sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 5, 2015

posted by soe 3:18 am

My grandmother, Muriel Ottley Carmichael, died on April 17 at the age of 94. I made it home in time to hold her hand for much of her final day and was, with my folks, there with her when she died.

Below is what I read at her funeral:


The door was always unlocked and the cookie jar was always full at Gramma’s house. Okay, that’s not totally true. Sometimes it was a pie tin or the cake carrier. And, on rare sweltering August days, you might have to content yourself with ice cream because it was just too warm to turn the oven on. But if she was home, you were welcome in her house. Family members and friends, both hers and ours, were always greeted with a smile and something sweet and a cup of tea or coffee.

Bob and Muriel working on dinner

That’s actually how she met Grampa. She was volunteering at the canteen that served refreshments to the soldiers stationed in England one night when they were holding a dance. The enlisted men had decided to harass their higher-ups by not letting them get a full dance in. So every time an officer would start dancing with a young woman, an enlisted man would cut in. Grampa and Gramma on Their Wedding Day Gramma said she’d never been so popular, and clearly she caught the eye of at least one serviceman. When a young Frank Carmichael asked her if she’d like to go out, she, a proper young British woman, quickly said that she was busy. The next time she was working at the canteen, he asked her about what she’d been up to the night she’d turned him down for. Forgetting her lie, she told him she’d stayed in. When he called her out on it, she felt bad enough to accept a date. But she did say that at the end of the night, she abandoned him at her gate and rushed inside so her family didn’t know she’d been seeing an American G.I., something frowned on in England at the time.

He was clearly smitten, and so was she, because in 1945, she married him, and the next year, she left everyone else she knew and loved, boarded the Queen Mary, and sailed to the United States to begin a new life.

Gramma and Grampa made a good pair, both in business and in life: With their service station, Grampa was mechanically gifted and a people person, two excellent characteristics for running a repair business, and Gramma, who was so smart, was able to use the skills she gained as a clark in the bank during the war to keep his books in such excellent shape that she was once complimented by an IRS agent during an audit. Phyll and GrammaIn life, Grampa brought a ready-made social circle of siblings, cousins, coworkers, and army buddies to my grandmother, who was eager to meet new people. Surrounded by people like Aunt Queenie, Uncle Bubby, Phyll and Earl, George and Georgia, Ellen and Andy, Billy and Jeannette, and later Terry and Larry, Ellie, and Aunt Skip, Gramma found a tribe in which to bring up Uncle David and Mum.

The Crimble table

And it was into that tribe of people that they brought Dad and Mary Alice and Lally, William, Josh, and me.

90 and going strongGramma would never have described herself as the life of the party, but I suspect any party she missed would have been lacking. She was enthusiastic about spending time with her loved ones, had a dry sense of humor that invited the target to join in the laughter, and was good at drawing out the quiet and the shy, since she sometimes felt that way herself. I noticed over the years that while Grampa ran a lively group around the pool table, Gramma was the true north that we naturally gravitated back to.

Two Costers, two Carmichaels and a Fearnley, AndoverMum and Uncle David both struck out on their own paths, as Gramma and Grampa hoped they would. Their journeys took them far and wide – to Florida and Oregon and Virginia, among other places – and afforded them opportunities to swim with dolphins and meet the President. And along the way, Gramma and Grampa were so proud of what their children were accomplishing.

The Three Graces

When she wasn’t with friends, she enjoyed the beach, bird-watching, playing cards and Scrabble, and, later on, spending time with Mum & Dad’s cat, Chloe, who adopted Gramma as her person.

Gramma at Thanksgiving

She loved to read. When she was a girl she’d bring a book as a gift when invited to a birthday party, but unbeknownst to the recipient, she’d gotten it a couple days early and read it first. As an adult, she loved cozy mysteries, and would visit the library twice a week to pick up a couple books. During the 11-day power outage the family suffered a few years back, she remarked, I don’t know what people who don’t read do. How do they keep from being bored?

Muriel and the quilt 1Her enjoyment of crossword puzzles also was well known. I think part of the reason she liked living with Mum and Dad so much was that they had the internet and, therefore, unfettered access to an unlimited number of puzzles. She had a vast knowledge of trivia due, in part, to her puzzles, and although she couldn’t name you any of his hits, she could tell you that Snoop Dogg was a rapper and that internet commerce was a dot.com even if she’d never bought a single item online. She did like to tease us when we couldn’t help her fill in the blank squares in her puzzles. I expect you to know these things, she’d exclaim. What’s the point of having smart grandchildren (or children), if they can’t answer basic questions, like the heavyweight boxing champion during the Grover Cleveland’s first presidency. (It’s John Sullivan, in case you were wondering.)

Somehow, I thought it wouldn’t be difficult to pull together the basics of Gramma’s life, favorite stories, and my thoughts about what I’m going to miss about her. But as I wrote that, I started to panic. There is not enough room or enough time to share everything I want to. And what I’m going to miss about her is every single one of those things.

