My dad recently wrote a heartfelt letter about his mom after getting a negative report about her cancer from a negative doctor. Grandma’s reaction was as feisty and spirited as I expected. She retorted over the phone…”Who does this guy think he is? Is he God? Only God knows the number of my days! Bahhh, this guy has some ego! I’m not listening to him…in fact, I’m so mad, I’ll live that much longer just to spite him!” Even though her voice was weak, her spirit was loud.
She is in every way a rockstar!
My Dad wrote his letter, ”My Missionary Mom” from his perspective as a child, growing up in another country and watching her fulfill God’s call as a missionary. Singing, praying, teaching, and spreading God’s love to hundreds of lives in Chile, South America. Pre-Elida she had successfully done 10 years of missionary work in Chile, raised four children in a foreign country, dealt with different cultures, languages and people. After her return to the states, she spent several years as a high school secretary in Southern California and then landed a job at USC. She helped develop and implement marine studies curriculum for children around the globe. All of this while still working on her college degree. As if that weren’t enough, she went on to raise millions of dollars to design and develop a children’s wing for a non-profit hospital earning her a special award from the mayor of Los Angelos.
One Christmas, when I was about 9yrs. old, we drove down to their house in L.A. We stayed in their spanish home which was nestled in a southern California hillside and had all the charm and charisma that my Grandma possessed. This Christmas was special because we got to go with her to the hospital where she worked. I remember watching her stand under a giant Christmas tree handing out gifts to each child who’d been admitted to the hospital. There must have been hundreds in line. She was so stately and poised. She had this amazing head of white hair (she turned white early, in her forties, and just “went with it!”), which was such a beautiful contrast to her perfectly bronzed skin. Her dark eyes were always sparkling…like she knew something fantastic about you that you hadn’t yet discovered. They were eyes of a woman so full of Christ and goodness that the sparkle and shine could not be contained within her spirit. So each person who came into her presence walked away with more than a gift…they had a little extra sparkle and shine of their own!
My grandma decided to take up painting in her 70′s, by age 81yrs…she had her first solo show! She’s the reason I met Father Bruno. When I flew down to see her show, she advised me I came on the right weekend because we got two for one that weekend as her friend, Father Bruno, was showing his work the next day to raise money for orphanages in Uganda. That introduction ended up changing my career and gave me the opportunities to travel to Italy. I always say that all roads lead to Father Bruno, but maybe I should say, all roads lead to Grandma! The following year…she did a joint show with me for the grand opening of my art studio in Camas. It was one of the best nights of my life!
Over the past few years, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to visit her more often in California. I call it my “Swedish Retreat”, but the reality is I fly down for one reason…to paint with Grandma! My Aunt Deb, who lives right next door, jokes that she doesn’t even know I’m there because Grandma has me shut up with her in the studio all day only to emerge for food, water, and the occasional glass of wine. I didn’t realize that it was rare to paint with someone else on the same canvas as we started doing that with each from the beginning.
We are like twins separated by time. Physically, we are the same height, weight, and shoe size. I love raiding her closet as she has phenomonal taste and a timeless collection. On one of my “Swedish Retreat” visits, she went through her closet, telling me the story behind each piece. There was the jacket from Paris that Grandpa had bought her, the perfect suit that she never tired of, and the silver ballroom dress and shoes that she only wore once. I tried on all kinds of things that day, twirling through the living room to get Grandpa’s approval and going home with many of them.
Beyond our physical likenesses we also share a deeper bond. I feel her blood pump through my veins, her thoughts, ideas and creativity carrying on through the generations and coming out of me. When we paint together, it’s like a linking in our spirits and everything flows out as if we are one person. She’ll start on one side and me on the other and without words we dance effortlessly around the canvas working our way to the other side. We signed our last piece together with a new name..”Eliottie” as a combo of Elida and Dottie together. A few years ago, I was on vacation and I found a photography book of Native American portraits. Grandma loves to paint portraits, and is especially drawn to the Native Americans and Santa Fe style. I bought the book and began marking the pages of my favorite portraits for her to paint immediately. When I got home I called her excitedly and started chatting away about my special find. Midway through my description, she stopped me as she realized that she was already painting the exact portrait I was explaining and had bought that same book at the same time as me! I couldn’t believe it!
My Grandma The Rockstar is fighting cancer for a third time. This past January she called me and said, “Well, I flunked chemotherapy; so I’m going to Portugal!” And she did! At 85years young, her and my Grandpa headed to Europe with friends for almost two weeks. I don’t think that this doctor truly understands who he’s dealing with…You see, my Grandma the Rockstar has something so deep, so real, so wonderful that no report can touch it! She exudes God’s light! He doesn’t get that even in death…she lives! That her spirit will live through each of us who’ve experienced her shine! I can tell you one thing for sure, when she gets to heaven it’s going to be one huge party, and she’ll be leading up the band and the dance team!
And after she’s gone, and I’m feeling a bit down or insecure, I’ll just look in the mirror and see her reflection, I’ll see her eyes sparkling back at me! I’ll feel her smile and hear her belly laugh and cackle. I’ll remember how she’d always introduce me with such enthusiasm and pride, “this is my granddaughter, Elida…she’s an artist and she makes a living at it!” Then I’ll straighten up, I’ll hold my head high, and I’ll sparkle and shine just like she did!