Sunday, February 14, 2016

Remembering my Mom, Josephine Angeline Grant

Josephine Angeline Grant, 1933–2016
—Angelynn Jo Grant

My dear mother passed away unexpectedly a week ago Tuesday morning. Although she had had breathing troubles this past month, we’d had a fun visit the Sunday previous and, just the Monday night before, a laugh-filled phone call in which she told me she was feeling better and stronger and was looking forward to (maybe) winning bingo the next day. But her heart—her big, loving heart—just gave out.

She was born in Providence and attended Classical High School. After she married, she lived for twenty-five years in Cranston and, then, thirty years in Greenville raising our family. Since 2010, she made her home at the Overlook Nursing & Rehabilitation in Pascoag, where she leaves behind many friends and loved ones among the staff and residents. 

She was devoted to family. Her older brother Jim and younger sister Grace were her best friends. Her oldest brother Bob was her hero, defending her from bullies when she was young. I’d listen while the siblings shared stories about their mom Angie and their dear Uncle Jesse, who stood in as a father figure after Angie’s divorce. My mom also cherished their Aunt Grace, sister to Angie and Jesse—who we called Great Aunt Grace—as well as her cousin Betty in Newport and all the many, many kids—my cousins—in Newport, Cranston, Riverside, the Midwest, Texas, Montana, and beyond. 

As a young girl my mom learned tap dancing. A few weeks ago, when I was asking her about it again, she told me that she thought of it more as “toe tapping; like ballet.” She told me how, in addition to her regular clothes, Angie would sew her costumes. Once, when she performed at the local USO club, she got a standing ovation. Angie was so proud, she gave my mom her watch pin. That memory meant so much to her. I have a large photo portrait of my mom at about 11 years old, posing in a yellow dancing dress and white tap shoes with bows. 

My mother told me many times how Angie would read stories aloud and do all the voices of the different people—or animals—in the children’s books. She told me because I liked to do that too when I would read to my little brother. My mom kept the long braid of her mother’s golden hair in her hope chest and I delighted every time she showed it to me—and all her treasured things in that magical hope chest.

My parents met at the Walther League youth group at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Providence. They were young when they married (19 and 20) and, when Angie died just a few days after the wedding, they had an instant family. They adopted my mom’s youngest sister who was only three: my older sister Vickie. One year later, when my mom was just twenty years old, along came Stephanie. And I wasn’t far behind.

My parents gave us a storybook childhood: camping vacations, picnics, drive-ins, decorated birthday parties, and always a fun time in the backyard of our home in Edgewood. They sacrificed a lot, yet still kept up with their friends from church, friends from square dancing, and all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Big family dinners and cookouts were common.

My parents loved to square dance at the Vasa Hall in Cranston and they were friends with a couple who sang as a duet, country-folk-bluegrass style. My mom would embroider the ornamental towels that were a part of every man’s square dancing outfit and she taught me how to embroider those intricate, almost mathematical patterns.

She had a wide range of interests. She was a gifted seamstress and quilter, tried her hand at painting, and  volunteered at the Smith-Appleby House. A favorite memory is the Watch Hill garden tour she and I shared. She took college courses in topics as wide-ranging as basic computers and religious studies. She became adept on one of the first MS-DOS computers and then, later, on the Macintosh and the internet. Before she had her stroke, she was able to far more on the computer and the web than many people half her age. She followed CourtTV cases so closely, I always said she could have been a lawyer. An avid reader, she enjoyed supporting and spending time at the Greenville Public Library. She doted on all her pets and “grand”-pets. She loved learning, laughter, and all the beauty in life.

She loved music and had a pretty, birdlike singing voice. She especially loved country music and her favorite, Hank Williams. Just a few weeks ago, we watched some YouTube clips of Hank Williams from the 1950s. On our last Sunday visit, we watched another favorite of hers, Dolly Parton, singing her favorite song—both Dolly’s favorite and my mom’s—“Coat of Many Colors,” performed live in the late ’60s on the British show Top of the Pops. The song is about a mother with limited means sewing multicolored scraps of cloth into a coat for her daughter. Proudly, the daughter wears it to school, only to be mocked by classmates. But the daughter thinks they’re foolish, because they can’t see how that coat is the beauty of a mother’s love for her daughter and a daughter’s love for her mother. 

I’ve spent every Christmas but one with my mom. I’m happy for that. Even these many, many adult years, when I’ve lived in various cities, the place where my mother lived was “home.” We discussed that, even recently when “home” was Overlook.

When I was little, Mom always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, careers I didn’t know existed. I loved languages, so she said, “You can be a translator at the UN.” I loved to make people laugh and tell jokes, even though I’m bad at remembering punch lines. She said, “You can be a comedienne,” using the feminine variation of that word, key because it represented how she didn’t believe my gender could hold me back. Because she believed I could be whatever I wanted, I believe I can do anything.

My mom had infinite optimism on behalf of her kids. She told me I was special. And I’ve always felt special.

And that’s because it was my mom who was special.

My special mom treated me special.