Good morning, and thank you for attending this service to honor my grandmother. As the Pastor introduced me, my name is Jeannette, and I am Alyce's older granddaughter. On our drive here to Ohio, I told my husband that I wasn't sure what people would expect to hear from me during these remarks. He replied, "People will just expect to hear how you feel." So the remarks I'll share here today are just that and nothing more; how I feel about my grandmother.
... long pause for deep sobbing at the lectern ...
I think every little girl should benefit from the magic of a grandmother like mine. I really though that my grandmother was a Queen. She lived in a faraway land, and she would arrive from the west, in these big cars chauffeured by my grandfather, and it was like she was traveling in a chariot. I remember waking up one year at Christmas and they had arrived while we were sleeping and we couldn't even see the sofa anymore, it was piled so high with gifts. She wore these long flowing bathrobes, and satin slippers, and blue and green eyeshadow, cateye glasses, smelling always of perfume, and carrying a bottomless supply of breath mints in her change purse. My grandmother embodied all of the things a little girl adores.
To me, she was like a goddess. My older son Liam, who is here with me today, has been studying Greek mythology, and I've had the pleasure of learning with him. And my grandmother reminds me most of Athena. For those of you who don't know, Athena was Zeus's favorite child. So favorite in fact, that she was the only child allowed to play with his weapons, including his thunderbolt! And that's who she was to me. As a little girl, she was Athena, with her gentle laugh, costume jewelry, cosmetic mirrors, and the world's softest hands.
Yet, as I grew older, I stopped seeing her through the eyes of a little girl and started seeing her through the eyes of the woman I was becoming. As I learned more about her life, instead of shrinking in import, my grandmother's goddess stature increased with each passing day and she truly became my Athena. Athena, the greek goddess of wisdom.
My grandmother's maiden name is Weisheit, which when translated from the German means wisdom. And if ever there were a person who valued wisdom, it was my grandmother. She was uncommonly educated for her time, and she was unquestionably committed to a lifetime of learning. Over the past week, my brothers, sister, and I have all shared fond memories of sitting at her tiny kitchen table and vigorously debating just about any topic with her. One second she would be challenging my father on the legal ramifications of immigration reform, and the next moment she would be asking my sister about Demi Moore's new haircut. She was an ample conversationalist, and truly, an encyclopedia. She knew just about everything about everything; how to turn a collar, bird species, biblical history, fashion, western civilization, pop culture, medicine, gem stones, opera, and most recently, yoga poses. "Oh come on, Nettie, show me that Warrior 2 again."
In perusing her final scrapbook, I even found an article, with a letter my older brother had handwritten to her, about glacial deposits in the Ohio River Valley. Her mind knew no boundaries. And if it did, she didn't acknowledge them.
In that regard, she was such an enigma to me. She committed the last seventy years of her life to living in a small, rural, town. Without ever learning to drive, it would seem that her world would have gotten smaller and smaller as she aged and her mobility decreased. But to the contrary, her world continued to expand, as she tuned in to the opera, subscribed to the Smithsonian magazine, and collected the world through the travels of her children and grandchildren through postcards, slideshows, and stories. She relentlessly pursued wisdom in whatever form it presented itself.
The other way she was an enigma to me was her SIZE! I found her legal ID card this week, and she was only 4"10'. And, as you can see, my family is a bunch of giants. I mean, we are huge and she was just so small. I just don't understand how such a little person had such a big impact on the world around her. She was truly a giant. She used to joke that she was going to put bricks on our heads to keep us from getting taller than she was. Well, she lost that battle, but she was really, truly, larger than life, bigger than her body ever gave her credit for.
She was such a source of strength and inspiration to me as I tried to find my way in this world. I learned so many things from her. I probably should have told her, but I guess I never did. Through her I learned that a mind must be exercised, and that an active mind is a healthy mind. I also witnessed through her that will must be exercised, and that a willful woman is a force of nature. Through her I observed the tender, and often misunderstood difference, between determination and stubbornness. She taught me how to remain committed to my ideals even in the face of insurmountable odds. She also taught me about commitment.
My grandmother was so committed to her life. She was raised a Pastor's daughter and wore the distinction as a badge of honor. She was unfailing in her commitment to her church and to her faith.
She was committed to her family. She was the Weisheit and Thomas family archivist, collecting photos, newspaper clippings, and other heirlooms dating back to 1872. She loved her husband, and remained committed to him as a young bride while he served in the Pacific Theatre in World War II,as a Marine. She wore her wedding bands every day since his passing in 1984, committed to him through the almost 30 years she spent as a widow.
