Last week I lost my grandmother, the matriarch of the Levensailor family. She was 35 years a widow.
Isn’t that something?
She wasn’t the typical grandmother, or mother from what I hear. I remember her letting me drive her BMW, at 13, in the country club parking lot. One time she took me to a Mexican restaurant where we watched boxing, she said it was her favorite to watch. She rarely, if ever, cooked. This was a good thing, as she gave me botulism twice, and also because we would have thanksgiving “at the club”. She loved going “over the bridge” to get oysters and martinis.
In hindsight, I grew up poor (although I never knew) and thousands of miles away from any extended family. Coming to visit and staying in this big beautiful Mobile house full of antiques, oil paintings, with a pool, and an endless supply of cake donuts made me feel part of something bigger.
She never waited for other people to make plans, she sort of told you where you were going.
Frequently this was at 5:30 in the morning at Waffle House, where she taught me how the cooks use jam and jelly packet arrangements on the plate to communicate orders in a noisy kitchen; certainly she either posted up for a while one day until the crowd came (at 5:30 it was quiet and possibly why she preferred it), or she found this out from conversing with the staff. She liked to know everyone’s name like that.
On my last visit I thought I could bypass the 5:30 wake up calls, but I was wrong. She started singing downstairs until we woke up.
She always reminded me that I was her favorite grandson. It’s funny because I have no male cousins. I hope I can crack jokes in my 90s. She appreciated when I picked on her too, which was easy for someone who regularly fed the neighborhood raccoons (and opossums) cat food.
She was generous to a fault, looking out for her family before herself, giving up the country club, the vacation home and the new cars. She would send checks on every birthday and even some at random, although I stopped cashing them when I knew better. She saved all the returned checks. One particular check from when I was 15 had in the notes “Straighten Up!” I could only imagine what that meant, but I like to think I did.
She was the church historian at St. Paul’s Episcopal. Last I saw her she gave me a tour of her office and I have to say I was impressed. That was before I took her to vote — after which, I remember her getting emotional for maybe the only time. In between this time, she setup a private bible study with the minister, which was the perfect flex for her.
And then there were the wine Wednesday’s bible study where she hosted an all ages ladies night in her home. We were to go in another room until a certain time when she introduced us.
She had an on-again off-again relationship with the pool boy. He quit on her a few times, but always came back.
When I moved to Los Angeles, she told that my great uncle, her brother in law was buried there. I laughed when I told her about looking for hours in the largest cemetery in the US, only to zoom in on the flowers in the photo that were hanging. In other words he wasn’t in the ground, but in a box.
We had fun doing our family history together, tracing mostly back to Maine and then Germany. When we first talked about it I was amazed we had some of the same books.
She left me her research.
I remember my dad buying her a computer and connecting it to the internet. A few weeks later she told us it didn’t work and had returned it to Best Buy for a new one. Having worked at Best Buy, at the Geek Squad, I can put myself in that guys shoes — explaining its probably a software issue or user issue, but her not taking no for an answer, she wanted a new one. She got it, brought it home and it sat in a box. She loathed technology.
It always sort of bothered her that she was “Grammie”. Towards the end especially, she was mad at age and preferred Carolyn. My name is a different story. I get a hard time about my name being spelled wrong on documents. This was her fault. She spelled my dads name wrong and since I was supposed to be a Jr, my parents had to change it on things to match.
When she lost her husband Art — (who at 3, I remember from photos but not actually being there) — she was left with her, would-be, retirement home, a log cabin on a waterfront piece of Maine. She held on to it as long as she could, and gave me memories of summers in Maine that have proved to have a much longer shelf life than Disney. When it returned to the family a few years ago, my parents took her back in what she would describe as the best trip of her life.
Thanks for the memories. Rest Easy, Grammie — I mean Carolyn Levensailor
Jeff Levensailor, Jr.