"The idea is to die young as late as possible." ~Ashley Montagu
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The health started failing but the spirit was always there.
“Eric, your grandmother got caught trying to break out of her care facility last night.”
I knew what that meant as I had just seen all the sensors they had tied to her to keep her under wraps. She must have spent quite a lot of time unhooking all the technology. She didn’t want to be contained…I didn’t blame her a bit!
“Where did they find her?” I asked.
“She was caught in the hallway trying to sneak out of the building.”
I admired that…she almost got away! If only she was a little quicker she would have been home free. At 93 years old, that’s impressive. That was only a few months ago, but a perfect indication of her character and spirit. This was not an Alzheimer’s patient wandering hallways…this was a cunning and shrewd independent woman that didn’t want to be caged up who would risk it all to be free.
The memories always pour in at times like these. I find solace in writing a few down and smiling. She and I were a lot more alike than people realize.
Mary Ann “Mickey” Koontz passed away this morning. The “Mickey” came from her maiden name “Mick”…there was nothing “Disney” about her. She was just short of 94. This was my mother’s mom. She was a World War II nurse and the wife of Joe Koontz (my granddad) who was called “Soldier Joe” by other soldiers. Joe Koontz was a serious man, and Mickey balanced him out with her mischievous behavior. With all his military structure, he couldn't contain her, either. They will be buried together in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
For those who follow my blog, yes, this is the second dead grandmother in the last 3 months. I’m pretty sure Mickey wanted to outlast Grandma Beans…she told me 2 months ago she was making it to 100 years old and nothing was going to stop her. I believed her. She believed it, too.
This conversation was shortly after a stroke.
There are many ways you can judge someone’s life, money being the least important. I think the best metric for my grandmother is to judge her on her 4 daughters:
1) Barbara: Nursing Degree-ran the ER and Trauma Centers for Emergency
2) Mary Jo (my mom): Doctorate in Global Conflict Resolution-taught MS Program at Columbia University
3) Regina: Nurse Anesthesiologist
4) Kathleen: Masters Computer Science: Nuclear Scientist (before she broke her back)
That’s a strong group of women! Not a loser in the bunch. My grandmother believed strongly in two things: Travel and Education.
Another way you can judge someone's life is how they impacted others...and I'll never forget the phone call.
It was my mom.
"Eric, I am going down to South Carolina because they are honoring your grandmother."
"For what?". I asked.
"Well...I got a call from a reporter and mom has apparently legally adopted around 100 troubled youth, which may be a record."
None of us knew...my mom had to find out from a reporter!
When I asked my grandmother, she had no idea what the number was.
I said "Grandma-you don't strike me as the most sympathetic person in criminal situations, what do you tell a kid who just say-broke into a house or stole a car?"
"I tell them to stop being stupid." followed by the laugh.
That's exactly what I thought she would say.
The third metric of how to judge someone’s life I would like to use is their impact on me.
As a young child, I couldn’t relate to Mickey, and I’m damn sure she couldn’t relate to me. The older I got, the more I realized she and I were a lot alike, especially in our bluntness, stubbornness, strong will and sense of humor. As the years went on, she became a bigger inspiration to me. When I was young, I just thought she was blunt and tough...when I got older I started to see her for a whole lot more. No child is capable of understanding her brilliance.
In hindsight, I truly believe Mickey did not get much joy from wild kids…whereas wild adults were right up her alley. We connected when we were together.
Some of my jokes are extremely funny to me but can be shocking to anyone within earshot…or they go right over their heads. Some of my best material fell on ears attached to 1-Watt brains. I’m sure we all know the feeling of dropping a perfectly timed line and getting a lot of blank looks.
Mickey got all my jokes, and loved them all. The more over the top the joke, the more she laughed. Having this type of understanding is invaluable in family situations…if a grandmother is cracking up at the joke, it could never be THAT bad.
Of all the laughs we shared, I remember only a few.
Me: “4 isn’t big enough”
Grandma: looks over at me smiling knowing what was coming from experience...
Me: “With a head that big, it should be a 5-head…maybe 6”
Then came the laugh...so distinct...a few octaves away from being frighteningly close to the wicked witch of the West but so far away.
Her investment advice was remarkable…the woman did very well in the stock market, so as a younger many I asked her about what she invested in and why? This conversation was close to 20 years ago.
