Posts Tagged ‘Apollo 13’

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives” [Jackie Robinson].

Greg’s grandmother, a little firecracker of a woman, passed away last week. Phoebe was a month shy of 97 years old, and for most of her life, she lived in Dagsboro, a little town about 10 miles from Bethany Beach on the Delaware Coast.

Both of Greg’s parents grew up in Dagsboro (population less than 600), and he has many fond childhood memories of spending his summers bouncing between the homes of his MomMom Phoebe and MomMom Alice. As a young married couple, Greg and I continued the tradition of spending our summer vacations with Phoebe, using Dagsboro as home base as we visited family members and relaxed at area beaches.

Phoebe insisted on preparing eggs and scrapple for us every morning (Except for Fridays, when she cleaned and ironed for a neighbor up the street.), and a rich delicious dinner every evening. (I can’t prove it, but I think all of her recipes called for 1 cup of lard and a cast iron skillet.)

It was a welcome tradition for Phoebe to take us crabbing sometime during the week, and then she would spend the afternoon preparing a sumptuous feast of fresh crab cakes for our evening meal. At least once during our visit, we would treat her to Grotto Pizza (her favorite).

Phoebe was a no-nonsense, not particular, not interested in the frills or ruffles, kind-hearted, and generous friend and grandmother. She never forgot to send birthday cards signed “love, MomMom” with a $20 check tucked inside. (And while Greg was in college, she also included several postal stamps as a gentle reminder that he should write to her.)

A while back, Greg called MomMom, she was in her 80’s at the time, and asked what she was up to. “I’ve been taking old people to the doctor,” she replied, and then continued with a litany of which of her friends needed to go where and why. Phoebe lived a simple life, where you worked hard, you didn’t spend your money on things you didn’t need, you took care of what you had, and if your friends had a need you helped them.

Phoebe was the second-youngest of 12, had worked hard all of her life, and had no tolerance for the dim-witted. (“Dumb as a brick” was a favorite saying.) Nor was she impressed by the latest invention. (“What they don’t think of that you just don’t need,” was another.) It was not uncommon for her elder sisters to spend their final years living at her house (most all of them lived well into their 90’s), under her constant care.

Many years ago, shortly after Uncle George purchased a VCR for MomMom, he rented the movie, Apollo 13, that had just been released. Phoebe and her sisters gathered in the living room to watch. Several minutes into the movie, the girls became restless and expressed their displeasure at the subject matter. “You don’t like the movie?” George asked. “No,” came the reply, “we already saw this.”

“But this movie just came out this week,” George responded. “When did you see it?” One of the sisters responded, “We saw it the first time, when it originally happened.” They had lived through and experienced the real Apollo 13 event in 1970, and were not impressed with Hollywood’s recreation.

One of my favorite stories about “the girls” had to do with Aunt Audra, who regularly spent winters in Florida. One of the sisters convinced Audra that she should pack and ship the clothing she would need, rather than use her suitcases. The argument was that all this back-and-forth travel would wear out the handles on the cases. (At the time of this discussion, I believe the women were in their 70’s. Did I mention this family was frugal?)

Taking this “wise” advice for one of her last winter trips, Audra did, indeed, pack and ship her clothing. When the box arrived in Dagsboro, ahead of Audra’s return, Phoebe and her sisters opened the package, each selecting their favorite outfit. When Audra’s plane landed later that week, she was greeted by the girls, each attired in the clothing she had shipped. (Hey, at least Audra didn’t needlessly worry about those suitcase handles.)

Less than 15 minutes away from tiny Dagsboro is the small town of Selbyville (population less than 2,000), where Phoebe’s mother-in-law, Stella, lived. Stella was a tough old bird, who was likely to meet you at the back door with a rifle in hand, wearing a housecoat and slippers. (Wise guests knew to call and announce their visit before stopping by.) Stella wasn’t known for her kindness and she didn’t play around. Yet Phoebe was an attentive daughter-in-law, helping out where she could, regularly bringing groceries and running errands for a woman who rarely left the house.

It was such an awesome experience to have known Phoebe and to meet Stella. The heritage and fullness that extended family members can bring to one’s life is immeasurable and something my own family was unable to provide. I am so grateful for the time I spent with MomMom Phoebe — she was a treasure and impacted me in ways I am still discovering.

Whatever you are, be a good one!


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