Happy Birthday, Gram: A Story Of My Grandmother

My grandmother belly-laughing at something my daughter did when she was a toddler
My grandmother belly-laughing at something my daughter did as a toddler

This is a little bit of a love letter. Today would have been my grandmother’s 95th birthday. She passed away at the end of last August. In honor of her memory, I thought I’d share a family anecdote I didn’t know before she passed. I learned about this one in the weeks after her passing, as all the stories, memories, and tall tales started to emerge.

This one is about the first house she bought. And what’s important to note here is that she bought it. My grandfather had joined the marines and was serving in a tiny little corner of hell called the Pacific. My grandmother, on her own, decided that the time was right for her to buy a house and settle into it. I don’t know the exact reasons why, so I’d have to speculate, but I would guess it was so that my grandfather would have a house to call “home” when he was finally able to come home.

My grandmother found the house she wanted and went into the bank. She was working for the now defunct Bonwit Teller department store. She need to work to make up the balance of the budget, since the pay for a marine serving overseas wasn’t terribly large.

She arranged the financing and settled the mortgage. Knowing her the way I did, she did this without fanfare or panache; it was simply the right thing to do. Not that she wasn’t full of doubt. Buying a house is a big deal, a lot of money, and no matter how full of confidence you are, there’s always a certain specter of doubt that lingers. Maybe not long, maybe it’s smaller or larger, depending on your personality. But it’s there.

Or at least it was for my grandmother. She had her doubts. After all, she was a woman buying a house in the 1940’s, not exactly the most liberated time for women, and with the shadow of government telegrams always edging around the door—well, of course there were doubts.

However, doubts or not, my grandmother was deeply spiritual. She was a lifelong Catholic, and had a particular fondness for St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese is known as the “Little Flower”, and is have reported to have said upon her deathbed “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses…”, meaning she would send a little bit of heaven to earth. Since she loved roses so much, that was a little bit of heaven to her. My grandmother took strength from the story of St. Therese.

My grandmother settled on the financing with the bank and prepared to go straight to the house. On her way out of the bank, as a thank you for being a customer, someone was handing out roses. Given my grandmother’s spirituality and attachment to St. Therese, she must have seen this rose as a good sign. A coincidence perhaps, but a good sign nevertheless.

This purchase took place in the winter, not a typical time for blooming flowers in New York. But upon showing up at the house, directly from the bank, there in the garden was a rose bush. And despite the fact that it was winter, on the rose bush bloomed a single red rose.

It was then that all of her doubts receded. When my grandfather returned from the war, together they started a family, and it was in that house that my mother and my uncle were raised.

Happy Birthday, Gram. I hope there are roses wherever you are.

Love, Scott

My grandmother at the wedding reception of my cousin
My grandmother at the wedding reception of my cousin
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