Alice Johnston, my grandma, was a pretty exceptional lady. She defied death more times than any of us can count. Each time we thought it was finally, “her time”, grandma would prove that she was as close to invincible as one person can be. I think that was the hardest part about her finally leaving us – we never really thought she would.
She lived through so many incredible and difficult times – the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, September 11th. During her lifetime there were 17 different presidents. Throughout it all, grandma remained a classy and elegant woman. At 95 she was still dressed to the nines every day, jewelry and all.
While growing up grandma made sure that the grandchildren were given everything we needed and happily participated in whatever game we had planned. She would let my sister and I lock her in the basement closet and pretend that we were riding in an elevator. Family was her number one priority and she made sure that everyone she loved felt special.
All of us grandchildren would laugh each time she would launch into one of her infamous stories, as we had heard them all a hundred times. Now that she is gone, I’m so glad that she did, because we will never forget them. Some of my favorite stories include how my grandma and her family lived “back then”. They lived in the old South Hills neighborhood of Cleveland, pretty close to where my family lives now. At the time there were only three houses on the street and the rest of the area was fields. During the Great Depression my grandmother’s father bought a bowling alley near 25th street and Clark to help bring in income. They paid the pin boys a nickel to realign the bowling pins.
One of the stories we heard more often than not was about when she was a little girl and her family went down to Florida. Now in those times people weren’t gallivanting all over the world – heck, public transportation wasn’t even that great. So going down to Florida was a big deal. When she returned from her trip, her schoolteacher sent all of the other students out into the hall and made my grandma tell her everything there was to know about Florida. I can only imagine the mayhem!
Many of us are too young to remember the streetcars that used to run in Cleveland. They connected both sides of the city and many people used them to get downtown. My grandmother used to talk about taking the streetcar downtown to buy a new dress at one of the huge department stores, which would cost her all of $5. You’d be lucky to buy a pair of socks for $5 nowadays!
Growing up my grandmother was also a dancer. From what I can gather from her stories, she was quite a good dancer and was even asked to go on the road to perform. Although I always got the sense that she may have regretted not taking that leap, I think that her true calling was as a homemaker. She was the most thoughtful and caring person, and always made sure that her family and friends felt loved and cared for. She always claimed that she had no talents, but it was quite evident to everyone around her that she was an exceptional person. I can only hope that my grandma knew how much she was loved by each and every one of her family members and what a great grandma she was. We couldn’t have asked for someone to love us and care for us as much as she did.