Goodbye, Era

(Note: Violeta Smadbeck has passed away. Her memorial service will be held at the end of September, 2011. If you have questions, contact me here.)

So let me tell you about my grandma.

She lived in her Manhattan apartment for 45 years, moving in after her husband died in 1965. At the time, she paid a ridiculously low price for it, mostly because it was a fixer-upper. And… she fixed it up.

She installed cabinets and shelves. She painted the whole thing. If she didn’t know how to do something, she learned, and she made that co-op into a home for herself and her mostly-grown children.

My grandmother’s traveled all over the world. She earned a college degree in 1936, when professors could say things like, “You’re a woman. I do not give women any higher grade than a C, so don’t try” and get away with it. She survived her first husband, who died in a self-inflicted “hunting accident.” Survived her second husband, who died of a heart attack. She even survived the wilds of Maine (which were quite wild back then), where she had to learn things like how to knit her own socks.

Had three miscarriages and three living children. Has always been, without exception, the strongest and smartest woman I’ve ever known.

We had a saying in my house when I grew up: “ask grandma.” What was that saying applied to? Well… everything. Anything we didn’t know, she usually did. She could fill out the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink  – often while answering the prompts on Jeopardy without even looking at the TV screen.

She won more awards for bowling and golf than I can count, holding her own against men and women many years her junior. She worked so hard in her church that it took six men to replace her when she stepped down. She helped countless people finish their education, get back on their feet, fulfill their dreams – and the time has finally come for her to need help.

She’s going to be moving in with my parents, and it’s a good thing. Her memory – once so sharp – is failing to the point that she forgets to eat for whole days at a time. The doctors say she’s physically in great shape for a 95 year old, and I’m deeply glad that we as a family love her enough to do what she needs. She deserves the very best.

But this is hard. The most independent lady I’ve ever seen is losing her independence.

Goodbye, era.

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