The reason no one was home when our house essentially exploded into flames [Labor Day 2011] is that John’s grandmother had died just a few days before, and John and I were in Baltimore with our little kids for the funeral, while the big boys hung out with friends and family. (Yes, my 17-year-old begged to stay alone at home.  Yes, we all thank God that we did not let ourselves be persuaded to allow this.)
Talk about a blessing in disguise.  Of course, Grandma’s death was not tragic.  She was 93, and had been ready to go for some time.  She had been suffering, and we were all glad that she was able to stay in her own home until the end, and then die in her sleep, the way we all want to go.
I do feel bad, though, that our fire–which we learned of when we returned to the hotel after the funeral home visit–interrupted our grieving for Grandma.  The next morning before her simple service and burial, most of the talk was of what was happening in Knoxville and what we were going to do next.  And I’m sorry that my scanner and my pictures are gone so that I can’t share more photos of Grandma, especially the beautiful one we had of her in her prime.
Sarah Gertrude Louden Marks was an original.  She did not have an easy life.  She came from an abusive home–her father suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia and later died in an institution–and was kicked out at the age of 15.  She married soon after and gave birth to John’s father just nine months later.  He was two months premature, and he probably owed his survival to her coming to the hospital to nurse him each day.
She was divorced and went to work soon after that, holding down a variety of jobs, including contortionist, nurse, and beauty shop owner.  Happily she found love again and enjoyed a long marriage to Herman Marks, who raised her son–her only child–as his own.
Tragedy found her again when John’s father died from heart failure at the age of 48.  But she bore it and went on.  I met her three years later, and she was a fun-loving lady with a boyfriend she’d met at the Senior Center.  The two of them took John and me out to a show and I couldn’t believe what a good time we had.
Grandma said what she thought, and sometimes she shocked me.  I’ll never forget her saying as John and I left her home, “Be good!  And if you aren’t, name it after me!”  As a Good Catholic Girl (seriously!), I was mortified.
Her great-grandchildren brought her a lot of joy.  She never minded the commotion they caused.  She loved teasing them and never, ever fussed at them.  She stood about five feet tall, and I remember one time when three-year-old Teddy ran at her too exuberantly and knocked her to the ground.  She bore even that with good grace.
I believe she was in her 70s when her doctor told her not to expect to live six months without major surgery for heart problems.  She said she’d had her requisite three score and ten, and she didn’t want surgery.  She continued to take nitroglycerin for angina, but she lived nearly twenty more years.
John spoke at her funeral and considering his loss and then what we had just learned, I was amazed by his poise.  He said it was the strength he had learned from her that enabled him to do it.  He played the song “I Did It My Way” in her honor, and it was perfect.


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