My grandmother died a few days ago. She was almost 99 years old, and other than noticeably shrinking in height, even at the end she looked and acted about the same as she had throughout her life.
She was one of 991 females living in Hawley, Minn., where the total population is 1,880 and has been for quite a few years. Hawley is what many of us wish our neighborhood could be: It’s a place so small that people truly know you and everything about you, for better or worse.
She grew up there, went to school there, was married there, gave birth to her three children there, buried her husband there about 25 years ago, and finally died there.
Virtually her entire life took place within an area of about five square miles, give or take a mile or two.
By the time it’s our time, how many of us do you think will be able to say that? And how many will want to?
Although I wasn’t her confidante, I don’t know that spending her entire life in a little town without a stoplight bothered her. She never seemed to worry about what might have been or what should have happened; she generally just played the cards she was dealt without flinching much on the “fold” hands or getting too excited when she drew a flush.
She seemingly had no regrets other than outliving her husband. For years after he died, even though she was surrounded by friends and relatives, she signed the letters she sent to me in Texas “Your Lonesome Grandma”.
She didn’t work what you or I would consider to be a “regular” job, in the sense that she packed her lunch and headed to a business to earn a buck. She and my grandfather were farmers, and although I don’t recall seeing her driving a tractor or handling a pitchfork, I never doubted she could do either of those things.
Instead, she managed the house and fed my grandfather and any number of other farmhands working the fields and barns. During a late summer harvest, it wasn’t uncommon to have eight or 10 hungry guys out in the field during the grain threshing, haying and corn silage-filling operations. When it was break time, my grandmother drove out to the field in a pickup, dropped the tailgate and produced a seemingly endless buffet of sandwiches, cookies, dessert bars and water or lemonade.
Then she packed up the remains, headed back to the house, and began preparing the next meal.
I never knew her to be sick. Ever. She was the original Energizer Bunny, moving at a constant speed without needing much attention. Even into her 80s, she led a bowling team and had no problem cracking 150.
When the time came, I’m told she talked so softly as to be hard to hear. As her body parts simply wore down, she lived on a diet of soft candy, cookies and water. One day, she simply went to sleep and didn’t wake up.
All in all, not a bad way to live. And not a bad way to die.