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This Day in My History

2000:  Bottles of Chance
2001:  Confessions of a Klutz
2002:  Tool Time
2003:  Who is Milton and Why Should I Care?
2004Portals of the Past

2005:  Cultural Icons

"Boxcar Children"

Books Read in 2006
(Updated 8/20)

"When Grandma Turned 80"

When Grandma was 80

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2 September 2006

My mother-in-law turned 94 yesterday (though as I usually post "tomorrow's" entry "today," technically she turns 94 today.)

In 2000, I wrote a tribute to both of our mothers.  This is what I said, then, about Alice:

Alice was born to an Irish immigrant married to a German immigrant. Her mother came from County Kilkenny in Ireland and Alice still feels strong ties to the old country.

During her childhood, her mother was the companion to Evalyn Walsh McLean whose husband founded The Washington Post. Alice and her brother grew up with the McLean children and she is very nonchalant about the famous people of the day she met on the McLean yacht, or around the McLean home (the famous family story is about the time her brother, then 5 years old, carried the Hope Diamond from Washington, DC to Florida because the McLeans, who owned the diamond, figured that would-be robbers would never suspect the gem to be carried by the maid’s 5 year old son!)

After graduating from St. Mary of the Woods College, she found her way to a job with the US Department of Agriculture and ended up in Santa Paula, California, where she met her husband. They had three children, whom they raised in Honolulu, where they lived until Walt, the oldest, was 15. There are wonderful family photos of Alice dancing the hula and she can still be coerced into giving it a try even today.

She was widowed in 1955, leaving her with three children to raise alone. She moved back to Maryland, to be with family and lived there until Walt and I were married in 1965, after which she moved out here to California where she worked for the Department of Education until her retirement.

This is a lady who’s not afraid to try anything. She’s traveled all over the world and in her 70s took the Orient Express across China, visiting places where they had never seen Caucasians before. She told tales of rinsing out her underwear in cold water in hotel rooms, and eating foods that wouldn’t have made it on the Survivor island. But she was determined to live the experience to the fullest.

She celebrated her 85th birthday in Moscow, where she was in the middle of a cruise. She’s ridden camels in Egypt, gone on photo safari in Africa, cruised around South America, and through the Panama Canal. She warned all her children years ago not to expect to inherit money when she dies because she was going to spend it all seeing the world. We have cheered her on her adventures and loved hearing the tales of her experiences.

It was always such fun in the years when we played Charades at Grandma’s cabin each Thanksgiving. The kids loved finding bizarre things for Alice to act out because she never shrank from anything and would do her best to mime anything...of course she had us all in gales of laughter when she just couldn’t not talk.

Two years ago we gave her Web-TV because she was interested in getting on the Internet. She loved being able to read The Washington Post on line and in no time she was surfing like a pro. She quickly learned how to forward jokes to everyone she knows. We realized how well she’d learn to surf the net when the kids were talking one night about the band, Bare Naked Ladies and Alice piped up with, "Yeah! I was at their web site and it’s just a band!" She then went on to explain that she had been curious about all this porn on the net she kept hearing about and decided to investigate. I still chuckle at the thought of my 87 year old mother-in-law hunched over her Web-TV keyboard trying to find pornography!

Alice lives in an assisted living facility in Santa Barbara now and is legally blind, a great adjustment to someone for whom sight has been perhaps more valuable than to many of us, but she continues to make adjustments and to get the most out of her shrinking world.

There was a time when she and I were pretty close.  I was kind of following in my mother's footsteps.  I remember the chats she and her mother-in-law used to have and how, when my mother was upset with something my father had done, she would talk it over with her mother-in-law.

I made the mistake of doing that once.  I can't remember what I was frustrated about, but I complained about Walt to his mother.   She was furious.  How dare I malign her "beloved son of whom she was so proud."

She probably doesn't remember that day, but I do.  It changed my relationship with her forever.  We are still friendly, but we haven't been close, in the way that I thought we were, since then.  I now review what I say to her before I say it because I don't want to run the risk of offending her any more.  I rarely call her because Walt calls her all the time and I feel awkward just calling to "chat."

But in spite of that, I admire her so much for how she has lived her life, for all of her accomplishments, and for the dignified way that she is living her final years.

Her daughter will be getting married for the first time next month and there will not be a prouder mother of the bride ever.

When Alice turned 80, we had a quasi-surprise BBQ for her in a park near San Francisco.  Ned took video at that party, which I happened to come across today, so I've made that the Video of the Day.  It's a little bittersweet to look at today, knowing how much more frail she is then and seeing all of the 2- and 4-footed guests who are no longer with us.

But still, it's a great memory to have!


I have just closed my Cingular account and Walt and I now have the family plan on Verizon.  I was able to keep my old cell phone number, so if you have me in your address book, you don't need to change anything, but I can no longer call free with Cingular customers...but I can call free with Verizon customers.  (and I have a camera phone, Ned)


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Christmas 2004

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