Tribute to my beloved Grandma

Today would’ve been my Grandma’s 90th birthday. As much as I miss her, I’m glad she’s at peace today instead of suffering any longer. In honor of her birthday, I thought I’d share the eulogy I wrote for her funeral. She was an amazing woman and I miss her dearly; she will keep us laughing long after she is gone.

A Tribute to my Grandma – Marilynn Jane Sampson
September 16, 1923 – September 1, 2013
Grandma’s Christmas card 2005
 (with her dog Dallas)
Just as none of us have earliest memories of our parents or siblings, I have no earliest memory of my Grandma. She was always wholly integrated into our very small, and very tight, family unit. Growing up it was always the five us doing just about everything together.  She may have been small, but her personality was huge.
For years now my mom and I have talked about writing a book to document many of the crazy Grandma stories we have. This is something I hope I get to do some day. When we were kids Jen and I would go to Dillard’s or Nordstrom and the sales people all knew who we were because they’d met my Grandma, and she always left an impression. Friends who haven’t even met my Grandma will ask me for the latest updates and stories, because even a simple voicemail from her could often illicit a laugh. And dear Grandma, didn’t even know she was being funny, it was just who she was. Today, I want to share just a few of the stories I have about my Grandma.
Vickery family 2010
As I was generating a list of memories from which to draw from for today, I couldn’t help but notice just how many of my memories about my Grandma involve one of her favorite passions – food. In fact, I can without a doubt attribute my love of food and cooking to my Grandma; she loved to cook and she loved to eat. She also loved to travel and I remember at a very young age my Grandma would come home from a trip – from Alaska, Australia, Switzerland, a cruise or Vegas and the first thing she would tell us about was the food. Oh she loved Vegas and apparently those male strippers (we have photographic evidence).

She took us to Vegas when we were 21 and my sister fondly remembers my Grandma arriving at the hotel in Vegas, opening up her purse, digging out two mini bottles of vodka, pouring them in a glass, adding one ice cube, stirring it with her finger, and saying, “Wow, was that a long flight.” The woman hit the ground running. 

Her GIANT tin of popcorn she insisted
on buying, Christmas 2012

But no matter where she had traveled, one of the first things she would tell us after her return, was about the food.  I’m pretty convinced the reason she enjoyed cruises so much was because of all the buffets. The first time I ever went out of the country was on a cruise with her and my sister when I was 13 years old. I really had no idea what to expect on a cruise – but I knew one thing, there would be a midnight buffet! Wow had she talked up that midnight buffet!

Even in her final years of life, one of her favorite places to eat was the Red Lobster. As you know, my Grandma was a sucker for advertising.  “Well, they say this and they say that.” If the advertisers said it, then it must be true! I’m not sure she ever figured out that Lobster Fest was an ongoing everyday deal at Red Lobster. But oh, she’d see the ad in the Sunday paper and she’d call me and tell me about the great deal at Red Lobster. I never tired of seeing the look on a server’s face when my 90 pound, 4’9”, 80 something year old Grandma would sit down in a booth, her feet not even touching the floor, and she’d order a martini and the Lobster Fest.

Yup, she wants your biscuits, and salad, and baked potato, and shrimp scampi, and crab legs, and popcorn shrimp, and butterfly shrimp, and shrimp linguine, and broccoli, oh and a couple lobster tails thrown in there too. No she’s not going to take but a bite of each because she long ago filled up on your biscuits and salad, but by golly you better bring it all to her and it better be fresh cuz you know she’ll complain and send it back if it’s not. Oh, and don’t forget the lobster bib. Oh, and her hands are weak so do you mind cracking those crab claws for her, and bring us a tiny fork and help her get the lobster meat out of the tail. While you’re at it, just bring us a doggy bag (she always called it a doggy bag and frequently did share with the dog). Oh, and I know we have this giant plate of barely touched food sitting here in front of us, but go ahead and bring us a fresh basket of those garlic cheddar biscuits while you’re at it. Why you might ask? Well, Grandma liked to order a fresh basket, which she’d wrap up in those thin paper napkins which would absorb all that butter and fat, no matter, she’d take them home with her. The next morning, yes morning, she’d pop those bad boys into her toaster oven (one of her absolute favorite kitchen appliances), she’d toast them up nice and warm and then, to top it all off, she’d spread grape jelly all over them. To this day I’ve never tried it, but she assures me it was delicious – day old garlic butter cheddar grape biscuits…well ok then.

Celebrating 4th of July 2012

I could go on and on about memories of my Grandma involving food,  the time she smoked ribs with the old oak tree from her yard and our whole fridge smelled like a forest for a week, her famous potato soup and cinnamon rolls, how she used to make French Toast for Jen and me when we’d spend the night at her house, how she would make us popcorn and let us drink  sparkling grape juice on New Year’s Eve when my parents would go out, and she was the only one who would ever take us out for fast food (such deprived children) and we’d choose the restaurant based on the latest toy that came with the meal. And she always, always, had her candy jar sitting on the living room table filled with stale gumdrops and seasonal chocolates. She wrote me a lot of letters throughout my life and she would often send me recipes cut out from the Sunday paper. When I was living in Belgium in 2004 and didn’t have an oven, she even mailed me a microwave cookbook circa 1983. My Grandma loved food; she loved to cook for her family. One of the hardest parts of moving her out of her home was that she no longer got to cook, but her recipes and her love of food has lived on through her family; we even ate potato soup last Christmas Eve in her honor.

