My Grandmother Cope's birthday is this month she would have been 106. I miss her and everyday I thank her for the strength and character she gave me. To this day when I fall short I feel I have disappointed her.
I have been blessed by having two remarkable grandmothers in my life.
My Grandmother Cavanaugh was the very glue that was responsible for raising seven children, and she babysat me until, I was 4.
I am positive that was harder than raising her children. I know she has a very special place in heaven.
As much as I loved my Grandmother Cavanaugh, as I grew older my Grandmother Cope became my love and inspiration.
She was born in Charlottesville, VA, in 1898.
Her father, my great-grandfather was a hauler. He was killed when she was very young when a wagon he was fixing rolled over him.
My great-grandmother died soon after that.
My grandmother and her two sisters and a brother were placed in a new school for orphans that was located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains close to Charlottesville.
The orphanage was named after its benefactor, a Mr. Miller. Miller School has been a military school and is now a co-ed prep school. The old school itself has been the background for many military movies.
On the wall of Miller School still today is a plaque of some sort placed by my grandmother when she was a child that says "Ann Stratton."
She stayed in that school until she was 18 and received in what was in those days an education that was equivalent to a college degree today.
She first became a teacher, then became one of the first women to serve her country, joining the Yeomenets during World War I, a move that was to pay off for her proudly in her later years.
After the war she met and married my grandfather, Frank Cope, a very dashing Tennessean who served as a special guard to the White House during World War I. They moved to Arizona and my mother was born in Phoenix.
I suspect she thought she would settle down to a long happy life of being a mother and a housekeeper in Arizona
But my grandfather received a serious head injury in a work accident, and although he was very talented he never could settle down in a serious job after that.
My grandmother had to become the breadwinner for a family that now included two daughters. So they moved back east.
She began a job working for the federal government in Washington, D.C. Over the years she rose to the rank of Chief of Teletype, which for women in those days was a remarkable responsibility, and placed her way ahead of her time.
Being head of teletype for the Veterans Administration in the late 1940s and early 1950s was the same as being a head of the whole communications system for that department today.
My grandmother retired in 1954 and settled down to an earned life of retirement.
I loved to visit my grandmother and grandfather during the summer months when I was out of school.
I got to watch wrestling (I can still remember Gorgeous George and Antonio Rocco), eat ice cream, drink soft drinks and stay up late.
My grandmother wasn't the greatest cook, but on Sundays she would fix the best fried chicken, mashed potatoes with white gravy and lima beans you ever ate.
During the summer of 1960 I slipped under a lawnmower and cut a few toes off. I spent most of the summer of that year in the hospital while they tried to save my big toe.
During that time I became a fat, spoiled ruthless little brat.
Finally in August the decision was made that my large toe was not going to make it.
I soon went home to recuperate with my crutches and with the notion that I would not walk right again. I went to stay with my grandmother so I could continue my spoiled rotten ways.
My grandparents lived across the street from a big shopping center that contained a large drug store. That was the home of an old-fashioned snack counter where you could get the coldest lemonade and the best ice cream.
On the first day, with me being in a wheelchair, I was the center of attention of the kids in the neighborhood and of course every night I had my ice cream and drinks with my grandparents.
On the third day I awoke to find my crutches and wheelchair gone, and in their place was a cane.
I asked my grandmother what was going on. She told me it was time for me to start walking, that not doing so was all in my head.
I cried. I wailed. I threw fits and told her I could not walk right and I never would.
She told me that if I wished to continue to eat ice cream or drink lemonade at her house I was going to have to walk over to that drug store alone and get what I needed.
I looked across the street and that drugstore now looked like it was five miles away.
I told her I would not do it, so for three more days my grandparents ate their ice cream and drank their drinks in front of me.
In spite of every emotion I showed them, they refused to share.
On the fourth day it, not only was it the hottest day of the summer, but for some reason the air conditioning mysteriously didn't work.
I finally had enough. I grabbed that cane and dragged myself across that street and up past about 15 stores with sweat pouring out of every pore of my body and people stopping to look at me.
I cursed. I cried. I yelled. But I finally dragged myself into that drug store, which was so cool.
I just stood there and panted until the coolness sunk in.
