Bang

14 February 2024

The last of my grandparents passed away at the end of January, and on this day of love, I’d be honored to tell you a little bit about her.

Some of you, actually, may already be acquainted: I was lucky enough to feature her in my Marvelous Mama series at the age of 90, where she charmed many readers by recalling the August night she was ready to hand off her would-not-stop-crying baby to any random passerby :)

That interview also gave me one of the simplest and dearest nuggets that I have tucked close to my mothering heart for the last eight years. Best tip for a new parent? I asked. Enjoy being a mother, she said.

That’s it.

Enjoy being a mother.

Not sleep training advice or picky eater advice or how best to think about balancing independence and safety or how to help with homework while instilling responsibility or how to balance work and home duties.

Also, not the stinging, “cherish each moment, the years go by so fast!” admonishment, well-intentioned but with embedded heartbreak.

No — here and now, just enjoy what you have. Enjoy who you are and whose you are and the role you get to fill.

To me, the simplicity of this invitation stops the blustering parental advice machine in its tracks. It quiets to the truth: This is my life. (I am a mother.) These are my kids. (I am their mother.) These are the people I have been given to care for and teach and discipline and feed and listen to and read to and tuck in and… enjoy. In all of that and more, it’s my choice whether I will enjoy.

And since this interview, which came when June was in her first year of life, I have (imperfectly, but faithfully). I wrote about it on June’s first birthday; I’ve thought about it daily. I speak it over myself like a prayer.

And I have had a model in my grandmother, because from what I can tell, she did enjoy being a mother. In fact, she seemed to enjoy every aspect of her life.

This is not because it was easy.

Bang was born in 1926, a true Depression-era baby. After a wealthy childhood (her family had a maid!), she rolled up her sleeves and moved to a dairy farm in Connecticut, raising six children with her husband. She patched clothes and devised frugal meals to feed a crowd. Her career path, though winding, always involved helping those in need: she worked with the Red Cross, for the Department of Children and Families, as a teacher, and with special needs kids. She served on many boards and committees and stepped into countless volunteer roles. Most painfully, she lost her beloved 32-year-old daughter to a drunk driver.

My grandparents at their 50th anniversary party

But Bang would tell you she had a wonderful life. She was married for over fifty years. She continued the legacy of a beautiful and historic family farm (the oldest continuously-working family farm in Connecticut, in fact). Her six children gave her seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, all of whom adored her. Until she needed nursing care at the end, she never lived more than a mile from at least one of her children. She was surrounded by loving community at every stage of her life, from her church, to her farming extension, to regional choruses, her extended family, and her island community in Maine. She did work that mattered. She spent time in the sunshine every day.

Playing on the beach in Maine while pregnant with Shep

Her worst offense? Trying to insert herself into every conversation within earshot (simply to listen – she was not one to give unwelcome advice). She had a ready smile and a generous, head-thrown-back laugh. She delighted in the people around her and was content to simply be near her family, even if she couldn’t follow our conversations as closely in the last few years.

Her Depression-era upbringing made for some of her most memorable characteristics. She didn’t want anything to go to waste, obviously, so she indulged in all the usual practices like folding wrapping paper and picking turkey carcasses to the bone. Her home was a maze of books to be donated and stacks of china a grandchild might one day want to have.

This actually led to an unusual family tradition I remember quite fondly. For several years, Bang provided all of the gifts for our extended-family Yankee Swap — by way of my aunts: they selected random items from her house and wrapped them for the exchange, seeing it as a way to remove a few items from the house in a way that Bang would accept. Some years you got a brand-new set of steak knives, sometimes you got an oven mitt imprinted with a local realtor’s contact info.

Family photos on the steps at our cottage in Maine, decades apart (in the top photo, my Dad is in yellow and Bang is in pink)

If there’s one tradition that sums Bang up, though, it’s probably this: at every holiday, she set a very long table (even when the table wasn’t her own). Our family has its share of glue at the seams, but that didn’t phase her. For years, our Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter dinner table might include her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren, yes, but also her children’s ex-wives, their new husbands, and various step-children. Everyone was not only welcome, but personally invited and expected to show up. Most people wouldn’t even think to extend the invitation, or if they did, would worry about awkwardness ensuing. That was not a concern for Bang, and her guileless, sunny personality made everyone feel welcome. Her love for people was unconditional.

So — there is clearly much to love, and much to emulate, here. In 2016, I wrote that “I would be thrilled to be just like her when I turn 90,” and I still feel that way. So the important question for me, now, is this: how can my life, in my home and in my 2024 setting, look more like hers? How can I, with my own circumstances and personality and responsibilities, be more like her? Our contexts are different, yes, but the direction to move in is the same, I think:

Love God.

Love and honor my husband.

Work on things that matter. Aim to help the least of these, no matter my job description.

Value extended family. Gather with them. See each imperfect person as the image bearer they are, and show obvious delight in them.

Focus on tending my mind and heart more than my looks and wardrobe. Think less about what I wear and how I look. Do more crossword puzzles.

Cherish simplicity. Be easy to delight.

Commit, and then show up. Give my best to help my church, schools, and local circles thrive. Act as a “pillar of the community” would.

Remember and honor the past. Tell family stories, even the worn-out ones everyone knows by heart.

Be “everyday active.” Build a life that’s as outside and active as possible.

Give generously and relationally. Don’t be afraid to see people up close, to draw near to them in their messiness and suffering.