When I think of my Grandma’s voice, I tend to think of it on the phone and through letters because that was much of our relationship the past decade. She never did understand the concept of answering machines.

She’d call our house and leave a voicemail, “Debbie, are you there? Debbie if you’re there pick up.” Never mind we’d explained the concept for voicemail to her for years.

Or she’d forget that she was leaving a message and not actually talking to you.

“So will you be coming home for OU/TX weekend this year? *pause* Sweetheart? *pause* Oh that’s right,” and then she’d just keep on going until the system finally just cut her off (and God only knows how long she’d keep talking ‘til she realized it had ended).

My Grandma had a way with words. She loved to go see Santy Clause and talk about rolly coasters or her latest mammygram. Be sure not to spill anything on the carpeting or she’d have to get it warshed. She’d stand in the backyard telling her “housetrained” dog to go be a good girl and go grunt. But oh boy, don’t ever get caught in the backseat when she’d had a blowout (and I’m not talking about a tire)!

 I remember driving around in her white Oldsmobile with the tan cloth top, which Jen and I lovingly dubbed the Grannymobile. For some inexplicable reason, she didn’t like us to roll down the windows. We’d be back there and hear, “Oh excuse me, I had a blowout”  and I tell ya we’d need to roll down those windows. Just as she inexplicably refused to let us roll them down, we seemed to inexplicably break out into song in the backseat. As we belted out some silly Sunday School song , we’d secretly roll those  windows down. Our singing drowned out the sound of the window going down, until we broke out laughing so hard she’d look back to see what we were doing and she’d holler, “Girls, roll those windows back up.”

As she got older her hearing got progressively worse, which led to a whole different level of mixed up words and conversations. A few years ago she asked me what I wanted for Christmas – this was probably in July mind you, because she liked to start her shopping early. I was on the phone with her and tried to tell her I’d like a new pair of brown boots. Well, for nothing in the world could she make out the word “boots.” I was driving around Austin on the phone with her and cracking up.

Grandma, I’d like a pair of boots.

 Huh, you need a new suit?

 No, boots, like what you wear on your feet.

 Yes, I heard you, a new suit, is this for work?

 No Grandma, boots!

Spell it for me.

 B-O-O-T-S, boots!

 P-O-O-D-S, I don’t know what you’re saying.

 Boots, you know, like cowboys wear.

You mean a holster, well what do you need a holster for? Is this Jennifer, I thought this was Jacqueline, do you need a holster for work? I don’t know where to even get that.

Meeting her great-granddaughter
for the first time – Dec. 2012

I gave up at this point. No matter anyway, we’d all get some crazy presents from her regardless. While she did always, always, make sure we got what we wanted, it was always accompanied by some strange gifts we just couldn’t explain. There was the year we all got Swarovski crystal…everything. It was strange, but also thoughtful. She gave me a rabbit because I was going through my bunny phase. She gave us all electric griddles, 4 of them, one for everyone. We all knew if one person opened a strange gift, there were 3 more sitting under the tree, one for each of us. There were the as-see-on-TV egg cookers, the one touch can openers that never worked, the key chains from every city she had visited that year, the multiple pairs of earmuffs for everyone, the tripod flashlights that I admit I still use.  My first year at OU she gave me about 10 ponchos, you know, in case it rained at the football games.  

The best was definitely the Christmas of the Numbers. Grandma was always stopping by our house unannounced, which as kids we LOVED. As an adult I now realize how much that must’ve driven my mom crazy. But Jen and I loved when Grandma showed up unannounced because it always meant she was bringing us something – be it Red Lobster leftovers, fruit that was on sale at Minyards, or something she’d just picked up for us because she was so thoughtful like that. Well, at Christmas it meant she was bringing over multiple bags of beautifully wrapped presents for the family. She’d pull up to the curb and absolutely lay on that car horn. The whole neighborhood would practically be out there checking what all the commotion was about. This wasn’t a polite toot toot I’m here come help. No this was a hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonk, hoooooooooooooooooooooooonk. And if you didn’t jump up immediately, and I mean immediately, forget your shoes just go barefoot, she’d just start all over announcing her arrival.
Easter 1987 (?)

Well, Jen and I go running out there to help her bring in Christmas presents, and there would be bags and bags of them. Of course, like all kids, we’d check the names on the packages as we put them under the tree. To Debbie and Mike (she was the only one who called either of them that), we’d toss it under without much thought. But if it said to Jacqueline or Jennifer or to the Girls, we’d get excited, shake it, feel it, try to guess what could be inside. Well, for some reason, this absolutely drove Grandma crazy. She didn’t want us reading the tags, she didn’t want us feeling the gift, shaking it, trying to guess what it could be.