She followed him to Ohio with her young family in the mid-1940s, leaving behind the only world she ever knew: the bustling metropolis of Pittsburgh during its heyday as the steel city. Her commitment to this land and to this place held her here for another 70 years. Even after her home burned to the ground, she remained. Every now and then she'd get a faraway look in her eye, and say wistfully that while she was gardening she often thought that she might turn over a ring, or a fork, or some piece of her former life, buried in the soil. She'd catch herself in the moment of nostalgia and hope, and slap my knee, laugh it off, and say, "Well Nettie, no sense sitting around here feeling sorry for myself." And that would be that.
She was strong. She was determined. She was committed. And she was never harder on anyone than she would have been on herself.
As a professional woman, I credit my grandmother with bestowing on me those very same character traits to which my success is largely owed. I credit her with blazing the trail that made my life and my career possible. I believe that I am made in my grandmother's image.
To anyone who has ever commented, "Gee Jeannette, has anyone ever told you that you have a really strong personality?" Or, "You're really opinionated." Or, "You're difficult to lead." Or, "You know Jeannette, once you set your mind to something you're like a dog on a bone." Or, "You're a real kick in the pants." I simply smile and reply, "Really? You should meet my grandmother."
In addition to her indefatigable pursuit of knowledge, her dogged determination, and her sense of commitment, my grandmother was also tirelessly devoted to duty and service. When I think of my grandmother, I think of a proud graduate of nursing school in 1933 who dedicated the next 80 years of life to nursing. To my grandmother, nursing was not a degree, it was not a career, it was a calling. A full lifestyle devoted to the caring for, and service of, others. I remember so often being a young girl walking through downtown Coshocton, and so many people would stop us and say, "Oh Alyce, you delivered my children." In fact, it happened this morning in the church kitchen, with two of the volunteers here crediting my grandmother with bringing their children into the world. She always seemed famous in this part of the world; the place where all life began in Alyce's hands.
I have often wondered how many lives she birthed, healed, or improved. And in thinking of her life, I am humbled. I am humbled by what she accomplished and the legacy she leaves. Her influence can't be disguised in my life and in the lives of those I know the best and love the most.
Her sense of duty was passed on to her children, who served in both the Army and the Air Force. Her sense of service lives on in my uncle who, as a volunteer, beautifies and safeguards trails for hikers in America's southwest. Her Promethean nature lives on in my mother, who has served for decades as a nurse, and has given life to countless souls through her position as the manager of the blood bank at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Her full commitment to her family is evident among her four grandchildren; upon whom she bestowed, on each of us, a unique piece of herself.
Her passion for learning and unquenchable thirst for knowledge is in the custody of my older brother, who exercises it everyday as a Professor at one of America's best small colleges, enriching the minds of our nation's next generation of thinkers and problem solvers.
Her healing hands and compassionate heart are hard at work through my younger sister who has brought healing to cancer patients and better nutrition to hospital kitchens throughout Boston and its north shore.
She bequeathed to me her honest curiosity and critical mind, two talents that helped me arrive at a place I never though I would be, the United States Central Intelligence Agency.
Her courageous spirit and fearless commitment to service are staring out from behind my baby brother's night vision goggles through the cockpit of a US Army Black Hawk helicopter.
With these gifts, she's single-handedly made our nation smarter, stronger, safer, and healthier. And rather than be humbled, I want to be proud. I want to feel proud that her legacy is alive and well, and carrying on as she would want. I like to think of her spirit silently and invisibly moving us all towards greatness, fully empowered by the wisdom she carefully deposited in each of us.
She truly was my version of Athena; a beautiful and powerful woman, a protector of wisdom. Her given name was Alyce, meaning noble truth. And hers truly was a noble life, both in her intent and in her actions. Hers was a life well-lived with a full commitment to Christ and service to others. These truths are simple and she lived up to the letter of each word. Alyce Weisheit, the noble truth of wisdom.
Whenever my grandmother would hear something she considered particularly incredulous, she would laugh out loud and exclaim, "Well good night nurse!" I suspect she would scoff at me and say the same thing today, uncomfortable with such a public display of emotion and praise. But today, I get the last word. And I am going to use it to say these final things.
"Grandma, we promise to take good care of these gifts that you gave us. Your father's house has many rooms (John 14:2), and you have picked the finest piece of real estate among them. We'll look for you in Orion's belt, just like you always said. We hope you're together there now with Grandpa. Know that while you were here, you were adored. Know that now you are gone, you are missed. And as you sleep this longest sleep, one last time, I wish you good night, nurse."