I limped up to the counter and ordered everything I wanted and I did so until I got sick. But the bottom line was, and what my grandmother taught me is that I could walk and I could do anything else I ever wanted to do if I put my mind to it.
My grandfather died not long after that and my grandmother moved to Annapolis.
When I was 16 I moved in with her. She had rules and I never broke them.
She would wash my clothes by hand; sometimes hanging up clothes she determined weren't as dirty as I did. I never said anything. I just wore them again.
She talked to me about her life. She talked to me about how I should live mine. I was working at the local newspaper and at times I would do dumb things, or I would want to be off so I could do things with my friends, and every time I would do something my boss at the paper seemed to know about it.
I always thought he was a genius. I didn't find out till later that my grandmother and my boss had a direct line to each other and he would come visit and spend hours drinking coffee with her discussing how they were going to get me straight.
She never shared this with me. He did years later.
My friends felt as comfortable with her as I did and would stop by at times just to see her and talk over their problems.
She encouraged me to save money. I wish I had listened to her. She encouraged me to be a gentleman at all times.
I still say "Yes Ma'am" and "No Sir," even to young people.
She smoked about five packs of cigarettes a day, but she claimed she never inhaled.
I always tried to catch her inhaling, but I never did.
I always wondered if Bill Clinton got his famous line on inhaling from her.
My grandmother was a pure Southern Lady. Every day she dressed to face the world wearing earrings and her big old fake pearl necklace.
At one time I was way overweight, not much different than now and I told her I was going to go on some diet. She said that was silly and she would fix foods and the right proportions of them and I would lose weight. She was right, as always. I followed her directions and soon I was at the correct weight.
When I was 20, I married and moved away from my grandmother. It broke her heart to see me get married so young.
About two years later my grandmother and I went on a grand trip as we drove through Charlottesville and on to Tennessee to meet and see relatives I had only heard of.
My grandmother was treated like she was the grand queen on that trip and I felt the happiest I had in years just being with her. It was our last extended time together.
Soon after that my grandmother told my aunt that she just couldn't handle things anymore, so my mother and aunt took her home with them. But she wanted what she had earned being in the service, so she rebelled until she was allowed to sign herself in at Perry Point Veterans Hospital outside of Baltimore, MD - a beautiful place located on the Chesapeake Bay.
My grandmother, it turned out, had a form of Dementia, but she had made her mind up before that disease sunk in that she deserved to be waited on and taken care of for the first time in her life.
I went to visit my grandmother when I could. She always seemed to be so sharp. She seemed to challenge me on everything in my life.
I complained to my family that she was OK and should be home. But she really wasn't.
I think now she just rallied for me, or I just wanted to believe she was like the grandma I knew.
She died in the early 1980s and was buried, in her own right, at Arlington Cemetery right next to my grandfather and with her own tombstone and with full military honors. She was proud of the fact she had earned that right on her own.
When I go to Washington, I go to Arlington to visit her. She and my grandfather are buried under a big Oak tree. She told me once that if I didn't come to visit her from time to time she would come back and scratch my eyes out. I know she was only kidding, I think.
When things got rough in her life my grandmother would pull out her yellowed copy of the Serenity Prayer and she said that reading it always put things in perspective for her.
Grandma, you were an inspiration that has driven my very soul. I never got to tell you that. And guess what - I looked up that Serenity Prayer recently and you were right, as always, it helped put my disappointments into a perspective.
You told me once that you believed in me, and that you were proud of me and that you felt I would do great things some day.
I think I have not achieved all of your lofty predictions, but I am still trying.
I never have really written much about you before, at least not in as much detail.
The truth of the matter is I should have written about you first. I just didn't want to share with anybody else my feelings about you. Your picture is by my side always, and as I look at you with that big smile those pearls and fancy earrings, it makes me smile.
I hope you don't mind that for your birthday I wrote this story about you. Most everybody I know has had and still has a fantastic grandma, and if they don't, I feel sorry for them. Those that still have their grandma's here, I hope they will take a few minutes to tell them that they love them
Grandma, for those of our readers who didn't get a chance to tell their grandma's how they felt, will you do it for them? I know they are all with you. Happy birthday
I love you and I miss you.
Until next time.