Keith's maternal grandmother, Beatrice DePalma Lione, passed away late last night.
Grandma Bea (or, as Keith called her, B-ma) was as quiet and reserved as Grandma Ruthie was irreverant and exuberant. On the other hand, as I discovered over the years, she had a sharp wit she used sparingly. It was the rarity of her humorous remarks that caught me by surprise and made me laugh so hard.
I have three favorite memories of Bea. The first occurred before Henry was born. Joe, Bea, Michael, and Madeline had come to Durham for a visit, as well as Linda and Tom. Bea joked throughout the weekend that I should not allow Linda to wear out her welcome in our home. In typical Linda fashion, she went upstairs and put on her robe and slippers, came downstairs and cried, "Look, Mom! I have my own room here! Keith and Meredith even gave me this robe and these slippers." I had never seen Bea be particularly comical before that moment. She dropped her jaw in mock horror, looked at me with a severe expression, and responded, "Keep the mother-in-law OUT."
One Thanksgiving several people came down with an awful cold/sinus infection. As we played Dirty Santa/White Elephant/Chinese Auction (whatever you prefer to call it), Grandma Bea sat wrapped in an electric blanket in front of the fire. When it was Erika's turn to choose a gift, she gently asked Grandma for her Williams-Sonoma lotions. Grandma Bea did not understand and thought Erika wanted her electric blanket. In a voice raspy from coughing, Bea choked out, "How about a cough drop?" I know you had to be there, but we all roared with laughter!
Finally, as we left Atlanta after Thanksgiving 2009, our first with Henry, Bea took me aside and said, "I've always loved Keith, but I think love Henry more." While Linda was mortified, I thought it was a wonderful example of senior citizen honesty and a heartwarming expression of her love for our son. I will never forget it.
As for Keith, he loves to tell me about how he played bartender behind the bar in the basement in Carle Place, New York, as B-ma did her ironing. She told "the bartender" she was planning a party for her grandson Archibald, and Keith took orders for Archibald's party.
He played running bases in B-ma and Grandpa Joe's backyard, a place that once seemed large but he now recognizes as small. I know that feeling. Being a child makes all our memories larger than they really were. But as one of my favorite authors, Tim O'Brien, would say, memories are more real than reality.
Joe and Bea took Keith to Red Sox spring training in Florida and made trips to Atlanta for birthdays and school activities, always remaining as present in his life as they possibly could from New York.
The last time we spoke to Grandma, as always, she kindly but firmly asked Keith to put Henry on the phone. He joyfully told her all about the large black caterpillar with yellow legs we had just seen in our yard. She laughed as usual, even when she couldn't understand what Henry was saying, and her spirits inevitably seemed lighter. I don't think Keith will ever forget their last conversation.
May you fly with the angels now, Bea.
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