Sunday, July 14, 2013

Happy Birthday Grandma

Gladys C. Wheeler
(14 July 1909 - 20 May 1988)

Gladys C. Wheeler was a brilliant and gifted woman who left Oklahoma and moved to California in search of a better life. With only an elementary school education, she served her country as...

a War Nurse

and a Welder

After the war, she began working as a waitress. In this occupation, her cheerful attitude and brilliant sense of humor attracted many customers. Within a few short years, she began opening her own restaurants. She was a very astute business woman. 

The Cliff House
San Francisco, California

She was as generous as a saint. She paid the way for her parents and three younger brothers to come to California. She helped them establish themselves and was the matriarch of our family. She was a very talented chef ~ not cook ~ who would go so far as to paint leaves as decorative touches to the gourmet meals she so proudly served us. What a treat it was to grow up with our very own Iron Chef. Even though she would sometimes tell us that her home was not a restaurant, it really was... for she would make us whatever our hearts desired. 

The Feast of the Bean King
Jacob Jordaens (1593 - 1678)

As an individual, she learned by doing, by reading, and by exploring. She built homes (with her bare hands), invested in real estate, and kept excellent books and records. She was also an artist. People loved her handiwork and paid "handsomely" for the privilege of owning her hand knitted baby booties, Christmas ornaments, and many other objects too numerous to mention. Most of the time though, she simply gave these gifts away. She had a heart of gold and though she was very good with money, she was best at giving it away. 

My grandmother's first love died in a car accident on the way to the chapel. Her second love, my uncle's father, died young. But she was lucky, and met the man whom she would forever refer to as "the love of [her] life"... my mother's father. Sadly, he died when my mother was only 8 years old. I asked her once why she didn't remarry and she said, "because the love of my life is no longer here. Marrying someone else would just make me miss him more." 

The Love Letter
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732 - 1806)

By the time I was born, she was in her 60s. She was a shinning star for me. Like her many friends, she captivated my imagination in a way that was just magical. I loved spending time with her. I reveled in her stories and fell in love with the world through her eyes. 

Penning a Letter
George Goodwin Kilburne (1839 - 1924)

My grandmother encouraged my love of learning as an act of exploration. She lectured me on the merits of working diligently and remaining truthful to myself and others. In elementary school, she gave me my mother's encyclopedia set and for over a decade I wrote reports and delivered them to her orally and in written format. In this way, we both developed an ardent passion for learning. Perhaps she encouraged this activity as way to "catch up" on what she missed given her poor circumstances in early childhood, but for me, it was a privileged opportunity to learn more than I did at school about the bigger world I would someday encounter. 

(Mary Cassatt) Auguste Reading to Her Daughter
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (11 May 1844 - 14 June 1926)
Private Collection

My grandmother was a bit old school and admittedly not too politically correct, but she was passionate, loyal, understanding, quick witted, unbelievably clever and industrious, and hilariously funny! 

It is amazing how well we remember those people who make us laugh, who make us think, and who encourage us to reach further than we might otherwise venture.

"Reach for the stars," she'd say, "and if you only land on the moon, you can still call yourself an astronaut!" 

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