Posts Tagged Grandmama

Eulogy For Catherine Josephine Eastman

As written and delivered by my cousin Elizabeth(Beth) Reilly

The idea of paying tribute to 101 years of life is an honor but a bit daunting as well.  Don’t worry I won’t attempt to chronicle all 101 years, nor even every decade though anyone who knew my grandmother probably shares my belief that she would be just fine with the long version.   One does not live to be 101 without having a lot to show for it.  Catherine Josephine Eastman, was born on March 19, 1905 and so named because she was born on the feast day of St. Joseph.  As a result, she was a lifelong disciple of St. Joseph and prayed to him all the time.  Known throughout her life as Kay, she leaves 5 children, 11 grandchildren, and six great-grand-children, as well as numerous other family members and dear family friends, many of whom we thank for being with us here today.  In addition, as a 1st grade teacher, who taught until she was 72 years old, she leaves generations of students touched by her firm but loving guidance.

One does not live to 101 without being a person of extraordinary strength as well.  My grandmother was proud of the hard work that marked her life and her ability to meet lifes challenges.  Indeed, there were many of them.  The middle of 9 children, she was always quick to tell anyone that her mother had five boys, followed by four girls. As the oldest girl, she dutifully accepted her role as her mothers primary helper in rearing the other children and managing the crowded household.  She spoke of her father, Timothy Connolly, a builder, with pride.  Sociology books will tell you that he built the first three-decker house in Dorchester in 1899.  He was also head of what is now called the Boston City Council and his picture hangs in the hall of Boston City Hall.  By the end of her life, she would tell you he had been involved in just about every building she had ever seen, including installing the air and vent system at St. Patricks Manor, her home for the past five years.  Her mother, Catherine Connolly was a dignified, stately woman, from whom my grandmother learned great strength, a work ethic and perseverance, as she kept the large family going in between her husbands construction jobs.  My grandmother also learned the look from her mother a distinct facial expression that conveyed strength, power and a highly effective do not cross me attitude that was all business.  I have seen my own mother develop this look as well, I know it worked with her children, and it appears to be working with her first grandchild as well.

Grandma was also proud of her siblings and spoke of each of them long after each of them had passed: Robert, a carpenter for Jordan Marsh; Lawrence, who graduated from Annapolis; Ray, a building contractor; Arthur, the quickest wit with the readiest smile; Timothy, the lifetime student; Bess, the social butterfly; studious Louise who was an FBI office supervisor, and Esther, the baby, who was also a teacher.  During World War I her family had 4 stars in the window, representing four of her brothers in the service and that status entitled her family to an extra cut of meat at Rimleys market.

Education and faith were constants in her life.  A parishioner here at St. Bartholomew since 1942, she attended Catholic grammar school in Boston, run by the Carmelite sisters, where she learned to respect nuns.  This lesson would prove invaluable in these final five difficult years when she reluctantly moved to St. Patricks Manor, where it seemed that only the nuns could quiet her resistance to the inevitability of her advancing age.  Only they were able to convince her that God had not yet prepared her room.  She eventually said that God must have been building a palace for her because she was more than ready and it was taking Him too long for just one room.

She graduated from Boston State Teachers College in 1925, which provided her with an education, a livelihood and friendships that she would enjoy over her entire life.  She described her younger years of teaching with great nostalgia, as she and the other girls with whom she taught would spend their afternoons in Boston, often including a stop at Schraffs for an ice cream soda.

She met Edward Eastman, the great love of her life, at a fair and was instantly smitten though she claimed she would barely give him the satisfaction of letting on about her feelings. As she described it, she feigned a bit of indifference to arouse Eddies interest but he saw through it and had fun teasing her and keeping her guessing about his growing affection.  They courted throughout the Great Depression and delayed marriage so that she could keep her job as a teacher. They finally wed in 1933 and through some restored films many of us have seen clips of the wedding day showing the beaming couple. She was deeply in love with Eddie and he with her.  When he grew sick she returned to work to provide for the family.  When he succumbed to the brain tumor that claimed his life in 1957, she reluctantly dated a couple of times at the urging of friends.  But it took her little time to conclude that she would never want or need another love.  She had her husband whether he was here on earth with her or not.

So at 52, the mother of five children between 12 and 19, Kay began a new phase of her life.  She raised Ed, Kathy, Roger, Charles and Carol and she was tremendously proud of each of them. And they were devoted to her, each in his or her own way.

