Monday, March 20, 2006

Grandma Mac

To a child, a grandparent takes on a reputation of mythic proportions. After all, how many people can tell your parents what to do- and they do it? How many people can make your parents feel guilty? Yes, when your grandparents are in town real-life stops and the fun begins, and that was certainly true with my grandparents.

For the first 30 years of my life Grandma and Grandpa Mac were inextricably connected, a couple in the best sense of the word. However, that doesn’t mean that my Grandma Mac was subordinate to anyone. My grandmother filled a lot of roles- a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother; she was a grandmother, a great-grandmother... But one thing Marjorie MacNair was not- she was not a stereotype. She was an independent woman before being an independent woman was cool.

My grandmother was a minister’s wife for over 50 years and likely had many expectations heaped upon her. From the very beginning my grandfather nurtured her independent spirit by saying, “Do what you feel comfortable doing- that is all that should be expected of you.”

One of the characteristics of the MacNair family is the family story. Hang around us long enough and you will likely hear about communion cups- pearl barley in the tapioca- turquoise pants- and pictures on the wall, among others. One of my favorite stories, especially significant because of the times in which we live, involves my grandfather registering as a conscientious objector during World War II. He took an unpopular stand, and my grandmother stood with him. I will always look to my grandparents as an example of courage whenever I feel the need to take an unpopular stand myself.

Another one of our characteristics are family traditions, especially those that revolve around Christmas. Christmas isn’t Christmas without shoo fly pie, one present on Christmas Eve, and everyone opening one present at a time. When I was younger, of course, that part of the tradition I could do without. Especially when Grandma Mac insisted that we peel the tape back carefully in order to save the paper.

Another one of the MacNair traditions that didn’t thrill me as a kid was one that took place on December 26th. It may have been Boxing Day in Canada, but for us MacNairs it meant only one thing- THANK YOU NOTES.

As I grew older I grew progressively worse at it. At times I might go months without writing anything. It became a running gag among my siblings that when the annual MacNair family newsletter came out, if you saw your name in the phrase “You know, I haven’t heard from _____ lately,” you had better write a letter pronto.

It took awhile to get it through my head that Grandma Mac did that not out of malice, but because her family was the most important thing in the world to her. The reason I insisted on having a chance to speak at her memorial service is that in a service designed to honor the life and memory of Marjorie MacNair, her family had to be represented.

She didn’t always agree with what her children or grandchildren did, or what we believed. For most of my life I’ve lived on the other side of the country from her, and often the geographic distance represented an ideological distance as well. But no matter what church we did or didn’t go to, or who we voted for, her love for us was unconditional. My grandmother not only talked about tolerance, she lived it.

Another characteristic common to us MacNairs is that we are a rebellious and stubborn people. My grandmother was tolerant, but if she wanted you to do something, or take a certain course of action, you might find yourself the recipient of a newspaper clipping or a quote from Dear Abby.

She certainly had strong feelings about the issues of the day. In her last letter to me, after I had expressed my desire to volunteer in some way in the Howard Dean campaign, she said “Three cheers for coming to the Democratic side!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t taking anyone’s side, I was merely thinking independently, just as she taught me to do with her life.

She was generous to a fault. During times of chronic unemployment, when I might have had five dollars in my pocket and 50 dollars worth of needs, I would find a check in the mail, which would be enough to help with diapers or even enough to pay the rent for one month.

And finally, the MacNair family has a hard time saying goodbye. And this occasion is no different. My California family has always meant a lot to me. I named my son Matthew Stanley MacNair, and my daughter was named Rebecca Evelyn MacNair. And something tells me that the name Marjorie might make a reappearance somewhere down the road.

I’m a selfish person; I want my Grandma Mac here. I want her back for one last Christmas newsletter and one last cheese and sausage assortment. But I will see her again- after all, I’m sure she already has my first week’s itinerary in heaven all mapped out for me.

And is there anyone here that doesn’t think that three minutes after hitting the pearly gates my grandmother got a part time job as God’s secretary?

So thank you, Grandma Mac. Thank you for shoo-fly pie and scrapple, for persimmon cookies and pictures on the wall. Thank you for teaching me how to live and how to love.

Thank you.

(adapted from remarks I made at my Grandma Mac's memorial service)


Blogger Dave Norris said...

Great post and one with deep feeling. My grandmother used to make pasti, a Lithuania meat pie. Keep up the good work Sean

7:25 PM  

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