My grandmother, Kathleen was born and raised in Missouri, the daughter of a devout preacher. She was my grandfather’s second wife, joining the family when my father was a scrappy, 13 year old, back in 1945-6. A History and Social Studies teacher at his school in Pasadena, Grandma watched over Dad, who was a quintessential outdoorsy, ‘sandlot’ kind of kid in the California of the 1940’s. In his preadolescent years, Dad would walk around with a sling-shot, and cuffed, blue jeans with his hair slicked back. Dad’s real mom was a beautiful woman who had tuberculosis and was an alcoholic. She spent her time living in the arid desert or the breezier mountains of ‘Cali.’ to address her pulmonary condition. I never met her. She passed away in the 1970’s before my birth. I wish I could have met her to know my father from a mother’s perspective.
Grandma Kathleen was ‘my grandmother’ and a loving, caring, nurturing one at that. She dealt with my young Dad very well in his formative years. The Stowell household was a peaceful one without tension. After Dad grew up, went to college, the armed forces and later in his career as a hotelier, he kept his closeness with Grandma Kathleen. My sisters and I would love to spend time with her, be it in La Jolla, or down in Puerto Rico. Grandma was mobile and full of energy, always keeping up with her lady friends over games of cards, as an active ‘Daughter of the American Revolution’ society and as a pillar in her community for her service decade after decade to generations of children.
In my upbringing, Grandma and I were pen pals. She was an avid ‘long-form’ writer and would expand on page after page writing about this and that happening or her pesky cat, Blue. We would visit her once a year she would visit us once a year in for a prolonged stay, at first with Grandpa, until his passing away in 1988.
In the winter of her years, after my parents had divorced and I was studying in Boston I continued my contact with Grandma, visiting her every year in the Town and Country area of Missouri. She had moved closer to her side of the family from California into an assisted-living community. Her niece, Jean, a grandmother, nurse and servant leader watched over her.
My visits to Missouri as a young man were part family-time and part therapy-vacation. I truly felt like I was in the heartland of America each time I visited. For me it was like tides of Americanism washing over me. My connection to Grandma, an extension of my Dad’s past was special to me. Everyone else in Dad’s family had passed away and she was my only link to knowing him better. I have always been fascinated by my father and connecting to his side of the family was incredibly important for me.
Grandma and I would have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. Jean would lend me the Cadillac to move around, though I mostly stayed next to Grandma talking and enjoying my time by her side. I would swim, meditate and flirt with the waitress staff. Grandma loved it.
I must have visited her close to a dozen times in my twenties, sometimes twice a year and the memories are more precious to me than diamonds. She would let me read the bible to her. Eventually, I would bring her her three great grand-children on numerous occasions. We would sit together, go for walks (I would push her wheelchair) and just talk a lot. I would quiz her on everything that had to do with our family and her own upbringing. I wanted to hear all her stories, just like I would quiz my Cuban grandparents about the family life in Cuba and then the United States. Most of the time we were quiet though, I simply enjoyed being in her presence. It was enough for me. I greatly admired her life’s work and how loving she was to my Dad who grew up without his mother for most of his childhood. I think I also liked how dearly she cared for me. She was so loving and kind to me always, and at the same time, she lived this other life filled with community service and action. A sisters and brothers keeper. An All-American woman who always kept on moving. She did it all, and through it all she kept her grace about her and a distinct mark of elegance, even as she became more and more immobile. Her mind stayed intact, though Parkinson’s had increased its effect on her, taking away her ability to write for many years now. It was no bother, I always held her hand. Grandma’s like that.
When I think back to who Grandma was, I consider her constant service to others, her passion for her community and her joy in living life. As I reflect on all my interactions with her and how much she gave of herself, I begin to count myself fortunate to have had such a doting, gentle grandmother out to make life better for others. She lives on in me and I look to honor her through my life’s work to the best of my abilities. Grandma died at the age of 100.