Winifred Anne Welker Ahern
July 27, 1925 – January 22, 2012
As the Year of the Dragon commences, Grandma Winnie has left our world – turning control of our family to her own Dragon daughter.
It is winter. January. And it’s finally started raining in California. Cliché, I know. This is Grandma’s absolute LEAST favorite weather. She’s a true California sunshine girl – always in search of the perfect tan, preferably found by the luxury of a lake or pool (or at least draped across a fabulous set of wheels to get her there).
In fact, I’m pretty sure she’s being welcomed through St. Peter’s gates in a baby blue 1957 Chevy Bel Air to a place not unlike Maui – although it’s heaven, so probably more Bora Bora-esque.
Some of you knew her; most of you didn’t. She was special. She is special. I will miss her. I am so grateful she got to meet her “honeys.” The muppets were the honeypot to her Winnie – like the Pooh. And her namesake lives on in Search.
It’s really no surprise, you see, she was Queen of Them All. The lone blue-eyed girl among three brown-eyed boys, she was always treated as special.
Her mother (my great-grandma) was an avid reader – and a brilliant writer. She continuously read to her children – instilling in them an almost obsessive love for stories. Generations of my family have experienced life with vivid imaginations and the drive and desire to learn. (I know where I got my word nerd tendencies – Grandma Winnie was ready to go to school by age 3, even offering to attend kindergarten instead of her big brother Raymond, who cried every day as he was dropped off.)
She was spunky, lively and loving. She would be the first to roll her eyes and sigh, “Oh, good grief,” at the ever present ridiculousness surrounding us in life. Her key to longevity was to never lean on the grocery store cart – stooping and shuffling was bound to make you “elderly.” And Grandma Winnie, despite her protests to the contrary, was absolutely horrified at the concept that she might one day join the ranks of the moribund blue-hairs. (Her hair was always perfectly coifed – a slight hint of silver sheen glimmering off her stark white curls.)
This was a woman who one day called me in a fury of frustration to complain about her technical ignorance as she navigated the internet for online shopping, chatted with me, sent emails about her plans and confirmed get togethers on her numerous travels by cell phone.
Several years ago, my mother procured a two-pound box of See’s candy as a Christmas gift. “Oh it’s good to see you Mary See,” my grandmother cried! Also hereditary in our family is an obsessive devotion to the cocoa bean.
“I know it’s a lot. You can freeze it,” my mother intoned dismissively. (Lack of chocolate worship is clearly a genetic defect in my mom.)
“Freeze it?! Eat it!” corrected Grandma. Naturally she shared with me.
I am the oldest grandchild. I am also the favorite grandchild. (This is my blog. I’ll grieve how I damn well please thankyouverymuch. Get your own blog and you can be the favorite.) She is the reason I tell stories. It is in our blood.
Two of my favorite family stories are Uncle Jon’s journey to Blue Jay and Uncle Tom clad in my mother’s orange jumpsuit. There are still so many more to share. She will never be forgotten. Her memory lives on in the stories I will continue to share.
I don’t know how to say thank you. I don’t know how to say goodbye. I am numb. I am sad I will never again see her screen name pop up in my chat window. I am angry she had to suffer; I am glad she is finally at peace.
So, in honor of her – I ask you to share your own favorite family story in the comments below. Please help me keep the art of storytelling alive.
And also, let’s all have some See’s. It’s what she’d want. And feel free to share.
12 Responses to A Grateful Granddaughter
My grandfather — H. Richard Ford — was an amazing, if not slightly odd man. He fancied himself a jack of all trades — master of none. Except for golf…the man knew golf…I mean so much so barely a month after a major surgery (his colon had burst) he was back out on the links….he was unstoppable.
As a kid, I remember loving going to Long Beach where my grandparents lived for a time. Not only did I get to go on a military plane, basically the big ole cargo planes that flew out of Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield (where I once met then gov. Jerry Brown and offered him my cheerios — he declined) but I got to go on the Oom-Pa-Pa with him (that’s a carousel to the rest of you) and sing our favorite song.
“I went to the animal fair, the birds and the beasts were there. The big baboon, by the light of the moon was combing is auburn hair. The monkey he got drunk. And sat on the elephants trunk. The elephant sneezed and fell to his knees and what became of the monk the monk the monk?”
I think I was about 11 years old when my Opa went camping w/ my dad, brother, and I to Whitney Portals near Mt. Whitney. He was a WWII vet, accomplished story teller himself, devoted to his wife, but wouldn’t pass up a chance to chat or dance w/ a pretty girl.
One of our nights camping Opa walked across the campsite to the car. In the evening light I could barely make out the profile of a bear, not a large one, but still….a bear walking through our campsite! I tried yelling to Opa to let him know about the unexpected company, so he could wait a min before coming back to us. As I yelled, “Opa, a bear!” he yelled back asking “a beer?” Why would I ask for a beer, no “A bear!”. Again, “beer?”. Thankfully the BEAR wasn’t interested in us and kept along his path and Opa returned to us safely, with a beer in hand. Goodness I miss him.
