Wednesday, May 28, 2008
(Mary) Ruth Brower Small
April 19, 1916 - May 29, 2007
My grandmother is the second-to-last rower on the starboard side in this photo from 1934. She was on the first women's crew team at the University of Pennsylvania, long before women's athletics were even close to mainstream.
I rowed for three years in college and one in grad school, and it was really fun to know that I shared that experience with her, in a way.
My grandmother lived for 90 amazing years and was only sick for the last 3 months or so of her life. I'm so thankful that her mind was sharp till the very end and that we were able to spend so much quality time with her. One year ago, less than 12 hours after arriving in California following a 60-hour trip across the country in a medical transport RV, she passed away with my mom and sister by her side.
Grandma grew up during the Great Depression, and that experience shaped her life. She and her brother and sister had to take on lots of responsibility around the house, no doubt instilling her strong work ethic and no-nonsense attitude about life. She and her older sister Doris were only 15 months apart in age and were bosom buddies their whole lives.
After my mom and her brother had moved out of the house, my grandparents traveled the world with my grandfather's Glee club. They also took cruises, like one through the Panama canal (I still remember the t-shirt they brought back for me with a tropical bird on it), and one on the Rhine river, when she and Aunt Doris won a hat-making contest.
My grandparents moved to Florida 20 years ago to retire; my grandma must have been the longest-residing person in her retirement community!
She loved to play cards; her favorite games changed a bit over the years and recently we played lots of Aggravation - which is a truly aggravating game. But you could always talk her into playing just about any game - pinochle, bridge, kings in the corner, double solitaire, hearts, you name it. My mom and sister and I spent many spring breaks in Florida playing cards all day when I was in junior high and high school. She also loved her crossword puzzles, and she and Aunt Doris always argued about whether to use pencils or pens to fill them out. Grandma eventually embraced the erasable pen - which seemed to settle the matter for her.
When she came to stay with my family in California for a few months, she fell in love with Panera Bread (I don't blame her) and wanted to go there every day for lunch. She loved simple foods - ham and cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, soups. She also liked her food hot - coffee, soup - if it wasn't hot enough, she didn't want it. A few years ago we were all having lunch at the Nordstrom cafe, and my sister ordered tomato soup. My grandma wanted to try some, and since my sister was under the weather, she had Grandma take the first sip. Grandma took her bite and proclaimed it to be very good. My sister then took a spoonful, only to discover that the soup was really hot, and she burned her tongue so badly it had sores for several days. Grandma didn't seem to realize that her temperature sensors were much less sensitive than my sister's!
Nearly the entire time that Grandma lived in Florida, she'd go to the pool and do her water walking. She really rejuvenated her lifestyle when she moved, and there's no doubt that moving to a warmer climate helped extend her life.
I wrote this last year right after her death, but didn't feel like posting it then. Now that a year has gone by I decided to post it so that people may know what an amazing woman she was. Obviously this isn't a catalog of her whole life - just the parts that stand out to me when I think about her. I still miss her very much.