My grandmother passed in 2004, from a sudden heart attack in the hospital. At the age of 80, she had actually worked that day. She was always working, my grandmother was. When I was younger, she was a bank branch manager.
Later in her life when she found herself raising her four granddaughters because her daughter wanted a “do over” of her own life, she stepped up. When she reached retirement age at the bank there was a big party in her honor, everyone seemed to be so impressed by the hard worker that she was, I remember so many people remarking that it would take three people to replace her.
With four granddaughters and a husband newly retired due to a disability she knew that she couldn’t retire so she figured that she would do something that would put her close to where me and my three sisters would be, so she got a job driving a school bus. I remember when she first told me that that was what she was going to do, I thought she was joking. You see my grandmother was all of 4’11” tall and weighed about 90 pounds soaking wet. Heck she had to special order lady looking shoes because otherwise the only shoes that fit her were in the children’s aisle because her feet were so small.
I rode her bus to school throughout middle school until I was old enough to drive. She was a force to be reckoned with on that bus, she expected everyone to behave and one of the things I remember most about her is that she taught the older kids that they had a responsibility to look out for the younger kids, it was an expectation that she made sure that everyone understood.
I have lost count now the number of years that my grandmother drove a school bus, but she left a mark on every student she drove, the other drivers and all of the people in our small school district. My grandmother was that driver who always took the extra trips. I was in marching band in high school and during marching & maneuvering competition season we would travel most weekends to competitions all over the state. I don’t think my grandmother missed a single trip.
When I graduated high school and left for college, it was around this time that my mother decided that she was ready to be a mother again, so my three sisters went back to live with her. I remember talking to my grandmother, she was hopeful that soon she would be able to retire, she needed to pay off some bills first, but she was hopeful. She had dreams of traveling in the motor home that she and my grandfather had purchased. She wanted most to be able to winter in Florida instead of Michigan, she had arthritis in her hands and was looking for a respite from the cold.
The problem with this story was that my grandfather, through his own disability and watching his wife become the major breadwinner somehow lost his own sense of himself and struggled to find his own self-worth. Unfortunately, the way that he would find it was by spending money, buying collectors’ items or by making things with his hands. While the later was harmless enough other than filling their home up with odd choochkies, the former was devastating to my grandmother, you see my grandfather would spend money and leave my grandmother to figure out how to pay for it. In the time that she was raised you didn’t question your husband or consider divorce even; it just wasn’t done. Her answer unfortunately was to just work longer, harder to make more money, so she did.
After retiring from bus driving, she began to manage the local marina, that marina had a tiny market that carried a few items, groceries mostly for people who were staying the weekend on their boat. In the dozen years or so that my grandmother managed that place she took that tiny store from a few hundred a week in profit, to averaging ten thousand a week. It began to serve as the go to place to pick things up for everyone who lived on “the point”, the end of the peninsula where my grandparents lived. I was amazed at what she accomplished, my grandmother, if she didn’t know how to do something, she would just work to figure it out. I think these are traits that she taught me, and I am grateful for that. I know that she found great satisfaction in her work and in her accomplishments.
But here is the thing, you see my grandmother was still managing that marina the day she died. She only took one winter and went to Florida even though the marina was closed in the winter time, she never felt like they could afford it, so she would spend her winter working and planning how to carry more products, expand the docks, offer more services to boaters, etc., etc. I often wonder how much of her own worth she placed in what she did, I know one thing, she worked herself right into the grave and that is not something that I want to inherit from her.
I wish to remember her for all of her goodness and her hard work too but also let her teach me the lessons that she did not teach herself; all things in balance, all things in balance.