I was very fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time with my grandmother over the years. She lived to see her 100th birthday, and was probably one of the most loved people that I know.
I was named Audrey after her, so I like to think that I inherited some of her inquisitiveness, skepticism, independence and love of travel. My grandmother, who my brother named Gigi (“GIH-ghee”), grew up in Marion, Kansas. She and her sister were brought up by a single Mom during an era where women just didn’t get divorced. My great-grandmother was a scary formidable woman that you just know could take care of herself and two daughters.
Gigi taught school and then married on Christmas Day in 1923. My grandfather passed away in 1971, so she lived alone until she was moved to a nursing home late in life. She never lacked for visitors, that’s for sure. My daughter was only three years old when she passed away, but she still remembers her and cries when she thinks about her too much. My niece is the same way.
You know, it wasn’t what my grandmother said so much that I remember; it is how she lived her life. She was not your stereotypical granny; no doughy figure wearing an apron and hot pads. She was always dressed to the nines. She was ahead of her time. Always a lady, but definitely not timid, shy or retiring. She always gave telemarketers the what for when they called. They did not call back. She was strong minded, loving, smart, supportive, interested and interesting. Gigi always spoke to us kids like adults.
Whenever my family picked her up at the airport after a trip, we knew we would always be introduced to her seatmates. She kept up with these people more often than not for the rest of her life. Once, while traveling in Switzerland when I was nine years old, we shared a train compartment with two English ladies. One of the ladies was also named Audrey, so we became Audrey I, Audrey II and Audrey III from then on. We always saw them whenever we went to England and my mother still corresponds with them to this day.
I attribute Gigi’s long life and her constant mental acuity to the fact that she stayed curious and read about everything. When my brother got a job at the Federal Reserve Bank, she got a book so she could talk with him about it and ask questions. You could tell what was on her mind by looking at what books she had. She was so interested in people and their stories. She always struck up a conversation with whomever was next to her.
She was an utter and complete Anglophile; she traveled to England many times, including when she accompanied me the February after I graduated from college. In the days before VCRs, my Mom and I spent the night with my grandmother so we could get up early to watch Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles. Certain words were always said with a slight British accent because she thought they sounded better that way.
She owned one of the first few Mercedes in Dallas; she told me that she and the other Mercedes owners used to honk at each other while out driving. She loved Van Gogh’s sunflowers and the intricate carvings of Grinling Gibbons (Google him!). The only fight we ever had was when she stayed with me and my brother and, the minute my parents left, she made us clean our closets. She never liked her own hair (wore a wig as long as I knew her) and she HATED getting her picture taken. She put a piece of masking tape over her photo on her driver’s license.
I have seen other relatives wither and die as they sat in their chairs and “retired.” If I have learned anything, it is that, whether you work or not, you can’t ever retire. You have to keep current, stay alert, read, talk to people unlike yourself and stay interested in learning your whole life. To retire is to give up; and Gigi never gave up.