What follows is my spoken tribute to my Grandma, at her memorial service in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Grandma, we love you, for always.
Gladys Anna Whitehead (nee Moen)
July 5, 1924 — May 26, 2014
Hello everyone. Thank you for being here today. It means the world to us all, especially Gladys.
My name is Hollie, and I am Gladys and John’s second grandchild, Dave’s daughter.
Some of the words I’m about to share with you were written by my sister, Charity, the eldest grandchild, and some were written by me. But I can assure you, the happy memories with Grandma were known by all her six of her grandchildren. May these words be a tribute to our Grandma, Gladys, and may they warm your hearts just as she did ours.
Arrival at Grandma’s was always met with much fanfare. “Come in, you’re out!” she would sing out in her most musical voice. Hugs and kisses and a quick check for dirty knees always followed. We would step up and wash our hands in the basin, with green and white marbled soap, then be ushered into the kitchen—the heart of her home.
Friends or family who thought they could just ‘stop in’ quickly were sorely mistaken. “Well! For Heaven’s sake! Come in! Now, what will you have?” And she would get about the business of preparing fresh coffee. But not just any coffee. She insisted it was no trouble at all, but anyone who ever sipped coffee at her kitchen table knew otherwise. Coffee was to be made on the stovetop. With distilled water. Dripped carefully through a very specific filter into the glass pot, which was pre-heated to exactly… Well, you get the idea. But for Gladys, being a hostess was a pleasure, and it really was no trouble at all. She would treat us to freshly baked cinnamon rolls, buttered thoroughly, right out to the edges.
Gladys did everything thoroughly and the care of her home was no exception. It was organized ‘just so’ and was forever pin-neat. I remember not wanting to put a dent in her gloriously vacuumed front room carpet.
But back in the kitchen… There was Lefsa, too, the Norwegian legacy. My dad and sister Charity now carry on this tradition. At Christmas, they gather the ingredients; the wooden Lefsa stick, the griddle, the potatoes, and the vacuum cleaner. Yes, the vacuum cleaner. It becomes blindingly clear that my dad is very much his mother’s son, as he diligently keeps the flying flour dust at bay with the vacuum cleaner. So, Grandma, rest easy, knowing the time-honoured tradition of Norwegian Lefsa lives on at our house—with the vacuum cleaner.
There was also music and dancing. For, Grandma loved all sorts of music. Whether it was an animated round of the ‘Bird Dance’ with us grandchildren, a lovely Hawaiian luau or a bawdy rendition of the Irish Rovers’ ‘Wasn’t That a Party’, we would always collapse, exhausted, into gales of laughter. What joy for her to see her little grandkids having so much fun. We would then be refreshed with glasses of icy gingerale, which we would gulp down and she would exclaim, “My goodness! You were as dry as a fish!” and we’d giggle some more.
And I remember Gladys and John going to Danceland in Watrous, and how they both lit up, nearly giddy. In honour of her, today I am wearing one of Grandma’s crinolines. It is quite the treasure, though, it certainly does not like to travel on airplanes! But, it sure brings a smile to anyone who catches a glimpse of its frothy, pretty colours.
Speaking of pretty, Grandma had a love for pretty little birds. In her front room she displayed her collection of little porcelain birds—a collection which has now been passed down to her great granddaughter Sofia. And so dear friends and family, do not be surprised to find yourself thinking of Gladys the next time you see or hear the sing-song chirp of a lovely little bird. It would make perfect sense.
And I know another time I will remember her dearly. It will be at night when my head hits the pillow, because, you see, there were sleepovers at Grandma’s house, too. My sister and I would choose between several frilly nighties in pastel shades of pink, or mint or baby blue. Then, in a most outrageous act of fun, and at great risk to her crisp percale sheets, we would be treated to a Fudgsicle in bed! As we ever-so-carefully nibbled on our treats she would read to us from Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. Eventually, we could be tucked in tight, hugged and kissed. And every time, without fail, wished “Sweet dreams,” and, “Angels on your pillow.” It is all the more sweet now, as I know exactly who the angel on my pillow will be each night.
As we grandchildren grew up into who we are today, there were many gifts Grandma unknowingly gave to us. My sister strives to be a gracious hostess and good cook. For me, keeping a welcoming home with things arranged ‘just so’ is important. And no doubt, all of us learned to treasure family… I know my sister and I both inherited an incredible fondness for freshly laundered linens, stacked neatly in our linen closets, from her.
And from her, we also received a deep inner strength, an unwillingness to compromise on the things that matter most to us. For as much as Grandma had a heart of pure gold, her will was as strong as iron. Until the very last moments of her life, she was the captain of her ship.
We love you Grandma, till the end of time… and as a little birdie recently told me, “Love is eternal.”
Rest in peace, Grandma. Angels on your pillow.
Below, here I am with Grandpa, after Grandma’s service. We are playing solitaire on his tablet (he’s quick as a fox at age 95!). Notice the frothy pink and blue tulle of the crinoline peeking out from under my dress….. It’s Grandma’s crinoline!
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