In Memory of my Grandmother
My mother’s mother, Florence Kramer, was one of the most unique individuals I have ever met. Her greatest gift to me, although there were many, was that ability to be unique. I was the first of my grandmother’s three grandchildren. When I was very young, I gave her the nickname that would stick with her for all of her life; Dee Dee.
Dee Dee was a constant presence in my life. I have very few early memories that do not include her. I remember her house on Mechanic Street in Southold as my first home. I remember the joy, worry and excitement that surrounded the occasion of letters from Viet Nam from my Uncle, John Kramer, whom I then called “Goom.”
I came into the world, and into the house on Mechanic Street, just as my Grandfather left. In retrospect, I understand that the many changes I saw in my Grandmother’s life in that first decade of mine were her healing and adjusting to being a widow. It turned out to be something she did well.
Each step that she took in her life taught me something. In moving from the house in Southold she taught me that home wasn’t a place, but a place in your heart. That was a lesson she had learned years earlier as an art student in Manhattan, having moved, by herself, from the South. I always loved to hear her tell stories of her days in Manhattan. I imagined that I would be like her one day, creative, self-determining, and on my own in an unfamiliar city.
When I was in early elementary school, Dee Dee took a job working as a housekeeper for a gentleman on Shelter lsland. This turned out to be another gift to me. Dee Dee went to live on his estate in a cottage. On the estate were woods, a pond, and a beach. I remember climbing rocks, catching tadpoles, and watching fireworks from the beach. Here, my lifelong love of nature was engendered.
When Dee Dee made the decision to move into the upstairs of her building in Greenport, I remember the adults whispering their disapproval. It was true; the place was not exactly in move-in condition. But Dee Dee was determined, and little by little, the place became the home she lovingly referred to as her Studio. In that studio, she wrote out a quote and hung it on her wall. It said “Happiness is living precisely as you please.” And that is exactly what she did in that old Masonic temple in Greenport. She lived precisely as she pleased.
In the 1970’s, she was the first vegetarian I knew, and the first person I knew who did Yoga. At the time, I longed for a grandmother like other grandmothers. One who would bake cookies and make pot roasts. Now, I am grateful for that focus on alternative thinking and wellness. That focus, has, in fact, become the framework for my own career.
Throughout my High School years, Dee Dee made the effort to travel to Connecticut to celebrate holidays and accomplishments. When my father had the opportunity to work in England for a short time, Dee Dee joined us on an adventure that changed all our lives.
Dee Dee had been an artist all of her life. She was also a singer, and a writer. In my early twenties, Dee Dee and I would write poetry, and send it to each other. I was never the pen pal she wanted me to be, but I probably wrote her more letters than anyone else in my life. During difficult times, Dee Dee was a person to talk to, and a person to turn to. Her beauty, even as she aged, made me less afraid of the passing years.
When she was eighty, and her eyesight had failed, I commented to her that it must have been difficult, as an artist, to lose her sight. “But I had my sight for eighty years.” She said. She was like that; always positive, always philosophical, always adjusting.
I remember that Dee Dee had many hobbies, including button collecting, gardening, and local history. Even as she aged, she continued to develop new interests and learn new things.
In the last years of her life, after the death of my mother, DeeDee turned inward. I was very grateful for Lana, her caregiver, who helped her immensely during those years, and was with her when she made her final transition.
I am sure that Jamie and Kiera, my younger cousins, had different experiences with our grandmother than I did. I remember when Jamie and Kiera were each born; Dee Dee was so thrilled, and was always so full of pride in their accomplishments as they grew.
In a world where so many people work simply to fit in, my grandmother carved her own path. It didn’t matter to her if anyone followed, or if anyone approved. Her creativity, curiosity, intelligence and integrity were shining examples for me as I grew up. I feel lucky to have known such a person, and even luckier to be her granddaughter.