A particular clear shade of blue

My grandmother died on Wednesday morning. She was 93 and it was good that she finally went. She was ready; had been ready for a while, but her puritan sense of duty probably kept her going even when the rest of her wanted to lay down the burden. Mary Tyrrell Ritchie Thayer was a complicated woman, not without contradictions and difficult angles. Her influence on my life has been enormous, incalculable really.

The work I do in my day job now, for reproductive justice, was directly influenced by her own commitment to women's health and intentional motherhood. I will keep analyzing all the ways she shaped me for years to come. I have a feeling there is a book in it. But her influence on me was perhaps most strongly felt in the simple gifts she brought to my topsy turvy childhood.

The following is something I wrote for a memory book my aunt made when Mary turned 90. It was intended for a family audience, so references may be obscure. Don't be too alarmed by the joint. It was the early 70s after all; I was raised among hippies.

I am told that I once rolled Grandma a toilet-paper joint. I don't remember this myself. She probably said, "Oh, why thank you," and raised her eyebrows. I do recall walking down Broadway with her while in New York for Jonathan and Linda's wedding and seeing a man energetically gesturing and talking to himself. I was very young. I must have stared. Grandma leaned down and told me, "That, Beedie, is what we call a character." 
Matter-of-fact, drily funny, and kind, Grandma was a great friend in my childhood. The house on Roosevelt Drive was a soothing and orderly oasis for me; it seemed then to be eternal. These are some of the things I remember.
- Finger games and knee bounces on the couch under Van Gogh's room in Arles and the somber gaze of his postmaster.
- A particular clear shade of blue.
- The smell of Dial soap and Norwegian hand lotion.
- Milk in a Wedgwood pitcher (not unlike the one that served half-and-half for my Kix cereal when I met Great Grandma Ritchie in Kansas City).
- Warm chunky applesauce full of cinnamon, 'cots up in the cupboard, and Swiss cheese with butter on homemade white bread.
- Sardines and lettuce on the same. (Orson, recently obsessed with the eating of "fish that dieded," prompted a purchase of sardines, and I pass on my sentimental fondness to my own children.)
- Handwrittern menus for my personal "Hilltop Restaurant" passed through the phone nook along with a short pencil so I could mark my choices in the little boxes drawn along the left margin.
- Creamy, white TicTacs in a little box beside the blue rocking chair.
- The whole series of Robert Coles' Children of Crisis. I don't know why, but these made a strong impression.
- The cool, quiet darkness of the playroom.
- Flower bulbs sleeping in pots on the floor of the closet that also contained my shelf of board games.
- Chutes and Ladders, and later the Miss America Pageant game, which I adored, played on the floor despite how it made Grandma complain of stiff knees.
- Tiddly Winks and Pick-up Sticks!
- Draping myself like a bobby-sox infanta in black lace mantillas and Aunt Nell's old petticoats.
- Sometimes getting to add a string of millefiori beads from her dresser top to the costume. 
- Sitting on the basement stairs and waiting for her to be done with the laundry. (I picture an old washing machine with rollers, but I'm not sure she used it.)
- We ventured out, too, for rambles at Stroud's Run, where we monitored the progress of a giant crawdad that lived in the shade under a footbridge 
- The footbridge was on the path to the "pioneer cemetery," which I thought we must have discovered all on our own.
I think it is because of her that I notice the small details of the world. I am a writer because of that as much as I am because of Grandpa's literary influence. There is more than one kind of character. I am so grateful for all the time I spent in the company of this one.


  1. Beautiful beedie. Tears in my eyes.

  2. Wow Beedie, this is amazing...I found myself picturing my Momo's house in Baton Rouge. She is also 93...chills. And, I am finding we have a lot in common :)


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