Earlier this week, I lost one of the most important people in my life.
I’ve shared countless Norma Jean stories with you over the last nine years. My-92 year-old grandmother reminded people a lot of their own grandmother or neighbor. She was “The People’s Grandma,” so to speak.
She was part of the Greatest Generation. Born in 1925, she grew up working on a farm during the Great Depression, married during World War II and raised five children on a farm here in Miami County with my late grandfather.
When Evan was born, she’d come every Thursday after her hair appointment to visit. She’d take Evan and me out to lunch and then she’d watch him so I could go to the grocery or tanning or anything I wanted to do kid-free for as long as I wanted. I lived for Thursdays with NJ. It was during this time that she became more than my grandma — she became my best friend.
She stayed busy. She was always cleaning something, baking cookies, picking up sticks, raking leaves, attending various family and church events. The lady never stopped. She helped out with her local church’s food pantry. She loved helping people. She always had a smile on her face.
I was blessed to see her on a weekly basis because I mowed her yard. I never mowed it to her satisfaction because I mowed too fast, too close to the house and always in the same direction. It gave us both something to complain about.
But it helped her out and I’m certain the only reason she didn’t fire me was because she knew it helped me out.
It was through these weekly visits that I learned a lot of life lessons:
When I first started helping her mow, I mowed too fast. To give you an idea, it took her 80 minutes to mow — it took me only 38. My speed on this mower gave her such anxiety. I quickly learned to time my visits when the Cincinnati Reds games were on TV. I’d shoo her indoors, turn the Reds game on and tell her I needed the score when I was done. We both loved first baseman Joey Votto. And the Reds are still terrible.
• No need to drag the garbage inside
Every time I’d mow, she’d greet me on the side yard to dust off the deck to make sure no clippings were dragged inside the garage. Every little nook and cranny was cleared away before I was allowed to pull the mower indoors. There was no need to clean something twice.
• No shortcuts in life
There were no shortcuts in mowing NJ’s yard. Trust me, I tried. Once. A few years ago, I thought I’d be slick and drop the mower deck a notch since the growing season was in full swing. Big mistake. Folks, I can still feel “That Look” burned into my soul. Rest assured, the buzz-cut grass didn’t die and her eyesight and depth perception were phenomenal. No shortcuts were tolerated. I never tried that stunt again.
• Show up on time
Last September, it was 90 degrees well into the evening hours. I called and told her I’d be over sometime after work around 5:30 or so. When I finally arrived 15 minutes late, the garage door was up and the mower was gone. I found my 92-year-old grandmother on the mower with her straw hat on, wearing a sweater and she was just mowing away in the heat. At the moment, all I could envision was a broken hip, and five sets of her children’s fingers pointed my way. It was then we had our first and only spat. I cried, I was so upset with her and at myself. She thought I had been too busy working, so she took it upon herself to get the job done. In hindsight, I should have just grabbed a glass of ice water, sat in her chair and waved as she drove by and waited until she was done. Instead, I lectured her about keeping her safe. It’ll be something I regret for a long time.
• Admire a task well done
When I would get done, she’d always have a tin of cookies waiting and a glass of water. We’d sit outside and you could see her cares melt away now that the yard was done. All was well in the world. It was then that we’d count our blessings and the birds.
It was those weekly visits to mow her yard and do other various tasks that I was so thankful to just hang out with her. I’d snap photos of her to post on social media for all the cousins from New York to California to enjoy. It always amazed her how family members could see her through “The Face Book.”
Dear readers, thank you for allowing me to share NJ’s and my small-town adventures through the years. She’s already so missed.
“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News.
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