A small gathering of the Korpella clan took place at my mother's house this Easter weekend. We got the opportunity to visit, we got caught up on each other's lives, and we ate to contentment. Maybe even a little past contentment.
As a result of my daughter's school assignment, our conversation turned to my Grandma Rose, my mother's mother. Grandma died in 1964 when I was still very young, but I have fond memories of the diminutive woman with the hearty laugh that couldn't help but make you laugh, too. I recall her smile to this day, one that was genuine and seemed to never leave her face, even when she was in pain the last days of her life.
One of my warmest memories of Grandma Rose was a Christmas when she was bedridden but still not willing to sit out the season. She loved Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and would gleefully hand over a silver dollar to any of her grandchildren who would sing her the song. I was painfully shy in those days and usually walked around cowboy hat hung low over my eyes, head down and hands in my pockets - about as withdrawn from the world as an eight year old boy could get. I was far too shy to sing in front of anyone, even my own grandmother, so Grandma made a rule change for me. I only needed to say Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to collect my silver dollar. Even then, it took all the courage I could muster to say the words, but I did say them and I did get a silver dollar. I got several of them that Christmas, and I still have every one of them today.
Grandma Rose was also a very brave person. At the tender age of fifteen, when most young children are facing the specter of entering junior high school with all its trappings, Grandma Rose set out alone from her home in Austria to a new beginning in America. She sought and found her sister, who had settled in Ohio, then moved on to Chicago where she met Andrew, an immigrant himself, and the man who would become my grandfather.
I never got a chance to meet him. He died of asthma long before I was born. But he and Grandma Rose had seven children, although two of them died in childhood. With the help of the oldest children, Grandma was able to raise and provide for her family after Grandpa's passing.
Grandma Rose spoke little English, but we always understood her. I think her major purpose in life was to spoil her grandchildren and she was masteful at her art. She loved to watch an old television show called Queen for a Day, although it came out as Queen for To-Day when Grandma said it. I imagine her wishing she could live one day of her life like that, like a queen. But her life was probably a daily struggle of making ends meet, cooking meals, doing laundry and otherwise going about what most would consider a rather routine existance after she made it to the United States.
But routine or not, Grandma Rose knew how to laugh. It was her laughter I liked best about her. Grandma's eyes would tear up and her whole body would shake when she laughed. And everything made her laugh. This was a woman who valued humor in any form, any shape.
History is not likely to recall my Grandma Rose, but I remember. Anyone whose life she touched will remember her in some way. And even those who didn't know Grandma remember someone like her. Someone who left a deep and lasting impression on their lives forever. We're all like that, you know. We touch and impact lives when we don't even realize it. Everyone we have ever met, seen, spoken with or known in our lives is forever different in some way - small or big - because of us, as we are because of them.
So hat's off to you, Grandma, a simple tribute to a wonderful woman who lived on this Earth for a mere sixty-seven years but was able to touch lives well beyond her short stay with us.