My grandmother, Kilty, passed away last friday.
Kilty was the first person I ever knew who owned a personal computer. She was the only person I ever knew who really liked grapefruit juice. She loved sailing and her old camp in Maine and word games. She could beat you handily at Scrabble. She could probably beat you at Trivial Pursuit, too, but I got her once or twice. She encouraged me to write and to think for myself and to be myself. She was stubborn and rarely gave up her side of an argument.
We disagreed about politics more often than not, but I always wondered if she’d heard that Obama’s grandmother insisted on being called Toot, because she thought she was too young to be a Grandma. That’s why I call my grandmother Kilty (she read the name in a Leon Uris book she happened to be reading when I was born.) I never got the chance to ask her about that.
She taught herself how to play the piano. All three of her kids can play at least two musical instruments, and one of them – Aunt Chris – did it professionally. She was deeply interested in politics and current affairs, loving nothing more than to discuss and argue about them, and passed that passion down to my Uncle Phil, a Washington lawyer. She was a devout Catholic who raised a theologian – my Mother – and was godmother to Mum’s cousin Jack, who became a priest.
Kilty was a loving soul, but she wouldn’t hold back her opinions or her criticisms. She was honest – what you saw was what you got, and more often than not, what you saw was someone who fiercely believed in her own sense of what was right and what was wrong. Let it be said, though, that she was usually right – she swore she had ESP, and that she could read people. She studied handwriting analysis and at one point she could read Tarot. I think the concept of knowing people, on a deep level, fascinated her, and that challenge is probably (I’m guessing here) one of the things that first attracted her to my grandfather, a remarkable person in his own right, but someone who has always been very reserved and quiet.
One of my favorite topics to write about, as you know, and as she knew, is popular culture – where it comes from, and how it affects things, large and small. In pop cultural terms, it’s strangely appropriate that Kilty was born the same year as Mickey Mouse and died the same week as Bettie Page. Somewhere, in the cultural space that lies in between those two American icons, stood my Grandmother. She was humble and glamorous. She was pure-hearted and a little bit wild. She believed in all of us, and inspired us, her family and friends, and she was proud of us. She taught me, more than anything else, the value of resolutely living your life to the fullest. Always be there for your friends and family, always give of yourself, but make sure you’re happy while you’re doing it.
My grandmother is no longer with us, physically, but her spirit is. Her birthday is Christmas Eve – light a candle for her, or raise a glass to her if you get the chance. Even better, find someone you love and tell them you believe in them. That’s what Kilty would have done.