So one year she decided to prevent us from being able to do this. When Jen and I started unloading the presents the tags read, “To #8, Merry Christmas! Love Grandma”. The next one, “To #27, Enjoy! Grandma.” And so forth, and so forth! Are you kidding me, the tags had numbers instead of names! And all different numbers – we weren’t each assigned an individualized number, no, no, each gift had its own unique number. Oh we couldn’t believe she was going to rob us of the fun of figuring out what packages belonged to us.

Well, as you can well imagine, Grandma had a way of getting things mixed up and confused even on a good day. So, come Christmas morning my Dad, who played the role of Santa in our family, would pick up a package, read the tag,

 “To #39” and my Grandma, wearing her sweat suit with P’Triece’s face on it, would put on her glasses and begin to decipher the secret code from her list.

 What, to # who?

 To #39.

Ok, um let me see here…no, I don’t think there’s a 39, are you sure that’s what it says?

 Well yes, I think so.

 Let me see that. Ok yea, that’s 39 well hmmmmm.

Meanwhile, Jen and I can barely stand the anticipation. I mean it’s Christmas morning, we finally get to open presents, and we can’t even figure out who they belong to.

Oh here I see, I can’t read my own handwriting, I thought it was 59 on my list, but  yes, that must be 39. Yes, that’s to Jacqueline.

I excitedly open the paper with anticipation, only to unveil a package of white tube socks for my Dad.

And on and on it went the rest of the day. Mom opening Disney movies, Dad opening cooking utensils, Jen opening dog toys, I’m not sure any of us actually opened any of our own gifts that year. Needless to say, she never labeled our gifts with numbers again.

I’ve known this day was coming for quite some time now. As I began processing and grieving the loss of my Grandma, I was worried she would be remembered for who she was in her final years, rather than the quirky, silly, thoughtful, loving, generous person she was my entire life. I realize it is through the telling and retelling of these stories – and boy do we have stories – that the real Grandma remains alive in our memories. As funny, and at times, downright weird as she was, she was also the most thoughtful and caring person I’ve ever had the privilege to know. She would do anything for you, she loved to take us out to lunch, she was always buying us things she thought we could use, if you complimented her on anything, she offered to buy you one too. If you needed money she was always there – like the time I got a speeding ticket in college and didn’t want my parents to know. When I went through difficult times in my life – moving, breakups, uncertainties, she always offered me words of comfort that were so uniquely her. When I moved to Dallas without a job and an uncertain future, she let me live in her house while I figured out life. She loved deeply and passionately and wanted her family to be happy.  She loved to travel and it was important to her that Jen and I got to travel even at a young age. I’ve been on cruises and to England , France, Italy, New Orleans, Vegas, and so many other places because of my Grandma. I think her 3 passions were:  her family, travel, and food; and her favorite thing was to combine all three together.
At our wedding, June 8, 2013
I’m sure she’s up in heaven causing some sort of trouble, making people laugh, and finally living pain free. As my mom said when we were gathered around her deathbed, my Grandpa and great uncles were up in heaven telling her, “Marilynn, if you’re going to come today you better come before the OU kickoff or you better come after, but don’t be interrupting the Sooners game.” We joke, but in all seriousness, God’s perfect and gracious timing is easy to see. I’m so grateful my entire family was with her in her final days; none of us were out of the country or living far away. She lived to see me earn my Ph.D., something that made her so proud. I remember the beautiful letter she wrote congratulating me on getting into UT. She lived to see her daughter celebrate 15 years  cancer-free.  She lived to see both of her granddaughters get married to the men they love and she even got to meet her great-granddaughter, whom she mistakenly donned Bronx (I told you she had a way with words).

She was in physical rehab the summer Josh and I started dating. I remember telling her I was dating someone new and I really liked him. I brought a picture of us to show her and told her his name was Josh. Her first response was, “Well, this isn’t the same Josh as your sister is it?”  I’m so, so grateful she made it to our wedding this summer. 

I know there are many more milestones she will miss and we will grieve her absence. The night before she died I was lying in bed thinking about the loss of my Grandma. Like my mom, God gives me visual images when I pray. I was trying to make sense of her life and death and I told Josh that I literally pictured a Grandma shaped piece of my heart – with her small head and tight curls and often mischievous smile – and when I pictured her dying, I could clearly see her leaving my heart, floating away, and leaving a Grandma shaped hole in my heart. It is as though a piece of me has been severed. I do not believe anything can fill that Grandma shaped hole in my heart. However, I am at peace knowing she is in heaven reunited with her savior, her husband, her sister, and her friends. For 27 years it was just the 5 of us in the Vickery family, and while we miss her greatly, I’m so thankful she didn’t just leave behind the 4 of us, but she left behind 7 of us – her legacy.  I hope and pray we continue to honor her life through the memories and stories we share and through the ways she has touched our lives. My Grandma loved deeply, she loved passionately. Her final words to me were simply, “I love you too” and that was enough.

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