As a first grade teacher she was also well prepared to assume her role as grandmother, one that she embraced with the dignified title of Grandmama and a bracelet with 11 dangling bangles representing each of her grandchildren.  Her cottage at Pompanesett became a dream destination for her grandchildren, a place where cereal was kept in the oven, sneakers were worn in the ocean, afternoons were marked by trips for penny candy while Grandma had cheese and crackers, (Esther supplied the peanut butter), and children could stay outside all day, even til after dark.

Make no mistake, though, she was a formidable babysitter, who’s years in the classroom prepared her well to outwit any child’s pranks.  Try to get away without brushing your teeth and you would have both your breath smelled and the bristles of your brush checked. Dinner was always a balanced meal, with no room for avoiding vegetables and liquids kept to a minimum, a holdover from her Depression-era roots.  Nothing was wasted, everything was saved, tea bags, tinfoil, plastic bags, to name a few, though she chastised Bess when, in her 80’s and financially secure, Bess scraped butter off of the side of her guests plates and knives after dinner to be saved for tomorrow mornings toast.  .

She was both the soft, kind-hearted proper grandmother with a perfect bun on her head and the no-nonsense, iron-willed woman who had no time for weakness or self-pity.  Although it meant we would be subjected to Archie Bunker and Lawrence Welk, we were thrilled when she would stay with my family when my parents went away.  Usually, this meant we would have one special trip to McDonalds if we were good.  Personally, I had mixed feelings over the outing because for some reason I really did not like hamburgers in my childhood.  So, before we left, my grandmother would make me a special hot dog, which (to my delight) she called a pig in a blanket and she would smuggle it into McDonalds. It felt like our little secret when she slipped it out of her purse and sneaked it across the table to me (of course requiring that I give her back the tinfoil which she folded up and placed back in her purse).  It could have been later the same night when I had a nightmare and slipped into her room, seeking comfort for my sobs in the wake of a nightmare. She lifted her trademark blindfold covering her eyes and exclaimed, God free! What is the matter with you, child?  I told her I was scared and missed my parents.  She said, Oh nonsense; don’t be ridiculous. There is nothing to be afraid of. Stop your crying child, and go back to bed.  Not exactly the tender sympathy I sought but it was a simple, strong, and direct message and it worked.  Suddenly, the tears dried and it did seem ridiculous to be upset so I went back to bed and slept through the night, waking to another happy day.  She had a reassuring manner and an unmistakable strength; she was a warm and loving grandmother without being sugary or fake.  Indeed, she was a woman of extraordinary will, who knew that life was about putting one foot in front of the other without feeling sorry for oneself or expecting an easy road.  She knew life’s challenges were to be met head on, with unflinching determination.  That is the way she lived until the very end, never relying on machines or medicines to keep her going, just sheer will and survivor instincts.

But Grandmama also knew how to have a great time. As a widow she refused to miss out on life. She loved going for drives, to the beach, out to the movies, anywhere dancing and singing whenever she got the chance.  She loved traveling and did so right up through her early 90s, on trips with her teacher friends and senior citizen groups.  Each of these trips was recorded in pictures, with notes on the back of each of them.  It seemed shed been everywhere.  In fact, over these final few years, you could not convince her there was a place she had not been or a thing she had not done.  Tell her youd gone hiking and she would say she used to do that all the time.  Tell her Ed, Roger, Charlie and Dick were out golfing and she would tell you she used to golf.  Announce a trip to China or Vietnam and she would tell you shed been there years ago.  Show pictures of someone fly-fishing and shed say that was one of her old pastimes when she was a young girl.  Tell her you’d gone sky-diving over the Grand Canyon and she would say shed been there, done that as well.  While there wasn’t much she hadn’t done, in her mind, she had done it all surely reflecting satisfaction with a life richly lived.

Perhaps it goes without saying that she took tremendous care of herself, walking or swimming nearly every day until her 90s, eating balanced meals as long as she was able. I remember visiting her during her dinner one night when she was about 92 years old. She expressed her distaste for broccoli as she ate another bite and proceeded to tell me how shed always hated it.  I asked why, at 92, she had made it for herself if she didn’t like it and she told me shed heard it was good for health.  She drove into her early 90’s and volunteered at Gladrags thrift store even after she stopped driving.  When she was strong enough to be taken outside in a wheelchair a few years ago she often insisted on getting up, using the wheelchair as a walker, and giving her legs a stretch and a workout.  Without a doubt, she knew she was something special, often complaining that her good skin, with no wrinkles, meant she wasn’t given proper credit or sympathy for her age because no one believed that she was 75, 88, 97, 101.

