Ten years ago today, I was living in Memphis Tennessee. I had lived there for just a few months and was starting to realize I didn’t like it. I was lonely a lot and was not ready to be so far away from absolutely everyone whom I loved. The shiny new adventure had worn into something not nearly as good.
The day I went to see my Grandma Harter before I moved, she was on a lot of pain medication. She was losing weight rapidly and was just a kindly shadow of the strong, elegant person I had known. I told her I was moving away, how much I loved her, and how much I would miss her. We talked about art a little bit and life a little bit. As I left her room, she sat smiling and waving goodbye with one delicate little hand, fingers closed and dainty like always. I knew it would be the last time I would ever see her.
Fast forward a few months to my apartment in Memphis on a drizzly work day. My dad called, too early in the morning for a social call. He awakened me to say not to worry but that Grandma Harter died, everything was going to be OK, and that he’d already bought me a plane ticket home. We chatted briefly and then I called my work. They were indifferent and told me to return soon and to be sure to bring a copy of the death certificate to prove my absence (nice, huh?).
I flew home and went through the motions of the funeral. I had brought some of her artwork with me to decorate the viewing room- I wanted people to see her life more than her death. Some of her close friends hadn’t even known of her amazing talent. But that was her: elegant but unassuming. She was the kind of lady to wear a hat and gloves to the store and still root for the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. She found a way to be completely proper while putting others at ease. I inherited a fraction of her talent and grace and I try to cultivate it. I had four wonderful grandparents, but she was the one I had the good fortune to really know well before she died.
She did not have a college degree, but she was learned on a multitude of topics, especially politics and the World Wars. The Depression prevented her from being able to attend the art college where she had a full scholarship. She didn’t let her lack of formal education stop her from learning or from living.
Ten years ago today, Grandma Harter died. But she still influences me and I am still learning from her.