Sing loudly and often. Laugh loudly and often.

And just try to enjoy it all.

Dancing with my Dad at my wedding

Bang lived a wonderful life. She is with Jesus, my grandfather, and her beloved daughter, whom she has waited so long to be reunited with (truly, the only part of this post that makes me tear up as I write it). She is no longer suffering, and she can listen in on all of our conversations with perfect clarity :)

Thank you, Bang, for everything. And thank you, friends, for letting me share. xo

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Meghan H.
February 14, 2024 7:55 am

This is beautiful, Emily! Thank you so much for sharing.

February 14, 2024 8:53 am

I absolutely love this tribute, Emily! Bang sounds like magic. I love the idea to “just enjoy it all.”

Aleigha
February 14, 2024 9:11 am

This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing her legacy with us and the nuggets of wisdom she had to pass along!

Kelly Strawberry
February 14, 2024 10:03 am

Wow. So powerful and yet so simple. A true testament on how (and whom) to build your life so you can weather any storm. So much of what you write sticks with me long after I read it and this will be one of those gems.

Meredith
February 14, 2024 11:50 am

What a lovely woman you’ve described. I appreciate how the simple of act of listing out her admirable qualities can serve as a reminder (to all of us) to focus with intentionality on the strengths we see in others and how we can cultivate those characteristics within ourselves. Such a simple and meaningful way to take inventory of our lives and focus our goals for each day (and month, and year…) ahead. Bang sounds like a treasure. I also love how her possessions were given out over the years! From the time I was about 12 or 13 my grandmother started giving away her belongings. So for Christmas I would unwrap a silver serving spoon or single, random espresso cup and saucer set. I kept it all stashed away and still have those pieces today! They seemed a little weird to me as a teenager but I LOVE having those items now.

Kensi
February 14, 2024 12:02 pm

Such a beautiful and thought provoking tribute. The idea of enjoying it all, rejoicing IN it, is simple, but profound. I know this is a post I’ll be returning to read often. Thank you for sharing!

Pressley
February 14, 2024 12:42 pm

You may not have cried much while writing this, but I sure did while reading it. Holding Bang’s advice to “enjoy being a mother” and your interpretation to “be easy to delight” close to my own heart — it really can be that simple, can’t it?

Last edited 1 month ago by Pressley
Elisha
February 14, 2024 2:00 pm

Friend, you already emulate so much of your wonderful grandmother! You are well on your way to being a woman whose grandchildren will remember her with the same light and love! What beautiful words and so much wisdom!

Dawn
February 14, 2024 2:02 pm

Love this so much!! Beautiful words for your amazing grandma. I love that she invited EVERYBODY!! You are a lot like her! Love the pictures too. Thank you so much for this inspiring sweet memory. ❤️❤️

February 14, 2024 2:24 pm

Oh Em, I’m so sorry. Your beautiful words honor her so lovingly. What a legacy and example she leaves—thank you for sharing it with us. Praying for you all. xo

Ginna
February 14, 2024 4:48 pm

Oh my goodness what a lady and what a legacy! That is just the most perfect advice, and I will be using it at any baby shower moving forward and think about that in my own life. Thank you for generously sharing her story with us!

Beth
February 14, 2024 5:04 pm

You captured her perfectly ❤️❤️

Christine
February 14, 2024 7:00 pm

This is so beautiful and moved me to tears! It was just the dose of inspiration I needed. Thank you for sharing her story and reminding us what matters! :) God bless you and your family.

February 14, 2024 7:25 pm

I’m sorry for your loss, Em. What a beautiful tribute to your grandma! That advice about enjoying being a mother truly stuck with me when I read the interview years ago. I also loved the folded wrapping paper, ha! When I wrote about my grandparents after the last of them had passed away a couple of years ago, I mentioned that, too :)
https://meandmyhaus.com/2021/11/27/blumenstrause-und-bofrost-eis-erinnerungen-an-meine-groseltern/

Marija Crosson
February 14, 2024 11:58 pm

This is such a beautiful tribute to your grandma. I’m so moved by what you wrote. Thank you for offering a glimpse of her to us.

AMOF
February 16, 2024 6:10 pm

My darling girl…what a lovely tribute. It must have made her so proud to see in you the many traits you list as aspirations. They are present already. I see your dad in her face, but also you girls, especially Kate. Love to you.

Betsy Morrell
February 16, 2024 11:32 pm

Emily, this is the most beautiful tribute to a most wonderful, beautiful woman. Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss, our loss. xo

Sara
February 17, 2024 4:37 pm

What’s lovely woman and story. Thank you, for sharing with us!

Kate
February 24, 2024 9:00 am

What a beautiful tribute! June looks very much like that first portrait to me :)

Donna Calliham
February 25, 2024 9:07 am

This is just the most beautifully written tribute to your amazing Grandmother. Emily, you already hold many of her traits, and I truly admire the goals you set for yourself. Sending you hugs! Looking forward to your next blog!

Cherith
February 25, 2024 10:32 pm

What beautiful memories and a wonderful legacy she left you all. I especially appreciate the long table with intentional invitations.

And to enjoying motherhood. Every day. Now I know exactly what to tell every new mom. It is pure magic after all.

Debbie Woratzeck
March 1, 2024 4:56 pm

What a beautiful tribute! You are a wonderful writer!

Carly
March 5, 2024 8:14 am

What a beautiful tribute. Thank you so much for sharing Bang with us.