Thank you all for being here to honor the most amazing, classy, sassy woman I have the luck to call my Gram.
My mom asked me two things just hours after my grandmother went home to God.
- Can you write the eulogy?
- And 2…do you think you can get a Porta-Potty for the service?
I said yes to both.
I don’t think anyone of us can make living life look as good as Phyllis made it look. And she didn’t even have Instagram! Gram was everywhere, so fully involved in what she was doing. Aggressively recruiting us to sell tickets for the Kiwanis steak dinner, hiding in the hostas on sunny days, crouched down, picking weeds. Of course, guilt would set in as I was sunbathing on the deck, and soon I’d be crouched down—wearing nothing but a string bikini– pulling weeds and hoping I didn’t step in dog poop with my bare feet. Or walking this property that I have known for all 41 years of my life, identifying everything that grew. She’d ask me what something was, or ‘what did I think it was’ and I would tell her.
Then she would say, “Honey, are you sure?”
“I was sure until she asked me that question.”
You all know my Gram had a thing for plants. And for QVC. The combination of those two loves…was like…paint thinner and a wild candle. One day I saw the UPS man in town while I was getting a coffee. He smirked a little.
“Was just at Phyllis’s house,” he’d said. “She ordered a few bulbs.”
“So that’s why she called me,” I thought to myself.
I drove to this very house, to see what kind of trouble she had gotten herself into. When I pulled up she was here, half-hidden in the wild geraniums that smelled like pee.
“Oh, honey, I’m so glad you’re here. My dahlias came. They’re on the porch.”
When I saw all those boxes on her porch…
“Holy crap, Gram.” Was all I could muster.
“Isn’t it wonderful,” she said, handing me a trowel. “I’ll make us some fluff sandwiches while we work.”
So, if anyone of y’all is stepping on a flower right now, I hope you’re right with the church!
I grew up in this house. And to try and pick one single thing, or a few singular things to say about my Gram would be like unraveling a piece of fabric. She is so threaded into our lives, there’s no way to unravel her. Because we’d be unraveling ourselves.
Oh, yes, fabric. So, my Gram…I’m sorry it’s just really hard for me to start calling her Phyllis…I can feel the glare from upstairs!
Fabric. Gram used to make all the clothes for her kids growing up. Or most of them. I do remember her sewing machine set up in the middle of the kitchen, at the ready for quick fixes, hems, damage control, or to lengthen my Ma’s slutty skirts. Gram made my Uncle David a green polyester leisure suit that he actually wore because ‘it was the 70s, Nicky, of course I wore it.’ She also made dresses for her girls—My Ma Boni (actually you all call her Boni, but her given name is Bonita, so, there you go), Susan, Alice, and Patti–which, somehow resurfaced when I became old enough to wear them. The collars on these dresses were so big that a good gust of wind on the playground could lead to complete blindness. I complained often that I looked like a founding father, a pilgrim. And I was so, so grateful when I grew out of the dresses and graduated to era-appropriate attire.
Also, I thought you should know that Big Bird yellow calico corduroy is an actual thing. I’ve seen it. I’ve worn it…and now I’m in therapy.
My Gram was born in 1929 (Sorry Gram, but they know how old you are), during this country’s greatest depression. At the dawn of a war. So this blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl came into the toughest world imaginable. Barefoot, but so ready. Gram told me stories about her life in Maine, about watching their horse be let out to pasture, wild as a wolf, mane flying.
“I loved to watch that horse,” she said. “So free. He was so free.” As a young girl. I visited her childhood town many times with her. It was comforting, hearing her talk to her father, my great Grampa Coro, over black coffee. Just easy talk. I was about 12 when it dawned on me that my Gram was someone’s daughter. Just like me. She was someone’s little girl. And that made her even more wonderful in my eyes. And precious. Someone loved her, and raised her up, and set her free.
When I was just barely 23, I had finished my first year of graduate school at Yale. I was about three weeks away from leaving the country for a 3-month intensive language study in Beijing. Gram gave me a card with $100 in it, and wished me luck. The card said, “I’m so proud of you.”
About a week later, I visited her. I was sweating, and sick to my stomach.
“I’m not going to China,” I said. “I’m pregnant. I came to give you your 100 bucks back.”
She pushed the envelope back at me. “Oh honey, keep it, now you’re really going to need it.”
She never said anything about not being proud of me anymore.
And that’s just how she was. At all times, in all things, she was there. In her no- nonsense way, that felt kinder and more reassuring than any hug I have ever known. Because she was not defined by what she did or what she had, she was always and ever, truly herself, and so generous with that self.
We used to joke that if we asked her to cut off her arm for any one of us, she would.
“Of course you can have my arm, honey,” she would say. “But I have to be to work by 4.”
And, my god, could that woman dress up for work. All of you who knew Phyllis probably heard the sound of her high heels clacking against a wooden floor long before you even saw her approaching. She had a shoe ‘problem’ that she tried to offload on any one of us at any given time. She tried on multiple occasions to give me some of her high heels, because the real F-bomb in this house was ‘flats,’ which to her, belonged in the same category as bowling shoes and wrinkle-free blouses.
“Honey, I’m getting rid of a few pairs of heels, go see if you want any of them.”
“Gram, I can’t fit into your shoes.”
“What size do you wear?”
She would ask me this with deep concern on her face.
She looked at me as if I had just told her I had a horn growing out of my back.
“Well, I guess you’re not getting any of my shoes then,” she said. When she offered up the shoes to my daughter, her great granddaughter, I told her that she wore a size 9. Gram almost fainted.
“How did all you girls end up with such big feet?” Her concern was genuine. All these gunboat footed women…what was the world actually coming to?
Mind you, this is the same woman, who about a decade ago, when the cardiologist who was reading her EKG had asked her when she had had a heart attack, she had that same look of genuine surprise on her face and said, “What heart attack?!”
Not today, Satan. Not today.
Now comes the hard part.
I was talking with my Uncle David a few days ago, trying to get this thing right. And he said, “She always got us where we needed to be, but she could never stay for the actual thing, whatever it was, because she always had to be somewhere else.”
That’s what happens when you have six kids. Just a few weeks ago, when Gram was in the hospital, we were all visiting in literal gaggles. Our family is so big that we took over the entire waiting room, sometimes spilling out into the hallway.
“Why are there so many people here,” she asked me. She was actually annoyed.
“Because you had six kids, Gram, and they all had kids. That’s kind of how it works.”
“Sure,” she said. “Blame me.”
Oh, I absolutely blame her. I blame her for the amazing life she gave to all of us, each one, individually, without fail. I blame her for loving flowers and for giving us huge Thanksgiving meals and for making us all as tough as we needed to be, and for loving us. For loving us so much and being so keyed in to what we were all feeling all the time, that even on her last night on this earth, she told us to turn off the lights and get going.
“Go home,” she would always say. “Go home. And take care of each other.”