little town you pass through on the way to the house and she said "Every time I drive here I think 'What a lovely little town, this is a nice place to live.'" Always gracious and content.

During summer weeks spent at her house in Maine I learned needlepoint and card games, how to ride the trolley into town alone, to make my bed every morning, the names of all the different kinds of birds I could see from the porch (especially the Great Blue Heron), to appreciate Red Sox baseball.  On nights we had lobster ("lobstah" for my grandma), we all passed the shells down to my grandma who would spend an hour picking every last scrap of meat out of the bodies to make lobster salad for lunch the next day.  She was an expert.  When there was no meat left to pick she would carry the enameled steel bowl out to the rocks and shake the shells onto the seaweed, calling "Here, gully gully gully gully!"  A noisy flock of seagulls would swarm the carcasses as she walked back up to the house.  We loved watching them call their friends over to check out the loot then fight over the best pieces. 

Once, while she was visiting us in Texas, I asked her to show me how to roast a chicken, imagining a cozy afternoon cooking and sharing stories with my grandma.  Ever the practical New Englander, she replied "Why would you want to do that, you can buy them already cooked for seven dollars!"  I still tried to roast a chicken, and even boiled the carcass to make broth, but she's right.  You just can't beat a seven dollar chicken.

She always took great care of the house and everyone in the family, raising five children in four different countries.  She told me that in England the sun goes down so early you can put babies to bed at four o'clock in the afternoon!  For years I thought I should be doing a better job managing the house and all the kids and everything--after all, my grandma had done it in a time when husbands weren't expected to help with house or kids at ALL!  And Ryan was so helpful!--but then my mom told me that my grandma had told her, when they'd been discussing all I have to do, "She needs to get a girl to come and help!"  That certainly took the pressure off!

She grew up outside of Boston with her sister, Jean.  Their father was an MIT professor.  They slept with the windows open year round.  She loved to tell me that one chilly fall evening, she awakened to find SNOW blowing in through the window!  She did not tell me if they closed the window after that.

She attended Mount Holyoke College to study economics after high school and remained in touch with her classmates for decades.  Before getting married she lived in Boston in an apartment on Beacon Hill.  She walked through Boston Common on her way to work every day.  Ryan and I found the apartment at 30 Revere Street a few summers ago.  It is fascinating to be on that street, imagining my grandma living there as a young woman.

We gave Charley my grandma's maiden name, Hamilton, for a middle name.  Mary's middle name is Helen, after my grandma.  She was so excited when we told her Mary's name.  I hope that Mary will grow up with the same strength, grace, and character as her great-grandmother.  I am also deeply sad that they will never meet.  I was pregnant with Mary the last time I saw my grandma.  When our flight was canceled on the way home from New England last summer we ended up spending an extra day in the area.  We had a lovely brunch with her and my parents in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  We parked a block away and as we walked to the restaurant, Wes spotted his great grandma and RAN full speed the rest of the block then jumped into her arms for a huge bear hug.  We had a lovely couple of hours together.  I will be forever grateful for that canceled flight.

We go to Maine on Friday and things will just not be the same.  But I will try to make lobster (lobstah) and blueberry pie and maybe point out some birds to the kids and remember.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Becca! This made me cry just like your post after Grandpa passed away. What a pair of souls we got to call Grandma and Grandpa!

Brooke said...

Your grandma sounds lovely and like a lot of fun. A beautiful tribute. I love how you honored her with your kids' names as well. Thinking of you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Becca! I love it! Bonnie

Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute. You make everyone who reads your post feel like they knew your grandmother, too. Hugs to you and your family.
Charlie and Heather

LL said...

Beautiful and poignant. I loved getting to walk through her life with you.

Anonymous said...

I love this! You said it perfectly. Thank you so much for writing this. I was just leaving the hospital between shifts when I heard the news and I cried in the car. It was so great to see her this summer and have her meet Elliot, even if he's only 3 months.


Sarah said...

So sweet. I am so sorry for your loss!

Alyssa said...

Sorry I'm late on this - I am so sorry for your loss, but what a wonderful tribute! Hugs to you and your family.