Saying Goodbye to Grandma

Family and friends, thank you for gathering here today to celebrate the life, the long, happy, full life, of my dear grandmother, Wanda Katherine Baron. This past week, I thought a lot about my Grandma and what I wanted to say about her, how I wanted to say it.  I remember standing up here a little over a year ago and sharing with many of you memories of my grandfather and how close Stephanie, Michael, Kevin and I were to our grandparents.  As I tried to put this speech together and as we shared our favorite Grandma memories these past few days, I decided, instead of talking about her today, I would talk to her. So here is a letter to Grandma, with love, from your grandchildren:

Dear Grandma,

Let me start by saying that you were the perfect grandmother to us.  You gave us so many memories, traditions, laughs and stories, it’s hard to know where to begin.  I hope you know how much gratitude we have and how lucky we feel for having you in our lives for almost 40 years.

Usually your day started at some insane hour like 4:30 or 5am – you could never sleep in.  Before Grandpa, the sleepy head in the house, awoke, you already would have baked two pies and some rice krispie treats, done the wash, ironed Kaz’s shirts and packed the picnic basket for the afternoon’s cookout at the lake. You were one of the most active and energetic people we ever knew – only sitting still long enough to knit your gorgeous blankets.

The blankets.  Thank you for your beautiful handmade blankets.  We all have them, treasure them and use them all the time.  We will forever think of you when we snuggle up on our couches with grandma’s blanket.  And thank you for having the foresight to make each of your unborn great grandchildren a baby blanket years before they came along.   You tucked them away in the attic and made sure we got them when our children arrived.  That was such a special gift and so amazing that you thought to do that.  Of course, you only accounted for 8 (not 9) great grandchildren, but that’s OK.  Baby Jack has the really big one that used to be on your couch.  I hope that’s OK.

Grandma, you were so beautiful.  Looking at pictures from the olden days, it was no wonder Grandpa was captivated by you.  When you met him dancing at the Polish hall in Uxbridge, he didn’t stand a chance. You pretty much demanded that he propose and the rest is history.  For almost 70 years together, you were an amazing and supportive wife, but behind the scenes, we always knew you were the boss.

And we loved that about you.  A shrinking violet you were not.  Thank you for teaching me and Stephanie how to be strong, opinionated, maybe sometimes unapologetic, women.  You were a lady ahead of your times that’s for sure.  And if you were voting in the next election, it certainly would have been for your girl Hillary.

Not surprisingly, you worked hard your whole life both inside and outside of your home.  You were today’s version of a working mother, first in the Uxbridge mills and then as a hairdresser. Somehow, you managed it all.  You also were an entrepreneur – on Saturday mornings at like 7am, your tiny kitchen turned into a hair salon for little old ladies getting permanents, soon to be overrun by grandchildren wanting to be fed lunch or better yet, candy from the candy dish.

You lived an authentic, full, fun life.

Grandma, you took amazing care of your children Deanie and Kaz.  It was your life’s greatest work.  You always said – two kids was enough, a boy and a girl.  You showed Deanie how to be an outstanding wife to David, mother, grandmother, aunt and friend, all things she excels at today. You loyally stood by Kaz’s side and made his life easier for as long as you could, helping him around the lake house and with me and Steph, and of course always making sure your Golden Boy was well fed.

We miss your meals more than we can ever say.  What we all wouldn’t give for another Saturday lunch at Normandy Ave or Sunday picnic at the lake where Grandma’s steaks, fried potatoes, noodles with farmers cheese, and a cut upcucumber, and rye bread were served up.  Back when we were younger, we never appreciated all of the work that went into all of those meals.  You never thought of yourself as a good cook, but to us, you were the best.

You also were kind of quirky.  You never told us your age and for the longest time I never knew what year you were born.  You read trashy romance novels and had a thing for white porcelain cats.  Your love for shower caps was particularly amusing you and used them for everything – especially as a form of saran wrap to cover pies and food.  You had a peculiar affinity for flamingos and loved the color pink – which ultimately led to the bench in your back yard being painted the brightest color pink imaginable.   It was pretty awesome.  You were a speed demon behind the wheel, and I never really did feel safe while you were driving.

