Sunday, July 27, 2014

Grandma Maggie

LIVE from Mongolia has been on the road. My daughter Jade and I have been traveling in the US. We'd planned to go on a road trip, but ended up spending our time in America close to my family's home in Cincinnati, so that we could say goodbye to one extraordinary 90-year-old woman.

CINCINNATI, OH —Up until last week, it had been only once in my nearly-forty years that I thought the world had completely changed after someone's death. That was in 2009, and the world still feels different, somehow not-quite-right after that loss. Last Tuesday, Grandma Maggie died. She was ninety years old, and although dying at ninety isn't a tragedy, it's still a loss. The world feels simply altered after her passing.

Sharing "four puffs" with Grandma Maggie

Unlike most grandmothers, Grandma Maggie wasn't sweet, she didn't sew, and I don't think I ever witnessed her baking anything from scratch, other than a lamb-shaped cake at Easter, which had a black jellybean inserted into its bottom. Grandma Maggie often indignantly declared, "Poppycock!" when she disagreed with what you had to say, and that was frequently. She smoked, she enjoyed a drink, and she gambled. Grandma Maggie loved life, and she celebrated every day as such.

Margaret Sexton grew up during the Depression, the fourth of five children. In fact, as I discovered only after her death, she was actually one of six children; an older brother died a toddler. Grandma Maggie's father was a machinist, and, like most men during that time, fond of an occasional drink. One night, collected from a bar by the cops, he was taken into police custody and beaten to death. A generous account of his murder was that it was something of an accident, brutality gone too far. No one ever made much mention of it, and Grandma Maggie only talked about it once or twice in all the years I knew her. Her mother, for her part, raised five children on her own during both the Depression and the Great Flood of 1937. It was the Great Flood that would result in Grandma Maggie meeting the man she'd marry. She and Grandpa George eloped, and then off he went to war.

Years on, after Grandpa George had returned from fighting in the Philippines, they began building a business of their own. It was a small business, and they staked everything they owned on its success. At first, it wasn't working out, and so they did precisely what you're not supposed to do when you have three kids, a mortgage, and just $200 in the bank: they said, "To hell with it," and took themselves on vacation with the last of their savings. When they returned, somehow, the business took off.

At this point, and over the years, they grew a little bit wealthy. There were trips to Russia, Greece, and a short time living in an apartment in Paris. Grandma Maggie became a docent at the Cincinnati Art Musem. Grandpa George smoked cigars and bought fresh fish.

If this had been where her story, their story, had ended, it would have been interesting enough for those who knew them. But then grandchildren came into their lives, and that's where Grandma Maggie's unforgettable impact was made on me. What follows is the eulogy I wrote for her funeral, which unfortunately was unable to be read at the service. (I suspect Grandma Maggie had a hand in preventing me from reading the following about her!)

~

“Let the cat die down!” was something Grandma Maggie used to say to me when I was a little girl, swinging in her backyard on Larry Avenue in Cincinnati. She would always repeat this particular advice many times over, with all the authority of every commandment she issued. “Trishy, let the cat die down!” she’d say again one last time, as the swing came to a final stop.

I never asked Grandma Maggie what that actually meant, “Let the cat die down;” it only now occurs to me as something I probably should have asked, because, unlike everything else Grandma Maggie taught me, that phrase about the cat never made much sense.

"Oh, poppycock!" with my brother Tim.

And Grandma Maggie taught me a lot. She taught me how to eat my soup like a proper lady, pushing my spoon away from me, instead of pulling it toward me. She introduced me to freshly cracked peppercorns, salmon steaks, and The Maisonette, Ohio's finest restaurant, and one of the finest in the country. Grandma Maggie let me stay overnight and in the morning she toasted waffles and put fresh blueberries on top. When I was nine, she gave me my first cup of coffee, sweet and milky in a fine-bone china teacup, and I’ve been drinking it and thinking of her for thirty years since.

In 2001, a few weeks after 9/11, Grandma called me at home in New York. “My baby needs me to come visit,” she’d said, characteristically not actually asking, but informing. Grandma had already bought her ticket, and would arrive in a few days. In New York, while I went to work during the day, Grandma took herself to a funeral at the famous St Patrick’s cathedral held by Mayor Giuliani for firefighter victims of the attack on the Twin Towers. At night, we went out to dinner and argued, feisty grandmother sparring with her protégé, fifty years younger. To this day, I still remember what that argument was about, although Grandma would certainly roll over in her grave if I put it here in print. When she left New York to return home to Ohio, I discovered a half-empty bottle of brandy in my cupboard. When I asked her about it, she told me she’d brought it for me to help me deal with 9/11. But it’s half empty, I’d protested. “No it isn’t!” she insisted, and never admitted to anything other than evaporation for the disappearance of that brandy.

