My Grandmother

My Grandma (Hilda) Zoetewey died today (Tuesday, May 8, 2007).

It wasn’t unexpected to my parents. Apparently she’d been put on a new medication and had been having trouble adjusting to it. On the other hand, she was almost as old as my grandfather who died last year. She made it to her late nineties.

It’s harder for me to summarize her life than his because (I realized just now) I know less about it. I know that her parents immigrated from the Netherlands and moved to New Jersey. I know that they then moved to Denver because the family thought it would be better for her mother’s health. Ultimately though, it wasn’t good enough because her mother moved to Arizona (or was it New Mexico?), divorcing her father because he didn’t want to move. I seem to remember (but I’m not sure if this is true) that her mother paid for the divorce (at least in part) with money that the children had earned working.

I remember being told that she worked for some wealthy people as a servant while a teenager. When she stopped working for them, they told her to pick something of theirs to take home with her. She picked a lamp. I remember seeing that lamp in their house when I was a child and in the assisted living center that they later moved to.

I remember her playing pattycake with my younger brother when he was a baby. I remember the green beans (and other vegetables) growing in the garden behind their house as well as the flowers growing along the side that faced the driveway.

I remember that she would set the table the night before for the next morning’s breakfast and would be up and helping us get ready no matter how early we had to leave in the morning.

She volunteered for years at a local hospital. When she ended up having open heart surgery there, I’m told that they didn’t charge her. I’m not sure anymore whether that’s true or not, but I think I heard that at one point.

Between my grandfather and herself, they raised four children, one of whom died of cancer in high school. I remember seeing a photograph of him next to their bed.

One other thing that I remember about her is that she worried a lot. When Kristen and I got married, we had to drive from Grand Rapids (where the wedding had been held) to Holland (for the reception). They had come from Colorado for the wedding. One of the first things that she asked me when I talked to her at the reception was whether I had been speeding on the way over.

That anecdote is more funny if you knew her (though admittedly, it’s not that funny…). I’m confident that other people have much better Grandma Zoetewey Worrying-A-Lot-About-Minor-Things stories.

Another tendency of hers that I remember is that she would pass the food around the table until it was gone, constantly encouraging you have a little more with the aim of leaving nothing on the table. I imagine that this isn’t uncommon among people who survived the Great Depression. Still, it was one of her more noticeable characteristics.

I remember one time when all of us (us meaning their children and grandchildren) were gathered for some meal. Grandma was asking someone if he or she wanted more ice cream.

Someone else said, “Mom, don’t force it on him.”

Grandma said, “I’ve never forced food on anyone in my life.”

The whole room broke out into laughter and I think she may have laughed too–after a moment.

We still don’t know when the funeral is and bearing in mind that it’s in Denver, I probably can’t go. I wish I could (though to be honest, I’m still thinking about it).

All in all though, I’d rather talk to her than go to her funeral. I was thinking a few days ago that I ought to call her, but somehow I didn’t. I know that my Dad called her weekly or near to it. That’s a good thing.

I’ll miss the cards she sent and the letters she would write on them (growing slowly less legible as her vision got worse). I wish my own kids could have seen her more.

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