Thursday, June 17, 2010

Goodnight Irene

It is with a mixture of sadness and some relief that I post about one of the most wonderful women I have ever known. My grandmother, Irene Easton, died last night (June 16th) at the age of 94.

I am not even sure where to begin to describe how special she is. Both sets of grandparents lived in Iowa as my parents were both from Northeast Iowa.

My parents were close to their inlaws and when would visit, driving from wherever we lived (Minneapolis, Chicago or St. Louis), we would visit both grandparents as they were an hour away from each other.

My grandma Martha (on my mother's side) still stands out as one of the kindest women I have known. She was exceptional with people and truly lived to want to help others.  I lost my grandma Martha in 1979 to cancer.  I was entering my freshman year in high school.  I have fond memories of her and I smile as I recall visiting their home.

But my grandma Irene was a kindred spirit.  I look back now and think she must have seen some of herself in my independence and spunk when I was a kid.

Her home in West Union Iowa sat on top of a hill (still does in fact) on 2 1/2 acres of land with a big garden.  She had nine children, of which my dad was the oldest.

We spent many a summer at 101 Cherry Street in West Union.  Whether it was just our family or the multitude of family reunions complete with loads of cousins to run around with and play.

The area to one side of her property used to be pasture with horses in it. Let me tell you that any little girl finds that to be irresistable.  I could not wait to get out of the car and run down to the fence to watch the horses.  Grandma would always intercept me to say hello first and send me on my way. Those hugs were the best.

One day that I still remember despite only being 4 years old was finding a horse (actually a Welsh pony) wandering loose at the bottom of the hill (the base of her driveway).  I walked up to it, grabbed its tether and walked it up the hill to show everyone that I found a horse!  I was certain that since I found it, it was meant to stay with me.

My grandma never let on that the horse was not mine but found a blanket, put it on the horse and placed me up there, holding onto me.  I was so delighted over that I am sure it showed on my face.

It was heartbreaking to finally realize that "No, you cannot keep it." But I remember my grandma telling me that that horse belonged to another little girl, like me, and she would be sad to not have it anymore.  I cannot even recall being upset over this anymore but rather the memory is of leading the horse up the hill and riding on it.

She helped erect a cereal box fort for me at the table when my uncle Bill was teasing me horrendously and I wanted to hide from him. He still remembers that too when we laugh about it to this day.

I remember the visits to her place when I was in college (in Iowa City).  I would visit every now and then to spend a weekend.  Occasionally my dad would be in town from Houston and he would join us too.  It was always a race to her garden if my dad was around.  Who would get to the raspberries first?

I did not need to worry, Grandma had stashed some away for me on the side.

I have a mansion full of memories, mostly of love and laughter.  Grandma Irene was a strong and independent woman.

She was with us during the fall of 2000 when my dad was dying of cancer.  She held us and we held her when he died on December 6th.  We lost our dad.  She lost her son.

When I was in St. Paul, MN competing with MacDuff in November 2003, I made a trip down through Iowa to see my grandma in a hospital in Waterloo.  She had suffered a stroke and was not discovered until 36 hours after that.

I remember the frustration of knowing healthcare rationalization when I was told that at age 88, she was "not a candidate for rehabilitation".  What the heck did that mean?  I remember getting angry over that comment.  But the fact is, at 88 years old and having been prone so long (36 hours) without treatment, they could not reverse the damage the stroke caused.

She was left paralyzed on her right side.  She needed a speech pathologist to work with her to teach her to swallow and such.  She would need a speech pathologist for more than that as the portion of her brain that controls speech was damaged.  She would talk, but it would not be intelligible.

Given the severity of her condition, my grandma would never be returning to her home.  Some painful family decisions needed to be made and, unfortunately, one of the major leaders for that was not around (my dad).  The end result was that she would stay in West Union at a nursing home there to be in the town where her friends were.

My family took strides to visit her and while I will say it was painful as her communication was limited, I could tell she loved to see us.  Just holding my hand and squeezing it was enough.

She could still play a wicked game of cards as I was determined to find things to do to keep her active.  You needed to help hold them up as her left hand would manuever.

Regardless, even in a nursing home with her speech largely absent, her spirit shined and touched me.  She was not gone.  She was there and her wit and humor still sparkled in her eyes.

She served her purgatory there. Should be a straight you hear that God?

One continuing theme that resides through it all is a song, a folksong, that we would sing at every family reunion at the end of an evening.  The Easton clan liked to dance, so we would also rent a hall or the local country club and dance in the evening.

That last song of the night, for grandma, was always "Irene Goodnight."  We would gather in a circle around her, holding hands while she danced to that tune with my grandfather, Howard.  After Howard died in 1985, she would dance with each of her sons and daughters.  After 2000, her grandsons, starting with my brother (in place of my dad) would dance with her.

The words to the song are grim, but the chorus was spot on.  During each chorus, we would tighten up the circle and fade back.

We will sing this tune next weekend at her services.  But we will sing different words.

One version, that I have written is copied below.

My deepest sympathy goes to Shar, Mary Ann, Chuck, Judy, Bill, Therese, Doug and Randy who have lost their mom.  Also to her siblings who have lost their sister.

I love you grandma and I will miss you deeply.  May you enjoy the warm embrace of your son (and my dad) John, your son-in-laws Roger & Tony and your grandson Richard.  God bless you.  Love Betsy.

Born to a proud Iowa family
Raised with nine other sibs
Met up with a charmer named Howard
To start their own journey with bibs

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

Their family quickly blossomed
While business knew its ups and downs
But the key to this family is Mother
And she ensured there were few frowns

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

Her children grew under her love
They learned from her stalwart arm
In time they formed their own families
And the grandchildren soon found her charm

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

We all have felt her warm love
And her dedication to faith
We will deeply miss her presence
But know she has found God's Grace

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams
Goodnight Irene, God bless Irene
I'll see you in my dreams


At June 19, 2010 9:55 AM , Blogger Hope said...

Beautiful tribute, Bets.


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