Well, now I really cant stop crying. Thank you for taking some beautiful memories and adding that touch of humor which was always with her.
I will miss her terribly!
I did an interview of sorts with Wini several years back – these are in her own words as best as possible. I’ll try to attach them here but send you a private email with them as well.
I too will miss her terribly. Interesting note: the country station I was streaming on the net yesterday played one of her favorite songs. Oddly, by a Hawaiian singer “IZ” on my country station. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I’ll take that as a sign that she is enjoying sunshine, beautiful colors and the sounds of Hawaii that she loved.
Almost thirty years ago, a beloved Gramma requested a visit to her bedside from her favorite person. That gramma was my mother. That visitor was your husband. He was three years old. The hospital had rules about young visitors. Not allowed. But we snuck him in with the cooperation of every nurse on the floor.
She had watched him so I could work. Taken him everywhere. They dined out together regularly. Went on train rides. Went to see the Clydesdales just because a two year old might like that. He asked endless questions and she patiently answered them all. I remember asking him how he knew the airplanes were going to Moffett Field. “Gramma told me.”
So I will never forget that last visit between them. Yes, he spent the time asking questions and she answered all of them like she always did. Then a kiss, a hug, an “I love you” and a final goodbye. He can’t remember. I will never forget.
I like to think that today, your Gramma and Jonathan’s Gramma are enjoying a cup of coffee. Sharing stories. Smiling.
it was six years ago this past november that i lost my beloved grandmother…i was too her favorite granddaughter (by default given i was the only one!). the weeks leading up to her death were not good and very emotional for me. i won’t ever forget those days and fondly remember one night i went to visit her in the icu. she was having a “good” day and said to her nurse. “this is my granddaughter. she is the nicest girl you’ll ever meet”. (just writing this brings the tears flowing) i miss her everyday.
grandmothers hold special places in our hearts.
so very sorry for your loss.
Thanks for the awesome post Tricia. Grandma was one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known and ever will know. It’s so hard for me to put into words what she meant to me, so I commend you on your ability to express it on the blog. She was such an inspiration and its still hard for me to comprehend that shes no longer with us.
I may not have a specific story to share about Grandma, but I am forever grateful that I was able to share a birthday with her. It was always a highlight to call her so that we could wish each other a happy birthday every year.
There was also 3 things (2 of which you touched on) that I believe I directly inherited from Grandma. There are much more than 3, but I don’t want this comment post to be longer than your blog.
First is her fear of heights. As those close to me can attest, I am not fond of any sort of high place. It was comforting knowing that I wasn’t the only one.
Second is her love of baking and sweets. I’ve eaten more Grandma-baked treats that one can even begin to comprehend…and it was always a race with a certain older sis (ahem…) to get to them otherwise you’d miss out.
Third is her love of the sun. Clouds/rain/winter weather are the bane of our existence and there is nothing more soothing than being at the beach on a hot summer day.
I love you Grandma and thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I hope they have a good internet connection up in heaven so you can continue reading these blog posts. I’ll miss helping you troubleshoot your computer problems, but most of all, I’ll miss you.
I am so happy that I had the chance to meet Grandma Winnie, if only a couple times. I still consider it one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten when she asked for all the recipes of the food I made for your baby shower so she could make them for her own friends at her upcoming social events. :o)
I wish I had a great story to share about my own departed grandparents, but I’ve never been very good about those. I do know my love for playing cards comes from my Grandma Depner (though I hope I don’t have her amusing though highly aggrevating habit of playing innocent as she wipes the floor with you). And I will forever remember my Papa’s good natured teasing, always with a twinkle in his eye. I miss that twinkle every day.
I wrote out a bit and then found that it was getting rather long. So instead of inundating the comment section here with my wall of text I posted my own family story about my Uncle to my own blog which you are all welcome to go read in its entirety there.
Tricia, as you well know … your Grandmother will be missed, and we’re all here for you and yours if you need us.
Here’s to you Uncle Rick – http://www.aberudo.com/2012/01/24/heres-to-you-uncle-rick/
You have such a beautiful ability to express yourself and your feelings with words. Having met Gramma Winnie several times over the years I have fond memories of her. I will always remember her as a spunky and hip grandma- I was always amused and amazed that she was so technologically adept… and I see so much of her in you.
As for my own family stories, one that will live in infamy is from when I was in kindergarten and my parents were just starting to get serious with one another. At the end of a class play I apparently stood up on a table (remember I was even shorter then than I am now) and, using my “outside voice,” called out, “Steve, are you sleeping over tonight?”
My parents tell me that the room got quiet until one of the other parent’s jokingly said, “Well, is he?”
To this day I have no idea if he stayed or not, but this summer they will celebrate 25 years of marriage!
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