I lost my Grandma Betty on January 6. Her passing was sudden and unexpected, I still can’t quite believe she is gone. We celebrated her life in Junction City, CA on January 17. It was a gathering of family and friends, my cousin Charlie put together a slide show from all the great pictures she saved. Everyone was invited to speak about her. Although it was difficult, I decided that I wanted to get up and share my thoughts. Here’s what I wrote and read aloud about my grandma:
My name is Zahra Langford and I am Betty’s third grandchild, my parents are James and Kathy, my siblings are Anthony, Cameron and Dolly. I wanted to share some good things that my grandma gave to me, both directly and indirectly through my mother Kathy and Aunts Mary, Meg and Carol. I started out with a list of 25, but figured I better narrow it down to the most important ones in the interest of time. My grandma gave to me:
A love for words, both written and spoken
Some of my first memories are of Grandma Betty and Mom reading aloud to me. I loved when she read the story of how the elephant got its trunk in Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, the words “the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River…” pronounced in her special way, always conjured such wonderful images in my head. She shared stories of her childhood and growing up, images and phrases that I will always carry with me. I loved the smell of books in her house and the letters she would write to me in graceful cursive. When I saw the Limpopo river with my own eyes as I crossed the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, I wrote to my grandma about it.
A liberal view of the world
I never had to worry that grandma would say something embarrassing or racially insensitive like many of the adults of a certain age in my life. I didn’t have to avoid sensitive political and social subjects for fear of starting an argument when I spoke with her. She didn’t make me feel different because my life partner is woman or because I am bi-racial. I’m proud of her for her intelligence and thoughtful, active engagement of the world and I strive to be like her in that regard.
An appreciation of nature
Growing up we were always outside, running around in the woods, sledding down the driveway in the snow, exploring the meadows. At grandma’s house, going outside was even more special. We took walks with her through the sloughs and down towards the river, we shared wild blackberries and watercress, we spent hours at the swimming hole digging in the sand and collecting fool’s gold, we collected beautiful pebbles. Grandma always had something to teach us about the natural world. My favorite thing to do at Grandma’s house was search for sow bugs in the grass at the edge of her front step. I didn’t even mind pulling weeds from her garden in the summer. Even though I live in the city now, I always make time to go outside to breathe fresh air, to walk in the park; I maintain a small garden at home and plots in our neighborhood’s community garden. I get that from her.
Of course there are many other things that my grandma passed on to me and not all of them good (I also get my overwhelming sense of responsibility, a tendency to worry too much, as well as my occasional inflexibility from her). Seeing these things in Grandma Betty has helped me identify them in myself and work actively to change them, so the outcome can only be positive. She was a wonderful influence on me and I am grateful to have had so much of her presence and love.