A few years later, Grandma returned to New York, this time on happier terms than a post-9/11 visit. This time she just wanted to spend time with me and to meet my friends. At dinner one night at the cozy Il Cantinori Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, Grandma and I met with half dozen or so of my closest girlfriends. As the wine arrived, they began firing questions at her: What was it like growing up during the Depression? Did you really fall in love and elope? Tell us about traveling the world!

“Stop talking now, all of you!” Grandma interrupted the girls. “I want to hear about you,” she said. And she listened intently as each of my friends told her own story. When everyone was finished, Grandma asked if we’d heard of the “Balls Club.” They hadn’t; I hadn’t either. “For women with balls!” Grandma explained, as if we should’ve known all along. She thereby inducted each of us into the “Junior Balls Club,” so named for the younger generation of the “Senior Balls Club” she’d begun with friends of her own. Before dessert arrived, Grandma stepped outside the restaurant with one of my friends to have a cigarette. When she’d finished smoking, and she may have been a little tipsy, Grandma flirted with a passing fireman, declaring in damsel-in-distress fashion that she couldn’t walk herself back into the restaurant. The fireman carried Grandma in, and placed her at her seat at the table. When he left and the onlookers had stopped staring, Grandma gave everyone of us girls a knowing, maybe educational, look that said, “And ladies, that’s how it’s done.” 

Of course, if she were here, she’d probably deny that too.

Not long ago, I introduced Grandma to my now-husband. She seemed to like him, like him enough anyway to include him in the mandatory Christmas caroling and the Post-It-note jobs on the fridge. I loved that about her: no matter who you were, no matter how new you were to the Sexton family, you had a place in her house. And you had a job.

It wasn’t long after Christmas that Jesse and I had tried to phone her. I can’t remember the reason we’d tried to call, but we’d tried unsuccessfully for a few days, and then we began to worry. Just as we were about to contact other family members to ask why her line was busy, it finally rang, and she picked up. “Grandma, are you okay?” I asked, with Jesse listening in. “What the hell do you mean?” she’d said, a little defensively. “I was playing online blackjack!”

Undoubtedly for me, Grandma Maggie’s greatest gift was simply the way she lived. She lived life to its fullest, whether she was setting her baby brother's diapers on fire during the Depression, gushing about briefly living in Paris, playing Upwords with her latest victim, or just visiting with her grandchildren. About a year ago, Grandma was on her patio at the retirement home where she lived, sipping an afternoon wine and smoking her “four puffs.” The chair she was sitting on broke, and she fell through the seat. She was stuck, and she was sure this was the way she’d die. “Well,” Grandma told me, days later, after she’d been rescued by a nurse, “I’ve had a good life. It wouldn’t have been a bad way to go.”

Maybe the reason I never quite understood “Let the cat die down” was that it seemed to encourage winding down, rather than stopping. And Grandma Maggie didn’t seem like someone who would ever really wind down, or stop, for that matter. But although she has done just that, what she taught me, and all of us here, will live on and on.   

Epilogue: Just as I was beginning to pen this blog about Grandma Maggie, I received a text from my mom, who is helping to clean out Grandma Maggie's apartment at the retirement home. Inside her curio cabinet, my mom found her First Communion book. For all you Catholics and ex-Catholics out there, you know that this book is supposed to be a holy keepsake, a reminder of the day when you received one of the blessed sacraments. Tucked inside Grandma Maggie's First Communion book was a debit card for one of the casinos she frequented. Grandma Maggie, wherever you are, the world has forever changed without you. 

As always, celebrating. 


Dedicated to Margaret Mary Sexton, September 18, 1923 to July 21, 2014.

"LIVE from Mongolia" is the true story of one woman's journey to pursue her passion. The book has been a bestseller on Amazon. Author Patricia Sexton left behind a Wall Street career to anchor the Mongolian news. She now features dream-followers on her blog and previously on the TV show, WE Talk. (Published by Beaufort Books, Oct. 2013)



14 comments:

fingers said...

your Grandma was fortunate to live the life she did; there were enough excuses not to have lived it had she so chosen but she made it work...
she's also fortunate to have had a granddaughter erudite enough to do that life justice...a beautiful piece, Trish; you honoured her perfectly...
i was sure her response to the allegation about the half-empty brandy bottle was going to be that it was actually half-full...:)...
the smoking photo is priceless...

