My sweet Ruthie. Mom. Grandma. She had many titles, but by any name, she will always be remembered as a lively, caring, and fun woman. Early on the morning of October 29, 2009, my grandmother’s sleep turned into eternal rest as she succumbed to a heartless disease, one that was as painful for all those who loved her as it was for her. Today would have been her 75th birthday, so I wanted to share some memories of a woman who I am just positive was the best grandma a girl could have.
Before Alzheimer’s began to eat away at the neurons in her brain, Ruth Oakes’s heart and thus the world she lived in were filled with celebration. Grandma didn’t need an official reason to celebrate; just the fact that some friends had stopped by was enough for her. She always seemed to have a meal ready or a cake fresh out of the oven or lemon squares in a glass Pyrex dish. And boy were those meals delicious! Grandma grew up on a farm near Gerster in a time before microwaves, food processors, and baking mixes, so she really learned the art of down-home cooking. I always loved her spaghetti, and I have many fond memories of eating butterscotch pudding after school from those unique Tupperware dessert cups, with a little milk poured over the top. Her roast beef with onions, carrots, and potatoes. The best. I’m sure that trying to write about her bacon, sausage, and eggs simply won’t do them justice. I love breakfast, I always have. And it just might be because my grandma made the best breakfast in the world in that old cast iron pan and always with the 3-section folding grease guard.
What do you need in a celebration more than F-U-N? Grandma never seemed like an old fuddy-duddy to me because she liked playing as much as I did. Grandma loved setting off fireworks on Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. She loved riding roller coasters. And these are memories that I have of her, not stories people told of her younger days. How many people do you know who have ridden a roller coaster with their grandma? Laughed and giggled as their grandma braved the biting cold of a New Year’s Eve to set off some Black Cats in the middle of the road? I have so many happy, fun memories of my grandma.
At the top of the split-level stairs at Grandma and Poppy’s house is an entry-way-type hutch, half round with a door in the front, about 3 1/2 feet tall. It’s where Grandma kept her toys. They were simple and yet fascinating toys. Like the spiral bubble toy, a cylinder filled with water and similar to an egg timer: when you flipped it upside down, red bubbles would slip out of a funnel at the top, slide down the clear plastic spiraling from the edge to the center, and collect in the bottom, slowly seeping back into the collection tank, ready to be flipped again and again. I have always been easily amused, so when Grandma would put this toy in my hands, I would just watch it and watch it, flipping it again and again.
Or the whizzing frisbees (sounds like something from Harry Potter, eh?): snap the small plastic frisbee onto the pin, pull the cord, and the frisbee whizzes into the air! My grandma didn’t care more about the lamps or knicknacks that could have broken with such flying toys–fun was more important to her.
No one can forget her whoopee whistle! Small, magenta, sounded a bit like a kazoo. She would retrieve it from her purse and blow it–“whoo, Whoo, WHOOOOO!!!”–at just the right moment in any situation. Just after getting lost on a road trip or when the party seemed to fall into a lull. Then she would add, “Are we having fun yet?!”
In later years, she seemed to have forgotten to pack that whoopee whistle. Or maybe she forgot to blow it. But none of us, her family and friends, will ever forget it.
One last memory of Grandma. On the top of that entry-way hutch stood two beautiful, preserved bright blue morpho butterflies inside a glass dome. Really really breathtakingly blue and iridescent. Grandma loved butterflies. She had butterfly broaches, necklaces, and scarves. Butterfly-patterned shirts and dresses. Colored glass butterflies that stuck to the sliding glass door and sent sparkles of color onto the kitchen table. Knit butterflies that stuck out of the plants adding a touch of orange, red, or yellow to the greenery. A tiny origami butterfly crafted out of shiny, light pink wrapping paper lived on a picture frame in the hall bath. Just like cardinals remind me of my namesake, Great Grandma Aileen, butterflies will forever remind me Grandma Oakes.
So celebrate for Grandma today–she would be if she were here for sure! And give your own grandma a call or a hug so she knows you love her. Even if she can’t understand the words, I believe she will feel your love.
Includes pictures from as far back as 1952 up until her funeral.