I am Thankful for My Aunt Grace

My Aunt Grace passed away this past February. She was less than two months from turning 104. She led a remarkable life.

Her accomplishments are impressive, especially given the era. She was born in Buffalo NY in 1911, graduated High School in 1926 and went on to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Canisius College. She began teaching in the Buffalo elementary schools in 1935 until she retired in 1979. She was a longtime chairwoman of the League of Women Voters. She and my Uncle Jim were married after WW II until his death in 1987. She loved to read, play golf, paint, knit and travel.

I am indebted to Aunt Grace for many reasons. When I was very young, she would come over to the house, sit on the couch and help me learn to read. She also helped develop my memory by teaching me to remember commercial jingles. After I learned one she would quiz me. What is Campbell’s Soup? Umm Umm good! What coffee is good to the last drop? Maxwell House!  I credit those memory quizzes with having a good memory. (No surprise that I’ve always been able to remember commercials. I still like to “sing” some of my favorites such as this old beer commercial circa 1972  Schaefer Beer)

Aunt Grace demonstrated that life could be fun. She and Uncle Jim took me to participate in golf hole-in-one contests and bowling at the Knights of Columbus. They gave me a set of golf clubs and bought me bowling equipment (I was so excited to have my own bowling ball and bag). I was thrilled to occasionally see my name and score in the paper if I did well at a hole-in-one tournament. They took cruises and visited exotic destinations.

As years passed, Aunt Grace developed tremors in her hands. Her hands shook badly but she adapted. For example, when we went out to dinner and her hand tremors made it difficult to hold a glass of her beloved Genesee beer, she would reach into her purse and take out a straw!

One big life accomplishment was her longevity. What did she attribute it too? Here’s her secret – keep moving and have a high ball every night!

But out of all the life lessons that I learned from her, my favorite is that I can’t recall a single instance of her complaining. Not when Uncle Jim passed away unexpectedly (turned out that he was allergic to a drug he was taking for a urinary tract infection). Not when she broke her hip (through sheer determination she recovered when for many people it marks the beginning of the end). Not when her neighbors moved (she had only good things to say about her new neighbors). Not when she was under the weather (I can’t remember a time when she was sick).

Now whenever I think about Aunt Grace, I see her smiling in her green apron or sitting in our living room having a good time. I admire her tremendous spirit and determination to live a positive, courageous life. I try to emulate her when it comes to not complaining. I do well in some areas and not so well in others. If I feel crummy (and there’s always something wrong it seems) I may let my wife know but I don’t share it with anyone else. If “someone” doesn’t put something away or leaves a light on, I don’t use that as a teaching moment. I just put it away or turn it off. If a friend says something that I believe is inaccurate, I do not to correct them (I may look it up later and tell my wife that I was right). In the grander scheme of things, it’s not imperative that I always be right. I have room for improvement when it comes to complaining about things like politics or other people’s driving. While I believe that we live in times where complaining is part of our societal makeup, it’s not an excuse that Aunt Grace would make.

I can do better. I can become a better person. I can become more like my Aunt Grace.

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