You could never, ever find the ice cream scooper in the silverware drawer, and boy did we ever get some good laughs over the racket you created every time you looked for it.  I can still hear you mumbling “Where is that darn thing?” over the clatter of the silverware.

You loved all of your grandkids but you cannot deny that you always were fiercely protective of Kevin.  Did you ever yell at us for allegedly excluding him from our games, or for letting the door repeatedly slam in his face!  Remember the time when we dressed him up in the Santa suit and sent him upstairs at Christmas?  Or all the times he got upset when we played Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer because he thought you were the Grandma in the song; or the time you wrapped up a huge box of toilet paper holders and tissue boxes because you thought he liked playing with those things; turns out he has more expensive taste and wasn’t a fan of the cardboard gift that kept on giving.  And of course, Stephanie was the one whom you yelled at when she got caught buying Kevin beer in high school –not Kevin for his underage party-boy shenanigans!

You and I loved to pick blueberries and did it every summer together, we shared a love of politics and being blonde, and it warmed my heart to see how well you and Drew got along.  “Call me Wanda” is what you said to him when you two first and that he did.

You and Stephanie loved sharing a good cup of hot tea, though Steph’s alwayswas more sugar, less tea; but you let her get away with it. And did you look dazzling at her wedding.  You stole the show with that silver dress we’ll never forget.

And Michael and Audry gave you your life’s greatest joys –Baron and Caroline — at a time when you could still enjoy being a great grandmother.  That was special.  And it was Michael who helped you so much at the end.  Thank you Michael — and Uncle David — for being our eyes and ears.

More recently, my Allison would visit you on Thursday mornings with Kaz at the nursing home.  Alli talked about Great Grandma sitting in her chair and folding the napkins.  And Caroline always made you drink your water.  I’m so glad these kids, all of your 9 great grandchildren, could make you smile these last few years. Two of them, Hannah and Charlotte, bear your beautiful middle name, Katherine.  Sorry we never listened to you and named one of the girls Wanda.

Beyond us, you so loved your Kosciak family.  You always considered yourself an Uxbridge girl and I don’t think you ever forgave Grandpa for moving you to Webster like 60 years ago, which was otherwise known as Siberia in your book.

We remember trips with you to visit Babci and Dziadzy when we were little, and now we have memories of our great grandparents, as well as stopping for pink ice cream on the way home.

The Kosciak Family Picnic and Christmas Party were, hands down, your favorite days of the year.  You always were so excited to see your extended family and loved bringing treats for all of the great nieces and nephews – earning you the title of “Candy Lady” to those who would confuse you with your look alike sisters Celia and Jenny.

And you loved your siblings so much, and in your later years, looked forward to lunches with Cioci Jenny, Cioci Celia, Uncle Eddie and Uncle Louis every Thursday.  Thank you for keeping your family close and giving us the gift of knowing our second and third cousins.  To steal Peggy’s line, enjoy that Kosciak polka party up in the sky!

The greatest family tradition of all that you gave us was learning to make pierogi.  You taught each of us in your kitchen, and our spouses even love it now too.  We will do our best to always make them together as a family, and if we can’t all be together, will fry them up ourselves with lots of butter from Atlanta to Virginia to Massachusetts.

Grandma, we could go on and on, but I will close now with one of my first Stephanie screaming in my dad’s arms because she didn’t want to leave your house.  She wanted to stay with you.  She didn’t want to go.  She knew that Grandma’s meant the candy dish (stocked with your signature smarties and twizzlers), wiffle ball in the backyard, sleep overs in slumber bags with pounds of bacon in the morning, the hole in the back yard to China, the swing set, the kiddie pool, the chairs with our names on them, countless readings of the Golden book Tommy Visits the Doctor on the kitchen floor, the dog house, and the ultimate playland that was your basement.  All of these things – orchestrated by you —  to make us happy.

Grandma, just like Stephanie so many years ago as she left Normandy Ave, we are all screaming a little bit inside right now.  We don’t want to say good bye.  You made all of our lives better and taught us so much.  We promise to keep your and Grandpa’s memory alive, to talk about you often, to take good care of Kaz and Deanie, to share your traditions and your family with our children, and of course, to always have fun.  Because if there is one thing we always had together, it was a lot of laughs and a lot of fun.  Love always, Stephanie, Stacey, Michael and Kevin.

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