Sharon Sleeper said...

Nice one!

Sappa Lama Gomso said...

Nepal Base Camp Treks (P) Ltd (team guide) are not only provide you a perfect holiday tour services, also here to organize your trouble less trekking holidays in scenic green hills to icy peaks where reachable on foot.
There are hundreds of best and fantastic trekking tour operators in Nepal, offer you to choose many popular trekking destinations in high Himalayas as, Everest Base Camp Trek, Everest Chola Pass Gokyo Lake trek, Everest Gokyo Renjo la Pass Trek, Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Annapurna Circuit Thorong La Pass Trek , Upper Mustang Trek,Annapurna Nar –Phu Hidden Valley Trek, Manaslu Circuit trek Kanchenjunga Base Camp Trek, Manaslu Circuit via Tsum Valley Trek, Langtang Valley Trek, Gosaikund Helambu Trek, Kathmandu Valley Circuit Trek and untouched tourist destinations of Ganesh Himal Camping Trek, Tawal Earthquake Area Camping Trek, Upper Dolpa Trek, Makalu Base Camp Trek and much more… as you desirable. Base Local Trekking Company in Nepal & get best deal power point trekking Agency in Nepal

Encounters Nepal said...

Encountersnepal.com is professional and Lengal Trekking Company in Nepal
and Base Located Trekking Agency,
and Most top Package is Trekking in Nepal
With fair deal.

Encounters Nepal said...


Encountersnepal.com daily Departure short Trekking as
Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek,
Annapurna Base Camp Trek and
Helambu Circuit trek in Nepal.

Encounters Nepal said...


Rest Short Trip as Annapurna Panoramo Trek,
Annapurna Siklesh trek and
Jomsom Muktinath Trek in Nepal.

Encounters Nepal said...


Encountersnepal.com high recommend as high passes
Annapurna Circuit Trek,
Manaslu Circuit Trek and
Manaslu Tsum Valley Trek in Nepal.

Encounters Nepal said...


Most Challenging and More Scenery as Upper Mustang trek,
Everest Base Camp Trek and
Kanchenju Base camp Trek in Nepal.

Encounters Nepal said...


Encountersnepal.com has more attractive Peak Climbing,
Island Peak Climbing,
Mera Peak Climbing and
Lobuche Peak Climbing in Nepal.

Encounters Nepal said...


Encountersnepal.com Daily Departure as Short Packages Tour as
Helicopter tour in Nepal,
kathmandu Day Tour and
Chitwan Jungle Safari in Nepal

Encounters Nepal said...


the seasonal and main tour as
Kailash Yatra tour,
kathmandut to Lhasa Kailash tour
and 20 days Simikot to Mt Kailash tour in tibet.

Sappa Lama Gomso said...

Annapurna Base Camp Trek assortment may be a known steady trekking route of seven days in Annapurna range region of Asian nation. Annapurna Base Camp trekking that additionally called Annapurna Sanctuary trekking is that the greatest distinguished trekking in Asian nation. the foremost peaks of western portion of large Annapurna Himal includes Hiunchuli, Annapurna south, Fang, Annapurna, Gangapurna, Annapurna three and Machhapuchchhre that ar organized in such a fashion that they exactly type a bend that have a diameter of virtually ten miles. Annapurna base camp trek of seven days from Kathmandu to Pokhara provides the nice influence of existence of a giant area within the core Modi Khola mark its resolution within the south of this ice mass vale in slender gorge of twelve,000ft deep. when you pass what is more to the south this gorge end up to be even wider and provides rise to the productive vale wherever Gurung folks live. Trekking in Asian nation Annapurna Base Camp higher and middle half Moody Khola offers trekkers some short cut trekking ways. Annapurna base camp trekking of seven days package begin its morning flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara and therefore the terribly day it goes on to Nayapul with personal vehicles and trek extend to Natural hot reserving in Jhinu danda, from wherever begins the Annapurna base camp or Annapurna Sanctuary Trek of the Asian nation Himalaya.

Sappa Lama Gomso said...