She loved being outside and the feel of the sun.  In her mind, there was little that could not be cured by some fresh air and a good nights sleep.  Flowers and babies always brought a smile to her face.  Until she was about 99 she could name any flower put in front of her.  One of the happiest pictures on her bureau captured her smile when Katie and Steve brought Will, her first great-grandchild, for a visit a few years ago.  Just last week, the day before she turned 101, Chad and Maj brought Julia, her great-granddaughter for a birthday visit, and though there have been many days recently when she barely mustered the strength to waken, she came to life when Julia was placed on her lap.  The smile in her eyes and on her face is a fitting final image for many of us to hold in our minds eye.  Later that same day, Roger and Suzanne visited and she gave Roger a firm, reassuring squeeze of the hand.

She has left a long, powerful legacy and inspiration for all of us.  Though losing her creates a void and we will sorely miss (her, our matriarch, figurehead), we are relieved to know that, at long last, she is at peace, resting and reuniting with 100 years of family and friends that have gone before her.  We were blessed to have her for as long as we did and each of us will forever claim good genes because of her.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the extraordinary devotion of her children, especially over the past couple of decades.  Ed was a constant source of strength to her. His regular visits were like clockwork and he was an important advocate for her care.  For nearly fifty years she leaned on him as her oldest son and she valued him tremendously.  He was one of the only people to whom she would defer.  Although she always wanted Roger to find a companion, she knew there was a barely a woman good enough for him and that she was a lucky beneficiary of his bachelorhood.  Roger took her places, brought her flowers, and was the model son in so many ways.  She was thrilled, though, when Roger met Suzanne and it gave her great peace of mind to know that he had found someone to share his life. Charlie could bring a smile to her face like no one else. As her strength declined, and she barely got out of bed, it wasn’t clear that she would rally to make it to Roger and Suzanne’s wedding (though she was determined to be at that event) or later, at Ben and Allie’s wedding.  Not only did she make it to both but Charlie got her out on the dance floor on each occasion.  She loved telling stories about his pranks, his jokes, his style and love of life. A picture of Grandma dancing with him at Ben and Allies wedding and another of her sitting proudly in his red convertible, were fixtures in her room.  In each, she has her head held high, with an ear-to-ear smile, having the time of her life.  She just adored him. Grandma often spoke about her cross-country adventure with Carol, who inherited her curiosity for travel.  Over the past few years, while still working full-time, Carol has spent her few days off driving over an hour to spend the entire day at her mothers side, holding her hand.  She was also attentive to Grandmas personal grooming, honoring her mothers belief that a lady should always be presentable.  Carol demonstrated phenomenal patience, gentle care and deep respect in talking to her mother for hours, even over these final years when there was often no response to validate or reward the effort.  Finally, as her brother Charles has remarked to me many times, my mother, Kathy, has been nothing short of a saint.  Starting about 10 or 11 years ago, when my grandmother still lived alone, my mother brought her one, then later two meals a day.  She endured the difficult and thankless battles required to get my grandmother the care she needed.  And in these final five years, she was with my grandmother between four and seven days a week, nearly 52 weeks a year.  Of course, my mother has always put the needs of others ahead of her own and this was never more evident than in the care and love she showed her mother.

In closing, I know you join me in saying thank you and goodbye to this extraordinary woman.  On behalf of all of my grandmothers family, we thank you for coming today and we invite you all to join us at a reception at Brae Burn in West Newton following the burial.

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RIP Grandmama

Well the longtime expected and inevitable happened last night.

I received a call while I was on my way to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport from my mother letting me know that I may need to take some time off from work soon in order to attend to family business dealing with the death of my grandmother, she was sick in the nursing home, fluid in the lungs, and they were giving her morphine for the pain. She was not expected to make it through this time like she had in the past.

I am sad but at the same time I am not devastated about it since it was something that almost all of us have been expecting to happen for awhile now.

A little bit about my grandmother, she was just past her 101st birthday when she passed on. She lived a hell of a long life and was an amazing woman.

She has 5 children, and lost her husband while the children were still young so that put her in charge of providing for the family.

So back to work she went. She was a grade school teacher before she had children and she went back to teaching after the death of her husband in the mid 1950’s. She then taught until the late 1970’s when she retired.

She was very active as she got older, she lived on her own until her 90’s and she drove her own car until then too, and she was not the typical old blue hair that you all know so well, she drove normally.

She was a great woman, a great mother, a great teacher, a great grandmother, and someone who’s life, accomplishments, and personality can be admired by any and all who knew her.

I know she had a good life and she knows she had a good life, and for all of us who knew her, loved her, and had our lives affected by her are better people because of her, and those us who knew her will always remember her and try to emulate those qualities which she had that were so special.


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