Sunday, December 12, 2010

One Year Ago Yesterday....

Hard to believe it's been a year since my grandma died. I think of her often, especially when I see a Cardinal, her favorite bird. And I've seen many in the past year. They're always a reminder that her presence is still very much felt. There is a pretty funny story, that I shared with my friends on Facebook, shortly after her death. When Dad went to order her grave marker, he asked the man if there was any way we could have a Cardinal carved into it. "Sure," said Mr. Jackson, "not a problem! We can do that." Well, in Missouri, you better specify "woodland Cardinal" or "St. Louis Cardinal". Because a few weeks later, we went out to the cemetery to see her grave, and there in the center of her grave marker was a redbird alright. Perched on a baseball bat. Several people have asked if we're going to make them re-do it & we wouldn't think of it. Her grandson & son-in-law (& me!) are die-hard St. Louis Cardinal fans. We think she's laughing about it too. And another funny thing is that the last time Brooks went to see Grandma Dorothy, in the nursing home, we were walking toward the door & he ran back to the car. "I want to put on my Cardinal hat so she'll remember who I am." I like to think it worked.

We had grandma Dorothy's graveside service on my birthday last year. It didn't bother me at all since she lived a full life & was ready to go. She didn't have a painful or tragic death so if we celebrated her life's end on the day I came into this world, so be it. I gave the eulogy & several people asked me for a copy of it after the service. Partially because it was stored on my dad's computer but mainly because I'm a HUGE procrastinator, I never got around to sending it to anyone or sharing it with those who couldn't attend. So here it is, for those of you who missed it or asked me for a copy. (I can still send you a hard copy if you e-mail me at

To honor the life of Dorothy Summers Swafford (1922-2009):

Today we've gathered to celebrate the life of a woman who touched many, many lives in 87 years. Today should be a celebration of her life & it actually, we’ve all laughed, marks the realization of a dream for Dorothy, as she is finally the star of her own obituary. She used to scour them every day & tell us she was checking to see if hers was listed. We’ll be adding hers to her collection!

No matter how you knew my grandma, you can be sure she left her mark on you, whether it was baking you a fruitcake at Christmas, calming your fears about the needle she was about to stick you with, assuring you that your sick child would be just fine, patting your gut & remarking that no one was rooting you away from the trough, or ramming into you with the grocery cart & telling you your skirt was too short. You didn’t meet Dorothy & forget her.

I described Dorothy in her obituary as feisty, outspoken & slightly short on tact. My friend Susan commented that “the Lord had certainly welcomed one of his livelier ones home”. Truer words were never spoken. Dad & I were often horrified at things Dorothy said to people but one of her amazing gifts was her ability to make those people love her anyway. At her heart’s core, she was down to earth & accepting of all. When we were packing to come home for her service, I was fretting over what to wear & then I remembered rounding the corner in RB’s store (the local grocery) many years ago & seeing her standing there proudly surveying the produce in galoshes, my old sweatshirt & Dad’s camouflage hat from his Army days. I think she would be just fine with my jeans.

Dorothy’s career in healthcare is likely what she will be remembered for most. She was the best shot giver ever & could reassure the most anxious parent. I heard her answer many calls in the middle of the night from patients in need but I never once heard her complain. The trust people placed in her was incredible & it wasn’t uncommon for her to drag me out in the middle of the night because someone wanted her to see if their loved one was, in fact, dead. It was usually quite apparent that the person in question had expired & she would sit and console the widow until the proper officials arrived to help. Together with Dr. Kelley, she delivered over 800 babies and was often invited to family reunions of people she treated & delivered. Her patients truly adored her. Long after both doctors retired, those calls still came in the middle of the night.

Another of Dorothy’s accomplishments was raising not one but TWO perfect children. And if you ever spoke to her about me or my Dad, you know just how perfect we are. No one compared to us in her eyes. Well, at least until I married Chuck. Then I think he became her favorite. Actually we're sure he did. To say that she completely adored each of her great-grandchildren is barely touching on the love she felt for them. She never sweated the small stuff where they were concerned & they spent many hours pilfering her drawers and exploring her home to their heart’s content. When asked what they remembered most about her, they unanimously agreed “her spaghetti”. I am so thankful that she lived long enough to have a firm place in their memory.

Dorothy taught me many things in her life, including:

*Buy the best, it will save you in the long run.

*It’s ok to stick up for yourself when you feel you’ve been wronged, even if people don’t like you for doing it.

*In most instances, you really shouldn’t give a damn what others think.

*Never ever go out with a boy who honks when he comes to get you.

And the one I remembered the other night when I was getting dressed to attend the Holly Ball with my daughter………….Never underestimate the power of a good girdle.

In all my life, I’ve never known a person as generous as my grandma. She didn’t own one thing that she wouldn’t have given away if it would help someone in need. As I said in her obituary, we spent many holidays at her house, waiting to eat until she had first seen that the people in the local jail were well-fed. She never saw “color” in the world & raised both my dad & I to have no prejudice toward others different from us. She was fiercely protective of those she loved & always fought for the underdog. We won't discuss those she wasn't fond of!

Dorothy’s greatest legacy was, perhaps, that if she believed in you, she believed in you ‘til the end, no matter what path or poor choice you might have chosen. She never gave up on someone if they drank, went to prison, stole, faced addictions, etc. She had faith you would overcome & have the same good heart you always had. Dorothy embodied unconditional love.

She lived a very full life & I knew she was headed downhill when I went by to visit her and the police scanner had been turned off. I preferred to look at it as her retirement as “unofficial beat reporter” for Bernie’s Police & Fire Depts. She lived & breathed that scanner for many, many years & made a habit of calling the police to check on a prowler or the infamous “man standing on my front porch”, who was ALWAYS gone when they arrived. (Dad and I figure he’s about 118 by now.) In those later years, she just didn’t have the spunk we all knew she once had. In the end, though, she still knew who we were and died peacefully, as we had prayed she would. Two weeks before her death, my daughter was lucky enough to interview her for a school paper & she recalled memories & events from her childhood on with great clarity and detail. I’ll always be glad we made a quick trip home to do that & I know Ryder is too.

I hope when you remember Dorothy, you’ll think of the smile, the hearty laugh and the love she had for all of us. One thing is for certain, she left her mark & will never ever be forgotten.

There are so many people to thank and I know I’ll leave someone out but we would like to thank Greg Mathis for his help in leading us through this process, Holly & the girls at the restaurant who took her lunch for us, Brenda Caplinger for the love & care she gave Dorothy in her final years, Dorren Vancil & the staff of Gideon Care Center, the many friends who stopped by & checked on her and finally the Bernie Police Dept. - guys, the number of calls you receive just dropped drastically.

(Note about photo: While going through Dorothy's house, I came upon a couple thousand slides that she had taken in her lifetime. At first the photo above struck me because there aren't a lot of photos of my grandma "playing" with me & I thought, "how cool" but then the more I looked at it, I realized she was probably just wiping something off my face for a picture! Oh, well. I like it anyway.)

1 comment:

  1. Love this, Noelle. I never met your grandmother, but from reading this, I can tell I sure would have liked her.