I promised to tell a story about my grandmother, for whom this blog was named. I only found out about the weekly Scrabble club from one of her friends from her church, a Meeting of Friends in Vassalboro, which I used to visit in the summers, when I went back to Maine. I heard about the Scrabble group at Grammie’s funeral from one of the other players, when we were telling each other our favorite things about Grammie.
First, I have to tell you what prompted this. It was a reminder of one of my other Favorite Things About Grammie.
Recently, my friend K. lost a friend, on social media. Not by death or in “real” life. K. lost someone because her former friend didn’t believe in K.’s support of gay marriage. K.’s mother Ruth’s words ring true, in this case. They remind me of my grandmother. When a phone call came to Ruth’s mostly-Republican neighborhood in sport of Proposition 8 – or Proposition Hate, as many of us called it – that was opposed to gay marriage in the state of California, Ruth simply said she would not support Proposition 8. When asked why, Ruth replied, “Who are we to stand in the way of love and happiness?”
This is so in keeping with my grandmother’s words. We had a unique discussion about this topic, back in the early 1990s. Grammie was 92 years old. She surprised me with her candid thoughts and blew away any preconceived notions I’d had of how “the older people get, the more conservative they get.” This was not the case. Grammie was shocked to learn that Ross Perot, who was running for president, was firing people in his campaign when he thought that they were gay. Grammie was a lifelong member of the Friends Meeting, the Quakers. She didn’t usually talk about politics or religion with me. But she was upset. She said, “You cannot tell just by looking at someone that they are a homosexual. That’s outright discrimination.” She explained that there were many gay people in her Meeting.
She didn’t say this at the time, but there were gay people in our family that had only come out to her, and she had kept their secret throughout her life. My young nephew was able to come out to his parents, and to me. Our uncle was not so lucky. Many of us guessed that my grandmother’s eldest son had a hard time after his return from WWII. He was forever changed by the experience of driving an ambulance in Normandy, at age 18 — after being raised a Quaker. I know that kind of experience would change anyone. Grammie always supported my uncle, with unconditional love, through his drinking problems, even when he was not able to focus on a career or on his own children or marriage. She never gave up on him. Later in life, he discovered tattoo art and opened a studio. He took his grandchildren with him to England, when he visited other tattoo friends there. He would bring back the most delicate tea cups for my grandmother’s china collection. He had what I would call a mural on his back of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland. The only reason I know this is because I saw the photos that he gave Grammie of his competition in a tattoo show. He never showed me this body art, himself. But we were pallbearers together when Grammie passed. She was a very quiet, very loving person. Very respectful.
Back to the Scrabble club. The woman I spoke to at Grammie’s funeral said she was the youngest member of a Scrabble group and it was an honor for her to have been asked to be part of it; the other three players were all over 80 years old. She and her longtime companion had met my grandmother at the Quaker Meeting House. I learned that each Friday night, three of Grammie’s women friends would arrive at her house, with some snacks to share, to play Scrabble. The format was always consistent. They played the first three games in total silence. Then they’d take a break, laugh and chat, break out the snacks and have tea. The fourth game was much more relaxed and they talked while they played. She said she was really going to miss those games. They were run like clockwork, a vital part of her week. And she said that my grandmother was one of the best Scrabble players she had ever met.
Now, I kind of knew this about my Grammie. My grandmother never told me about those games, nor did she ever talk about her religion. She’d invite me to go to Meeting and if I was too tired, no problem. She’d go and come back and we’d have the rest of Sunday together with visiting. If I wanted to go, she’d smile and she got to introduce me to her Friends. She was a very capable and gentle listener with a killer sense of humor and a contagious laugh. She loved listening to baseball games on the radio. Sometimes, when we were younger, we’d walk along the edge of her property, along the road where the black-eyed susans and daisies grew, and we’d pick up garbage. Just cleaning the neighborhood together. Making it tidy. Or we’d plant pansies in her yard. Sometimes we’d just sit on the porch and listen to the birds and the sounds of the occasional car going by. We didn’t really need to say anything. She loved to be with us, her family. She absolutely glowed, in that quiet way, when we’d visit. Also, as I learned from this other Scrabble player — and other members of her Meeting — something I knew about her. She gave the Best Hugs, Ever. To EVERYONE in her church. I seriously have never known anyone like her. And that’s why she is my mentor, to this day.