Why Grandmothers Rock, and the Importance of Thank You Notes

Today's a hard day. Yesterday was -- would have been -- my grandmother's 94th birthday. Today's the one year anniversary of Mom-Mom passing away.

Writing her eulogy was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it spoke well to who she was. She rocked. In a quiet way, in her own way, in that stubborn Vichko way.

Speaking of the latter, I will never forget the first time Mom-Mom shocked me. I had to've been in my mid 20s. My mom and I were visiting her (this was about 10 years after her husband, my Tu-Tu, died) and were were talking about how stubborn Vichko's could be, most likely due to their Polish heritage. I said, "Well, you should know, Mom-Mom, you've been a Vichko long enough!"

She looked at me, didn't miss a beat, and deadpanned, "I'm only Polish by injection."

My jaw dropped. (That bon mot didn't make its way into the eulogy, despite my attempts and my mother's edits.)

Shock and awe (and a little "ewww...") aside, Mildred Vichko was a rocking grandmother. I remember the little things, like how awesome it was that our grandmom worked for the Burlington Township cafeteria, so we always had the cool rectangle single-serving frozen pizzas to eat at her house. (Cooked for 10 minutes at 425 so the cheese got just the right shade of lightly burnt.)

Or making homemade blueberry muffins for dinner with her out of the heavy glass dish that had one chip on its rim. (I still have that bowl, chip and all. When I moved to San Diego in '99, Mom-Mom asked if I wanted to take anything, and that was top of my list.) Back then, I thought it was so much hard work. Now I realize that making Jiffy brand is pretty much just adding water.

I remember sitting on the back porch with her, listening to Phillies games on the radio. Most nights spent at her house including Mom-Mom apply Noxema to my sun-burned back, so listening to the games involved me leaning forward on their old green hammock, straining to listen to Harry Kalas but also -- and perhaps more importantly -- not wanting to hurt my back by letting anything touch it.

There were the camping trips to Circle M, late night dips in the pool, and swinging on the tire swing. On good summer nights, we'd pick fresh New Jersey blueberries off the bush in her backyard, drown them in milk and add a touch of sugar.

Of course, one of my favorite Mom-Mom memories occured right before her 90th birthday. To celebrate this life-long Phillies Phan, my husband and I decided it would be fun to take her to a Phillies game. Since her birthday's in December, and baseball's over by then, we chose a random game in September to take her to.

Now, I'd worked as a producer in sports and entertainment for a while, so I called in a favor to a dear man, Phillies and Eagles PA guy Dan Baker. We got to know each other well when he was the PA announcer for a Manchester United game I produced at Lincoln Financial Field, and I'd told him of Mom-Mom's 75 year love affair with the Phils. He offered to give her a tour whenever we got around to bringing her to a game.

All Mom-Mom knew was that we were taking her to Philadelphia for lunch, and as we turned toward the stadium she said, "Look there, it's the ballpark." I said, "You know how we said we're going to lunch? Well lunch just happens to be at the game!" She squealed and clapped like a little girl.

The game was great, and Dan gave Mom-Mom a crackerjack tour of Citizen's Bank Park, right down to her sitting in the dugout and standing in the on deck circle. A week later, I went to the Phils website to get the address to send Dan a thank you note, and noticed a banner ad calling for Phillies Phan of the Year entries.

I nominated Mom-Mom...and she won.

The Phils and Southwest Airlines feted her at the ballpark and sent her to spring training as her prize. I'll never, ever forget those memories with her, my mom, my husband, and my amazing friend Mary -- as Phils fans, her and Mom-Mom took to each and were instant BFFs.

That December, we threw her a surprise 90th birthday party. It was so very special, especially looking back on it now and considering all the loss we've had in our family since her party (Uncle Ronnie, Aunt Leslie). Aunt Kathy came in from New Mexico, family we hadn't seen in years cleared their calendars to be there, and friends and church folks made the occasion.

At the center of it all was Mom-Mom, smiling, crying, and grateful to be surrounded by so much love.

On a TV show tonight, a character commented on how it felt to be admired, and that hit home.

Grandparents, and grandmothers in particular, are really very good at giving a special kind of love to their grandchildren like nobody else. Mom-mom's specialty was admiration. You know, the kind that just makes you glow from the inside out and you feel important and valued.

She always said, "You're my go-getter, Kara."

The first time was when I was about 7 or 8 years old. The school in her neighborhood was being named after my Aunt Bunny, so Mom-Mom sent me, with camera in hand, to take a picture of it.

She framed it, and that shot hung on her den wall until the day she died. (Little did I know that one shot would set in motion a life long passion for photography, that continued into my 20s when I became a photojournalist.)

There were other times, like when I moved to California the first time, or when I graduated grad school to name a few, but that first memory sticks out the clearest.

I know I was lucky to have her for this long, since many friends (and my husband) didn't have the luxury of having grandparents around as long as I did.

When I moved to California, I called Mom-Mom often to keep in touch. Even when I was coaching soccer and running around, we always found time to talk. As usual, she would tell me that she was proud of me, though concerned that I was "burning the candle at both ends."

We'd always end our conversations the same way, with her saying, "I'm so happy you called, it gives me a chance to tell you that I love you."

I love you too, Mom-Mom.

Related post:
Writing, and Delivering, Mom-Mom's Eulogy

My Flickr albums of Mom-Mom: