This is dedicated to Ryan's grandmother who passed away on Monday, March 1, 2010.
When you are first intitated into this family, one of the first obstacles is to not laugh/smile when you address a grown woman as "Happy." Of course, everyone else in the family is used to it -- it was her moniker since childhood. But for me, it just made me smile a little. After a while, I got used to it to the point where now I refer to her as Happy to people who don't have any idea what I'm talking about. I guess I have officially been initiated into the family!
"Happy" is really named Viola, and a few friends and family would call her "Vi" but that was mainly a nickname -- "Happy" served as her proper name. She was called Happy because she was. A smiling, cheerful child, everyone named her for her personality. Which was par for the course in her family. Her family also included Tiny, Lover, and Uncle B (who was a young girl when she acquired this name -- the story goes that she was a tomboy growing up who wanted to be Billy The Kid -- hence the B -- and who preferred to be called 'uncle' because uncles were cool and adventurous, whereas aunts were homebodies who baked).
Ryan always had a very special relationship with his grandmother. He spent a lot of time with his grandparents when he was young. Back then, his grandfather (Papa) had just retired from the fire department and was excited about having some great adventures. Happy and Papa traveled quite a bit by RV, just as they did when they were younger. (Papa was a fantastic photographer and there are some pictures of them toodling in their silver bullet trailer in the 1960s that make me wish for a time machine so that I can be in the background of those pictures!) They also moved to a 'ranch' in central coast California. I'm not sure if the 'ranch' was any kind of working ranch or farm (doubtful) because all Ryan can really remember is the fun stuff -- he was allowed to swim in mud and catch bugs and frogs and they built tire swings and baked cookies. Ryan spent a lot of time there as a kid -- long weeks during the summer, a weekend or two a month, etc. so he learned a lot of things from his grandparents and has a treasure trove of happy memories.
A few years later, they settled in Pismo Beach in a house just a stone's throw from the beach. I always love walking to the beach when we visit -- it's easy too! Just follow the street to the end (~1/2 block) and then walk through the eucalyptus grove and you're there! The sand is so white and clean and there are sand dollars everywhere. It's hard not to collect them all and take them home!
I realized this morning that I don't actually have a lot of digital pictures of Happy... so I need to go through my photos and scan some of the prints that I have. Shannon has posted some really great ones over on her blog (Giggly Mama's husband is my husband's cousin, BTW). She was a lovely lady in every way. And she knew it too! We all loved to hear her stories about when she was young and how she had to fight the boys off with a stick! And how she just looked so dang adorable in every outfit that she tried on, that she ended up taking a job at Macy's for the discount and spending her entire paycheck, week after week. And this never really changed. One of the ongoing gags all through the end of her life was her aqua aerobics class... it was a class for seniors and all the ladies were her age (and her friends) but, of course, she identified more with the 20-something instructor. And everyone would razz her about how she would come to class in a new swimsuit every week -- but of course! You've already seen her in the other ones! :)
She was a spitfire of a personality and a lot of fun to be with. I appreciated her warmth and humor and even her sense of royalty. I'm sure that it could be perceived as a pain in the ass, but you kind of have to admire someone who says 'hey, I'm old, you're young, why don't YOU do the dishes? I'm gonna go sit down.' I loved the way she would brag over "my special recipe" for some secret sauce or another and then make you turn around while she opened the can. Or her famous recipes for beans and rice -- which in actuality were standard recipes, but she'd always say "yeah, but mine are BETTER." And she was right.
I'll miss the Cinco de Mayo parties that she used to throw, which were really just an excuse to get the family together and break out her famous beans and rice. She always would serve margaritas in glass boot mugs that she had collected over the years (although she stopped having the parties a couple of years ago), and every time I see one I still think 'oh, I should buy this for Happy.'
I'm glad to have known her. I feel grateful that my husband got to spend time with such a wonderful person -- she certainly influenced who he is today. I appreciate that her transition was quick and that she did not suffer. And even that she lived her life right up to the end! Just before she got sickly (a few months ago), she was off living the high life with her boyfriend (I love that a man in his 80's can still be called a "boyfriend") and traveling across the country and even vacationing in Mexico before returning to Palm Springs for the Follies... we didn't see her much in the past year, not just because our lives are busy, but because the lady was hard to pin down! She wasn't the shy and retiring grandma, staying at home and baking cookies. You practically had to put in a visitation request 6 months in advance, so that she could pencil you in! And I'm really grateful for that -- she lived a fun life, exactly the way she wanted to, doing exciting things and seeing the world. It's something I think we all could aspire to.