This past Friday, August 24th, I received the sad news that my grandmother, my Nana Pearl Humphries, had passed away. Pearl was my Dad’s mother and has been a beloved family member of mine since I was first born. Afterall, I was her first grandchild.
That news kicked off a whirlwind weekend as Andi and I quickly cobbled together a plan to journey from parts West back to my boyhood home (Everett, MA) where my Nana lived for many decades and so many of her extended kin kept their roots entrenched. The Wake was Sunday evening and we then laid her to rest yesterday morning at Woodlawn Cemetary in Everett, MA where she would rejoin her husband, my Grandpa Ned, who passed away two full decades earlier. While I won’t delve too deep into the particulars of either event, I will say that my grandmother’s funeral service was greeted by a brilliant blue sky morning. The sun beamed bright for her shining soul.
Andi and I got to play our part in the service and etch our personal stamp on her remembrance. Andi began the tribute by singing my Nana’s favorite hymn, ‘Amazing Grace‘, which played as the perfect soundtrack to my grandmother’s life. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to stand up and say a few words in eulogy for my Nana.
I decided to place the text of my speech here in this post where it shall reside in memory of my grandmother for years to come. I’ve often spoken about how this blog makes for a nice journal of my own life. It’s moments like these that while sad, really add some fabric to this life’s tapestry. Anyway, I’ll let my eulogy speak the rest.
As sad as this occasion is, I feel incredibly honored to be able to get up here today and say a few words about my Nana Pearl.
With all of the wonderful memories we cherish of our times with Nana, there isn’t time enough in the day, let alone words enough in a vocabulary, to capture them all and pay proper tribute to her shining soul. Not that we won’t try our best to mark each and every one of those blessed moments with each and every day that passes from here on.
That said, I’ve always found it comforting to celebrate a loved one’s passing through the way they lived their life by focusing on those moments that made us smile. That made us laugh.
It’s the laughter that makes it all worth living… and reliving.
So, that’s how I approached my reminiscence. To look back upon key moments that brought a smile to my face.
As I paged through my life’s history with my Nana, one phrase jumped out that certainly defined her in my eyes. Simply put, even at the earliest age, she was my Great Protector.
See, I was the first grandchild in what would eventually become a pretty robust club whose ranks swelled each year with the announcement of new grandchildren. But, for a few years, I ruled the roost. Being the first usually meant being the recipient of the lion’s share of spoils.
And my Nana could spoil me rotten.
Well, with the sweet can sometimes come a little touch of sour.
Being the first – and as I mentioned – at the time, ONLY grandchild on the block, meant I was an open target for the good-natured teasing that relatives like to impart upon their younger kin.
So I often found myself in the line of fire.
My Grandpa Ned would tease.
My Aunt Suzanne would cajole.
My Uncle’s Bill and Don would torment.
And my Dad would try to make me eat some of the foulest vegetables the world had ever known. I swear, the man owns stock in beets.
Rallying to my defense at every front was Nana with her war cry – “Leave him be.” Of course, they were all just having fun with me (well, all except my Dad – he had those beet futures to consider afterall), and my Nana knew that but there was a genuine instinct there to keep me safe. And that, in turn, made me feel warm.
I think the phrase was first coined when my Dad and I would wage a battle of the wills over a topic heavily debated at dinner tables the world over.
“For the love of all that is good and decent… EAT THAT SHEPHERD’S PIE!!!”
To a boy all of 4-years old, mixing meat with potatoes and (shudder) peas, was crazy talk. This wasn’t a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. None of those things belonged in the same county together let alone cohabitating in the same piecrust.
So while my Dad and I played Kennedy and Khrushchev at the dining room table, out in the kitchen Nana was preparing one of the only 2 dishes I would eat – either frying some bacon or cracking open a can of tuna (which I ate right out of the can – I know, my eating habits were a bit… BIZARRE).
That same scene played out over every holiday dinner or family gathering. I swear, Nana bought so many cans of tuna to broker the peace that her neighbors had to assume she had taken in every stray cat in the neighborhood.
Anyway, it was through our own little Cold War, that the phrase “Leave him be” was adopted.
And it was heard often.
When my Grandpa Ned threatened the safety of my nostrils and taste buds with a good old-fashioned Canadian breakfast (you know – substituting my bowl of Kix with kaplan – my Pop Tarts with a slice of seal flipper pie) she’d rally to my defense.
“NED!!! LEAVE HIM BE!!!”
When my Dad would surprise the family with a mouth watering dinner of boiled meat and cabbage it was…
“ED!!! LEAVE HIM BE!!!”
When this bizarre alien creature that had taken roost in their home (she called it a dog but that pug didn’t look like any dog I’d ever seen) – anyway, when it would greet my appearance, as I crested the stairs of her 2nd floor abode, with a cacophony of snorting and barking, she’d admonish…
“MISCHA!!! LEAVE HIM BE!!!”
And then there were the times when my tormentors would join forces and co-conspire.
I remember a family vacation to the Cape where Nana’s whole brood gathered at a rental house in Chatham. One afternoon, I took a ride with Nana, Grandpa and Aunt Suzanne to get some provisions. We arrived at the store and Nana announced that she’d run right in and get the goods.
There, across the street from the store, was a huge excavator – surely a little boy’s dream site. But my Nana scoped the scene and using her intuition sized up the scenario. She knew that what should be a few moments of boyhood bliss could morph into a trial of terror should Grandpa Ned and Aunt Suzanne get ahold of my wild imagination. All it would take is one little phrase – “It’s coming to get you, Eddie.”
Before she exited the car, Nana shot both of them a glance that said wordlessly…
“I’m going to be gone for one minute. You two — LEAVE HIM BE!!!”
They responded with wordless looks of their own…
… and then, they exchanged a knowing wink that went by undetected.
Well, that seemed to be enough for Nana so with that, she was off. After all, what could possible happen in one tiny minute.
Sixty seconds later, Nana returned to find her beloved 4-year old grandson completely catatonic on the floor.
It’s in those formative years as a young boy that I learned two important lessons about my family.
1. My Nana’s love was an infinite well that she dipped deep into always and she would do anything to serve and protect her family.
– and –
2. Everyone else in my family is completely sadistic.
Of course, I’m joking. I’m sure some of these details have grown larger than life over the years and the details that I’m fuzzy on, I color in the corners with a bit of exaggeration. But that’s what happens when a man reflects upon his boyhood and his times with his Nana. She always seemed larger than life.
The greatest human beings always do.
We certainly have a wonderful family. And it’s these various branches of the grand family tree that serve as a real testament to my Nana’s hard work and boundless love.
She was real proud to call us her family.
I am extremely proud and fortunate to call her my Nana.
She will be remembered… ALWAYS!!!
May she rest in peace.