I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. ~Agatha Christie
Alice M. Piper 1930 – 2015
My Gram, Alice Piper passed away today, Tuesday, June 30, 2015 sometime mid-morning. (It’s kind of ironic, since she hated the mornings and never got up before noon.) To some, it may come as a surprise to honor this lady with a blog post. Reality? She was my Gram, actually my only grandmother I ever knew. My maternal grandmother passed away, long before my parents even met. It’s true, we don’t get to pick our family, but we should try and support each other, at the very least, wish them well, and pray for them. This is my opportunity to do that for Gram.
Gram is survived by two great grandchildren, which I think is pretty special, Kyle and Cheyenne, among the rest of the family, minus my Pap, Walter and my brother, Ryan. I also believe Gram was the last surviving sibling in her full-blooded family. She had half brothers and sisters, some still living.
There’s no doubt to anyone who spent any sort of time with Gram, knew she was a true firecracker in every sense of the word, even up to her last breath. It’s no secret that Gram wasn’t your typical loving, nurturing, old lady that baked and was a saint. No! She was a loud, opinionated, trouble maker, who used to chain smoke. (for much of her life until she was placed in a nursing home) I could tell many tales of disrespect and meanness. However, thinking more on this, those are stories that have been told and retold all throughout Gram’s life, and I’m sure will be retold in the future. Besides being an embarrassment, they only display the negative side to my grandmother. What many don’t know, is that Gram actually had a positive side. Granted, it was buried deep down, and only appeared very sparsely at random times, but she did in deed have a heart. Those are the stories that really need to be told.
Unbeknownst to some, Gram had a rough childhood including living dirt poor (complete poverty), a mother abandoning all her children and leaving them to a mean and violent man, who drank, was lazy, didn’t work and was supported by welfare. First hand accounts of this man were never positive, so I can only image what it was like living in that household. No wonder all the women desperately tried to get out. Years after Gram’s mother ran away, her dad remarried a women who was slightly older than my Gram was at the time, and they had kids together. Right about now, I hear the dueling banjo’s playing in my head from the movie Deliverance.
Long before suffering the loss of a grandchild, my brother Ryan, Gram lost her first born. In addition to having my uncle and dad, Gram’s first offspring was a still born baby boy, a situation that was common back then, but I’m guessing equally as devastating.
Believe it or not, Gram was pretty active in her church when I was a youngster. She taught bible school every summer at Bethel Lutheran Church, and I believe she helped out with Sunday school too. Helping the church, and God’s children is always a good thing.
Because of Gram’s insistence on spending time with her and my pap on the ridge, every third weekend (Nicole, Ryan and myself alternated weekends) and staying very third week in the summer, I was also able to keep in touch with some of my cousins. Otherwise, I would’ve only seen them once a year at the Piper Reunion or occasional family gathering because they went to Ligonier, and I went to Latrobe school.
Did you know Gram loved going to the movies? She did, and so my interest in the big screen came to be. Granted, Gram loved westerns, not a favorite of mine, but she also watched thrillers and comedies and such. Again, she wasn’t the typical grandmother who baked and taught her grandchildren to do so. She considered homemade, opening a box of cake mix and adding the oil and eggs. She was a less than par baker, and a borderline editable cook. She didn’t garden or sew, at least not with consistency that I can remember, and she definitely didn’t knit or croshay. So after my pappy died, what do you do to not be alone? You hang out with your grandchildren. What do you do with them that didn’t require much effort in terms of physical activity or interaction? You take them to the movies! Did I mind? Not at all, in fact I loved going (still do)! I see this interest in the big screen continuing with Kyle, for he too loves going to the movie theater.
Gram loved to play cards and board games. Every evening in the summer, we’d sit on the front porch on the ridge, she in her rocking chair, and I on a plastic fold up chair (that latter collapsed on me, sending me down the cement steps head first), in front of a card table and we played games. Pappy watched us from his glider. What did we play? We played Three of a Kind, Go Fish and Uno. (My pappy taught us to play poker.) She also loved board games like Trouble, Sorry, Connect Four, Candy Land, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Backgammon, Clue, Battleship, Chutes and Ladders, Life, Yahtzee, Scrabble and Operation. Sometimes we’d sit and fill out crossword puzzles together or word searches. All of this I did enjoy, minus her cigarette smoking. Again, Kyle has always showed an interest in playing cards and boardgames, a trait he genuinely shared with his great grandmother.
Gram tried to stay involved in our activities. All throughout school Gram and pap attended our spring musicals at Sacred Heart, every sacrament received, and every function, even after pap passed away. Gram joined us at Penn State College to witness my sister receiving her college diploma. Nicole was the first in our family accomplish a formal education. Gram honestly loved and cared for us. Many years later, when Kyle graced us with his presence, Gram always requested his presence at her apartment for visits. She loved our little man equally as much as we do.
Did you know my Gram never had a birthday party? (Now Harry Potter pops into my head.) Nope, never as a child or even as an adult. So by the time Gram was ready to celebrate her sixtieth birthday in July of 1990 (I believe), mom planned a big surprise party. Me, Ryan and Nicole took her to see Pretty Woman (obviously we didn’t know what it was about) while all the guests arrived at mom and dad’s house. We showered her with gifts and cake and ice-cream. I remember how honestly surprised she was and truly happy!
A few years after my pap died, Gram became an in-home caretaker to an elderly person. She took classes to get certified and that was her very first job, ever. She was in her sixties. To be honest, I was proud she went to school and began working. Perhaps that experience carried over to her ending days in the nursing home. I was told by some nurses that Gram actually helped calm a dementia patient at times, another good deed nearly gone untold.
I’m certainly not making excuses for Gram, or her behavior over the years, but I am saying we are all God’s people. There is good in every single person. Gram lived a life, keeping us on our toes and everyone one around her. I hope she finally has the peace I think she’s always needed.
Gram, Pap might be hiding from you, so let him know you’re ready for peace and quiet, and give it to him as well as yourself. Make sure you look for Ryan, I suspect he’s hanging with Pap, you know those two were always so tight. Tell Pap and Ryan how much we miss them and let Ryan know Kyle’s getting big and is a great kid! God Speed Gram! Until I see you again.