Growing up, Grandma Lily was my favorite. She was the soft and sweet one, the one most likely to hug and tell you you how smart and wonderful you were. Lily was the one who fed the birds and chipmunks in her yard every morning and spoke affectionately to their dog, an odd Beagle-Dachshund mix named Suzie, as it waddled after her from room to room.
As I grew older, she is also the mother figure that was the most complicated for me to understand.
It is hard not to remember Lily without pairing her with Grandpa Louis. Louie was a tough guy. Smart, funny, strongly opinionated and often hard to get along with, and Lily was his flip side, equally smart and funny but an expert at smoothing things out or calming things down when Grandpa made waves.
When I was eight years old, Louie gave me an Audubon book about birds and I felt the compulsive need to study it so I could hold my own in conversations with him. At the same time, Lily took me on walks around their property and pointed out the birds, laughing joyfully about her favorite little Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and the more aggressive Rufus Hummingbirds who would dive bomb us as we approached their feeder.
As a teenager, I remember being angry with her for a time. Why didn’t she stand up for herself more or put Grandpa in his place when he clearly stepped out of line? Things were so black and white when I was young.
Shortly after my grandpa passed, she installed new carpet at their house. It was god awful, egg yolk yellow with orange and green stripes, and was completely different than anything else in their home, which was very European with its mossy rock walls, wood burning stove and pine cabinetry. Lily didn’t tell anyone that she was putting the carpet in and she didn’t care what anyone thought about it. That stupid sunny carpet was the first thing in years that was hers alone and she loved it, and that small rebellion made me love her more.
Now that I am a married adult, I see Grandma Lily in a different light. She was not just a peacemaker or a quiet housewife, but she truly loved those around her and would have given anything to protect them. When Lily was older and in assisted living, she told me stories about Louie, his overly strict and traditional Catholic family in Germany, how he tried to escape consignment into the German Army in WWI, and how he fought to buy and build his own business as an unpopular immigrant in the U.S. during the Depression and WWII. She painted his story and struggles in colorful strokes where I saw only black and white before.
While life was not always easy with Louie, Lily loved him and saw who he truly was under the rough edges. She gave her heart completely, regardless if it was easy or hard to do.
Thanks, Grandma Lily, for sharing your heart.