Happy Birthday, Phyllis May

Today is my Grandma’s birthday, so I thought I’d post what I wrote to say at her memorial service earlier this year. My Grandma was wonderful at making people feel special on their birthdays, and I know we’re all missing her as we head into the holidays, a time of year she really made shine.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

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When I was thinking about what I wanted to say today, I realized I had so many stories of my grandma, I would have to narrow it down by picking a theme. 

I could talk about how creative she was, I could talk about the things she loved to do. I could talk about her sense of humor – very quick-witted, surprising, and just a little bit mischievous. 

Thinking of all these things, who she was and what she taught me, I decided the best thing I could talk about is something I’m sure everyone here can relate to. My Grandma is someone who could make people feel special, and she certainly did that for me. 

The first time my grandma laid eyes on me is a story I heard often enough that it almost feels like a memory I have myself. It was snowy, in the middle of the night, and she had driven all the way into northeast Portland to meet me, the day after Christmas. 

When she picked me up and looked into my eyes, she was struck by this feeling that I had her eyes, and we formed this connection that I like to think we share to this day. 

She also shared with me her creativity, and taught me to paint flowers and seagulls, how to draw a face in proportion. She was the first ever person to buy my art when I was little and decided to sell poorly drawn ballerinas for ten cents each. I was so excited to have found this new income that I started mass production, hoping to get rich. 

She shared her interests and curiosity with me, always asking what I’ve been up to and insisting that by giving me her vintage clothes or loaning me a pretty necklace for a school dance she would be living vicariously through me. The dress I’m wearing today is one she gave me when I was in high school. It came with a pair of cork heeled red pumps that fell apart as I was walking to class. She thought that was pretty funny. 

She shared with me–for better or worse–her sense of humor. There are probably hours we’ve spent laughing about the oddest things that honestly you can’t explain without their losing all meaning. Jokes about matching tattoos we might get, and where. Or how tickled she was to be called a “badass grandma” by my brothers. 

She was such a generous woman to share with so much with me. Our blue eyes. Our love of Birkenstocks. Our middle names.

I was lucky to know her, to have grown up next door to her. And I feel honored she saw so much of herself in me. 

When we would talk about what I’d been up to lately, she had a habit of saying she wished she could join me. It gave me this feeling I must be living some fabulous and wild life that she admired, and it always made me feel like I must be doing something right. 

That’s how special, and how important my grandma could make people feel. 

Like leaving notes from a “secret pal” for my brother Charlie to find in my mom’s car. Or baking 27 different types of cookies at Christmas time to share with people she loved. If you visited her, she would laugh at your stories and make sure you felt welcome and insist you get a drink and a treat. 

She’s someone I admired and someone I wanted to grow up to be. Now I hope to live up to that legacy.

I want to take in and remember everything she’s taught me, to live the type of life she would approve of, and to share her stories to remind myself where I came from. 

I’ll do my best to be the kind of woman, sister, wife, and friend she showed me by example to be. 

Grandma, we love you.