In thinking about Grandma's passing, one thing that comes to mind is how lucky (if not unusual) it is to have had grandparents while in my late 40's. Many at my age either never knew their grand parents or have passed away long ago. It was nice to know that for a good while our family had 4 generations living at once. In 2008, while newly engaged, my (then fiance) was able to meet both Bill and Shirley on a trip from our home in Los Angeles. It was a special visit for us.
In trying to conjure up my first memory of her, I repeatedly have an image of being at the dinner table when I was probably no more than 5 yrs old. She was cooking dinner that night because I think Mom was still in the hospital just after my brother had been born. I remember she served squash - to me it was the first time I had even seen squash. Of course as a finicky child, it was not appealing. Until Grandma also introduced me to a large helping of butter. Suddenly squash wasn't so bad after all.
When I was a little older, I realized that Grandma was the embodiment of 'Nice'. She never engaged in drama, discipline or raised voices when it came to us grand kids - at least it was very rare. At our young age, I think we considered her a little boring, but always nice. She always looked 'nice' and did 'nice' things for others. In conversation, she often described things as being "cute" and "just darling". Little did I know (at that time) I would inherit a healthy scoopful of her niceness as an adult.
Grandma was proud to call her lifestyle as 'old fashioned'. Fads were for others. She and Grandpa knew themselves well, and stuck to their ideals - unswayed. In that sense she and Bill had a great old fashioned marriage too. In their den were pictures of them skating, sailing and dancing together. They were married for many many decades. Too many years for me to remember the exact number. In today's world of broken homes, second or third marriages and divorce, their relationship was a pillar of tradition and a happy one at that.
When I think of Grandma I think of the flag. She loved to fly old glory and loved the American flag in general. Especially the old "Betsy Ross" style that had the stars arranged in a circle. She and Grandpa were very patriotic. Definitely not in a fanatical "gun rack on the back of the pickup truck" way, but in a more general "appreciative to be an American" way. They were patriotic long before the Patriot Act or the New England Patriots. She must have found it delightful that her daughter (my Mom) was born on June 14th - flag day.
It's nearly impossible to separate memories of my grandparents from those of their cottage at the Thousand Islands along the St. Lawrence river. The small cabin high over the rivers edge still to this day is a reflection of their ideals in many ways. It's a simple shelter, yet it exudes much charm and cuteness. I'd say it's rather darling actually. Much if it is still unchanged since the days when they'd spend much of their summers there. Recently the original fabric awning that covered the porch has been updated to a solid roof. I'm sure she'd be surprised to have known how long that old awing lasted. About the cottage, are touches of decor and whimsy that are 100 percent grandma.
She was very artistic, and had a flair for her own sort of folk art style. She applied her talent to ordinary household items that would become works of art. A dinner plate, wooden step stool, sewing box or fry pan were typically painted with bouquet of daisy's, fruit still life, a finch or a chickadee. I remember seeing some of these items when I was very young and not being too impressed. Seeing them now however I realize how beautiful and special these items have become.
Yet she was most known for one thing more than anything else, her practice of calligraphy. When you think of Shirley Harrington you inevitably think of her incredible penmanship. Notes, cards and letters all became something special when scribed by Grandma. A grocery list became an elegant display of flourished cursive. A bland store bought greeting card was taken to a new level with her added text containing perfect formations of each character and exact proportioned serifs. Grandma certainly had an eye for detail. Any envelope or package delivered by the postman was instantly recognizable. Not only hand written, but the address was a perfect block of text - usually centered just so. The strokes of ink were all uniform - from the first letter to the last number of the zip code. No ink splotches, smudges or visible corrections. Even the return address was given as much attention.
It has been very special to have her as a representative of a different time. A simpler time. Her passions, sensibility and personality hail from a slower, larger world. I'm getting close to my 50th birthday and am starting to understand the benefits of slowing down, taking time, being patient. Grandma knew these virtues well, and lived them daily. I look forward to getting to a point in my life when I'll be able to live them as she did. Thank you for your patience and kindness grandma! With love from your darling grandson.