This weekend Ian and I drove up to Chicago for my grandma’s funeral. There was a Catholic mass, and I had to laugh because it meant my grandma succeeded in getting me into church one more time. From the graaaave. And on the day of the supposed rapture at that!
After the mass we went to the cemetery for a small ceremony led by a deacon, and then we walked out to her burial plot where her remains were buried next to her husband and some other family members. I chuckled when I noticed a nearby grave marker bore the name “Schardt,” but then my mom told me that might have been a relative. Oops.
After I said my farewell, I piled back in the car with Katie, Junnhi, Emily and Ian and we headed over to a nearby restaurant for a family lunch. Luckily my family recognizes the importance of an open bar in times like these, so I could knock back a few glasses of wine before having to read aloud something that I wrote for my grandmother. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to make it through without crying, but I put on my big-girl pants and powered through it. Everyone laughed at the points that were supposed to be funny and at the end they applauded me—and I was only told once to speak louder—so I’m guessing it was well-received. One of my uncles asked me to post it online, so here it is.
Norman Rockwell could not have painted a more quintessential grandmother than Grandma Jean. Homemade chocolate chip cookies, apple pies, hard candy in a crystal jar. She was a five-star grandma indeed. Always eager to find out what her grandchildren had been up to, there to watch us when we were out sick from school, plying our boredom with a box of old toys from generations past that somehow always seemed to have a draw to them, despite our usual penchant for video games.
For Katie and I, Grandma Jean’s house was always a refuge on Sundays, a way to ease back into the school week set to a soundtrack of Perry Cuomo and butterscotch candy wrappers being opened by our grubby little fingers.
When she lived in Vernon Hills, Katie and I would run ourselves ragged on the path around the lake, pretending the woods were haunted and wishing for snow so we could pretend we had the guts to take a sled to The Big Hill. Any kid that visited grandma at that house knows about The Big Hill. It was legendary, and my greatest triumph as an elementary schooler was convincing Grandma Jean to hike halfway to the top with me.
She was a trooper.
But when I grew up and moved to Tennessee, I finally realized what a gift her vernacular was. Living in the south, I often think of her when I hear someone say “rapscallion” or that someone is making them “cross.” However, after spending 13 years in the south, I now know that her most powerful phrase was “bless your heart.” If you’ve spent any time in the south, you know what this really means. There is no more polite way to tell someone you pity them and think they’re stupid at the same time than “bless your heart.” It is kind, yet pointed.
Which brings me to my final thought. We all know what a lifelong fan of the Cubs grandma was. I can’t remember being at her house during baseball season and not seeing her watching her beloved Cubbies. And now that she’s gone, that leaves it up to the rest of us to keep cheering them on. (Even you, Uncle Mike.) They haven’t won a World Series since 1908, but maybe this will be their year.
Bless their hearts.