My grandmother died on Monday. She was the last living grandparent I had. She was born in 1926, married young, and raised a large family. Oh, no. Not large. I mean, LARGE. As of today, my grandmother had 11 children, 46 grandchildren, 119 great-grandchildren with 2 more on the way, and 10 great-great-grandchildren. Of those 46 grandchildren, I am firstborn.
My earliest memories of my grandmother are of her earrings. She had these clip on earrings that were gold colored and had a single white cube with a black horizontal stripe going around it. She wore them with a black and white polyester dress. She had icy blue eyes that you were just drawn to with her white face surrounded by dark, nearly black hair. She was a beautiful woman and I called her “Grandma.”
When I was three or four, I attended a German Kindergarten school. My father was in the military and we were stationed at a small post in northern Germany. My grandparents came to visit us there when I was almost five. They came with my mother to pick me up from school. I had on a pale yellow dress with a sash in the back and tights that had started out white that morning, but by the time we left school, had managed to become the same dingy color as the sand I’d played in on the playground. I introduced her to my German friends as my “Oma.” She asked me what that meant. I told her that it means “Grandma” in German. From that moment on, she was known as “Oma.”
We were away a lot due to my dad’s career in the Army. But we spent several summers and Christmases in El Paso at my Oma’s house. I remember the short counter-bar that seemed to go for miles dividing her kitchen and den. We somehow managed to cram as many chairs and people around it to eat. It was so big to my young eyes. When I went back to visit at nineteen, it looked as though only eight people could sit there comfortably.
Pink aluminum bathroom tiles, green painted cement floors, cherry jello with cottage cheese and pecans in it, that horrible autumn print couch that EVERY family owned in the 1980’s, baby blue Gran Torinos, adobe bricks, and wind-out windows all remind me of her house in El Paso. After seventh grade, I never went back to El Paso to live. I flew the coop at 17 and worked on the east coast for a number of years, coming home every couple of years for the holidays. Christmas at Oma’s house was always hilarious. When you get that many Irish people into one house with that much alcohol and gifts received the year (or years) before that have been re-wrapped with new paper and ribbons to be re-gifted to someone else, you have a recipe for funny. There were songs and jokes and laughing and polyester pajamas and kids. Lots and lots of kids.
Oma loved to write poetry and watch game shows. She loved Texas and the USA and had many pins and sweaters with flags on them. She liked flowers, red lipstick, and the 4th of July. She drove like a bat out of Hell to get to mass on time. And Oma loved to remind us of how Irish our roots are. Clearly, we inherited that Irish tradition to procreate. Did I mention 11 children, 46 grandchildren and nearly 121 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren?
Mary Lou Nance Ivey, you will be missed but your legacy lives on.