“Most of my money is in Exxon Mobile.” She said.
Me: “Doesn’t that scare you? What if elected leaders decide they are a bad company?”
Her: “Exxon owns them too" (laughs)
Sharp as a tack!
My grandmother was one of the strongest women I may ever meet. She was strong-willed, organized, meticulous, stubborn, active and powerful. I consider her one of the earliest feminists, not because she ever once mentioned “women’s rights,” but because she knew what she wanted and took it. She was never going to be denied and age or gender were no match for her strong will…those were just excuses weak people make.
For Christmas, I would often get parts of poisonous snakes in my stockings. She knew I loved the stories of her blasting Water Moccasins, so she would send me the skins. It was classic. Imagine the surprise the first time when I saw my name on wrapping paper and recognized it to be hers, and eagerly ripped open the paper to see the dead skin of a snake. “What the f?” That gift goes down as one of the best I have ever received…even the most backwoods of kids don’t get that for Christmas. That’s fantastic in my book.
Anything she knew I was interested in, I would receive a consistent trickle of mail about…it would never stop. She knew I was a history buff, so all the Tropic Lightening magazines would find their way to me eventually. As she got older, the articles would be torn out with less precision, but they would keep coming. She asked me if I received her mail…I said “yes…thank you…I throw all that crap out immediately.” She LOVED it and laughed.
At 65, she was struck by a car while roaming Central America by herself…we thought that was it for her and she would deteriorate. Shortly thereafter, the family had to talk her out of her plan to jump on a cargo ship to circumvent the Southern Coast of South America. A cargo ship. Think about that for a second.
She was not going to be stopped by anything, much less an accident. There were no excuses in the world of my grandmother, and no room to feel sorry for yourself.
She was a “Just shut up, laugh and get it done” type of person. Boy did that ever rub off.
At 70 we filled her cake with 70 candles and laughed about what a fire hazard we had created.
At 85 she was living alone in South Carolina and her daughters started to worry. One of her daughters, Regina, found a nice place for her in Philadelphia so she could be close to a daughter. My Grandmother got wind of it and said bluntly with a laugh “I’m not going there! It’s too cold.” She moved to Florida.
At 93, she blasted her .410 Gauge shotgun off on her back porch at a Possum in her back yard (they carry rabies). Her daughters had a long battle to have her give up her shotgun as you can’t do this in a residential neighborhood.
Earlier this year she had a stroke. I got her on the phone and told her I was praying for her. She immediately joked “I have Barbara praying with her Church and Kathleen has the Mormons praying for me in Utah…no matter which God is right, I’m pretty well covered.”
The last time I saw her functioning I held her-she refused to sit down as long as I had her. She looked up at me and said “where did my little boy go?”
“That little boy discovered food, Grandma.”
She laughed heartily and offered me cookies. She refused to sit down. This was a few weeks ago.
When I got the news that she was rushed to hospice, I was surprised. She was still the same strong, stubborn and strong-willed woman I had grown to admire, respect and emulate.
When I arrived at her hospice center she was only able to hold hands. She had not had a drink in almost 3 days, and no food in almost a week. Her body was shutting down.
The damn woman was so strong willed, and now was not the time. She made it over 4 days without water…longer than a healthy human is supposed to be able to make it. She never ceases to amaze me, even in death.
I said “Grandma…this seems like a good time to ask you for your secret “peach jam” recipe…if you could write it down before you die I would appreciate it.”
I know if she could have laughed, I am positive she would have. She was like that.
What a life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eric Beans is CEO of Texting Base, Inc., out of Orlando, Florida. Texting Base is a cloud-based ”SMS Marketing Automation Platform” which allows entities to personalize group text messages.
Prior to Texting Base, Eric was the first US employee of TechSpan which became Headstrong. Headstrong sold for $550M to GenPact.
With a group of partners in 2005, Eric started Premier Mortgage Capital, Inc., a nationwide state charted Mortgage Company that grew to over 2B/Year in originations.
Eric is the author of "Changing The World Through Texting Software" and writes the entrepreneur section of "LA Style Magazine." Eric is an inventor, investor, and longtime entrepreneur.
Texting Base does not offer legal advice-please consult an attorney before starting to text for business purposes.