Everest Base Camp Trek is one of those journeys that create your vacation dreams return true. Hiking on the legendary foothills just under the mighty Mount Everest 8848m with exciting views of the master peaks will solely be found within the Everest Region. This celebrated trek is thought worldwide for its trailblazing routes & the landscapes speak to your senses. On this trip you furthermore Mera peak out at the celebrated Kala Patthar (5,600m/18,373ft) read purpose for a few grand direct views of the very best mountain in the world. Everest Base CampTrek additionally includes different celebrated eight thousand peaks like Mt mountain peak (8,516m /27,940ft), Makalu (8,485m /27,838 ft) Cho-Oyu (8,201m /26,906ft). The culture of this specific space is of nice notebook stuff & interacting with the native of us puts a lot of zest into your venturesome journey as you walk through the Khumbu region of the Asian country. This legendary path could be a psychological thriller for top & wild hikers World Health Organization want the tread the methods wherever legends walked before on their thanks to conquering mountain peak, some did some didn’t however the Everest Base Camp Trek path keeps those legends alive for many trekkers World Health Organization head to the present region. The trip begins with a stirring mountain flight to Lukla, one among the world’s highest mountains; & as shortly as you set down at that altitude, the remainder is history. Your hike takes you to the favored village city of Namche, referred to as the ‘gateway to the Khumbu’’ & from there on you rehearse quiet monasteries with the acknowledge Sherpa of us World Health Organization inhabit this region & their culture is price noting. On the way, we have a tendency to visit the Sagarmatha parkland, home to some rare fauna & flora, this additionally wherever we have a tendency to adapt for a few time. We head deep into the Khumbu hiking into the forest of shrub, birch trees & pine, with colorful villages wherever we have a tendency to square measure sincerely welcome by the Sherpa community. we have a tendency to square measure pleasantly stunned to return across a hospital-based mostly in Khunde and health post at Pheriche that shows this region not solely cares for the locals however also are able to look out of trekkers World Health Organization have altitude issues. Doctors square measure invariably at the post for aid treatment. The Everest Base Camp Trek is arduous however varied teahouses square measure found on the paths providing smart grubbed to shelter from the generally harsh climate. Our trek culminates at base camp so we have a tendency to create a path for Namche as we have a tendency to hike back to Lukla to rendezvous for our flight to Katmandu. we have a tendency to add an additional contingency day for inclement weather which will delay flights. It’s recommended to be pretty acceptable to undertake this journey; you only want some smart hiking exercise before doing this trip. And Nepal Base Camp Treks can do the remainder to allow you AN action-packed odyssey of a period.

Shiva Excursion said...

Trekking in Nepal is one in all the favored commercial enterprise activities in Nepal trekking is one in all the simplest means of experiencing the natural beauty and wealthy cultural
heritage of Nepal. Nepal treks offers snow capped views of Nepal Himalaya, stunning landscape, totally different ethnic teams & their traditions, welcome, lush valleys through forests of bush, bamboo, oak, and hemlock, visiting one or 2 villages to next trekking destination. Nepal isn't merely walking hiking sooner or later when another, it's rather a gradual means of experiencing of Nepal's diversity in terms of earth science, people, faith and a large vary of culture. Shiva Excursion is Local Trekking Agency in Nepal may be each day hike to nduce to the highest on a mountain or a ridge for the spectacular views of mountain chain peaks or it may be a hiking for a month passing through villages within the shadow of lofty snow peaks, valleys, notch experiencing wealthy culture, custom and also the impressive views of the Himalaya in Asian nation. the target of Trekking in Nepal isn't simply the actual destination, however the journey itself. You travel at a modest pace, observant nature, rural communities, and spectacular mountain panoramas whereas you're trekking in Himalaya . Shiva Excursion old trekking guide can lead for path finding an introduction to the native individuals, culture, faith and mode. Under Nepal Government License holder Trekking Company in Nepal which is lead by Over 20 Years Trekking and Tour Operation Highly Recommend Everest Base Camp Trek and Annapurna Base Camp Trek. Because these Trip are most Popular and Challenging and top Destination in Nepal. Most of the Adventure, Moderate, and Easy hiking and Hard Passes Organized in Nepal. not that much enough some of Top Peak Climbing as Island Peak Climbing, Mera Peak Climbing, Lobuche Peak and Many others real adventure path of Nepal. In Nepal More then 3000 threkking Agencies and all are competion for the business sector. Some one selling cheapest and some one selling top and quality service. those Agencies as over 30% are fake travel dealing.