Me, Rudi, Josh, Matt, and GrammaJosh and I loved to spend time with Gramma. When we were kids, she and Mum liked to go shopping together, which, when we accompanied them, occasionally ended at Friendly’s, with a scoop of ice cream with jimmies for me and French fries for Josh and Mum and a cheese Danish for Gramma. Gramma was our main babysitter, sometimes at her house, and sometimes at ours. She played Go Fish. She took us to the playground. She took us to the beach with her friend Ellie. She was there when the Christmas tree fell over on Josh and me. She was there to tell me that my other grandmother had had a heart attack and wasn’t going to make it and for me to sob in her lap. She was there when Mum got sick when Dad was away. She was there when Mum and I fought to assure both of us that we’d get through my awful teen years. She was there for school plays and cream cheese and jam sandwiches and sport meets and making chocolate chip cookies and jelly rolls.

The FinishersAs we reached our adult years, Josh and I still sought out her company. Josh took her to wineries and to Newport. She and I shared meals – summer lunches on the shore when I was still in college, weekday lunches at my apartment after I’d graduated. Saturday lunches with whomever was around at hers. Weekday dinners, and after Grampa died, old movies on videos I’d checked out from the library. After we both moved away, we’d call her regularly. Sometimes she’d be in a chatty mood and you could keep her on the phone for a while. In later years, though, the conversations were shorter and often centered around when we (individually or with Matt and Rudi) would next be home.

I’m having a hard time putting my brain around the fact that she’s gone. Gramma spent the last few years telling us all that she’d lived too long. Every time we responded that she hadn’t, that she couldn’t die, that we still needed her. Because we did. Because we still do. Because, I suspect, we always will.

Gramma at Christmas

Gramma was not a big woman, but the hole she’s left in our lives looks enormous right now. Life – and we – will go on, and that’s what Gramma would have wanted most. But her physical absence from our lives is going to be hard to fathom for a while.

There’s a scene in The Holiday where Cameron Diaz’s character says to Jude Law’s, “We won’t say good-bye. We’ll just say be seeing you. Because we will.” Be seeing you, Gramma. We’ll miss you.

Gramma and Me

I took an unprecedented two and a half weeks off from the blog because I couldn’t bring myself to say that Gramma was dying and then because I couldn’t bring myself to say that she had died. And, even now, writing this makes me feel nauseous and weepy.

Gramma LaughingBut Gramma, who had said good-bye to nearly everyone and everything when she moved to the United States, was impatient with leave-taking. It made her sad and she saw no reason to wallow in it, when lingering wouldn’t make things easier. She was always pushing people who had long journeys before them to get on the road. “Get going,” she’d say, “Get on your way.” She would not appreciate my inability to unstick myself from my grief. My brother says she was the best person in the family for telling him to get over himself (even though I doubt very much she ever used that exact phrasing). So with the caveat that I am still remarkably sad and that I’m having a hard time getting going, I am back here to write some more about life and what’s going on around me.

This past weekend, I had the sort of weekend that Gramma loved to hear about — chock full of events. And I still have half a trip to Budapest to share, as well as posts about the everyday beauty around me and what I’m reading and knitting. But maybe I’ll try to come up with some more Gramma stories and some pre-digital photos, because I’d like to share more of her with you.

Category: life -- uncategorized. There is/are 12 Comments.

My sympathies on your loss. Your Gramma sounds like an amazing woman. I’d love to read more stories as you are comfortable telling them.

Comment by M @readeatwriterun 05.05.15 @ 5:43 am

I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother, but also very jealous, as all of my grandparents had died before I was born. She sounds like the perfect kind of grandmother, and I am sure it will be a while until you feel like things are back to “normal,” or at least the new normal.

Take your time, and take care of yourself. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

Comment by Bridget 05.05.15 @ 7:34 am

@Bridget: Thank you. I agree that I was so lucky to have my grandmother be a presence (and an awesome presence) in my life into my 40s.

Comment by soe 05.05.15 @ 10:19 am

@M: Thank you. She really was.

Comment by soe 05.05.15 @ 10:20 am

Your grandmother was a lovely person. May her memories always be with you and keep you strong.

Comment by margene 05.05.15 @ 1:42 pm

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful and amazing woman. Thank you for sharing this and for sharing your wonderful gramma.

Sending you my love from WA

Comment by Rebs 05.06.15 @ 12:20 am

I’m so sorry, sprite. What a lovely, wonderful woman she was – and that’s a lovely tribute to her. I’m thinking of all of you. *HUGS*

Comment by Jenn 05.06.15 @ 6:42 am

What a lovely tribute – you wrote beautifully. So sorry about your loss – Gramma’s at any age are hard to lose. So cool she was a war bride – clearly an adventurous woman!

Comment by raidergirl3 05.06.15 @ 8:13 pm

@margene: Thank you. I hope they do.

Comment by soe 05.08.15 @ 2:59 am

@Rebs: Thanks for being there the last few weeks and for sharing her with me all these years.

Comment by soe 05.08.15 @ 3:00 am

@Jenn: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Comment by soe 05.08.15 @ 3:00 am

@raidergirl3: Thank you. It was cool that she was a war bride. She maintained her British citizenship until her death (as well as carrying a dual citizenship here for the past 23 years). She would have said that she wasn’t adventurous, but she and my grandfather traveled cross country in a motor home when my parents lived on the west coast and they used to drive up and down the east coast every winter when I was young.

Comment by soe 05.08.15 @ 3:05 am