To Gram, With Love

On May 21, 2015, after 99 years of life, my maternal grandmother, Rose Van Dussen passed away. About a week and ahalf ago, my sister and I traveled home to Portage for a family memorial lunch, and for a trip to Rosedale Memorial Park Cemetery, where my grandmother was laid to rest alongside my grandfather, Russell, who died 20 years ago.

Langeland Family Funeral Home provided my grandmother's final arrangements, and as a part of their service, they put together a very sweet memorial video using photographs that my mother shared, and they also created physical memory books with the photos for my mom and aunt. I'm not sure if the video will be permanently available online, so I wanted to create a little digital memorial on my blog to honor my grandmother. Here are some of the photos (not in chronological order), along with some accompanying tidbits about her life.

Here is a photo of my grandmother when she was a little girl in Manistee, MI. Rose was the oldest daughter to Walter and Cassie Jarka, and she had 3 younger siblings, Kathryn, Robert and Bernice. I don't have a great side-by-side comparison photo, but I can tell you that the family resemblance is strong -- I looked just like my grandmother did at that age!

In 1940, Rose married my grandfather, Russell, a self-made business man, who put himself through college in part by playing piano at bars and jazz clubs. I still remember going to my grandparents as a little kid, and my grandpa would play Tiny Bubbles on the piano, among other musical stylings. My grandfather especially loved a good celebration, and I think he helped to bring my grandmother out of her shell. This photo was likely from a New year's eve celebration, or some other holiday party, maybe even a celebration related to  the family business, American Cordage Co. (formerly on Wealthy St. in Grand Rapids, MI), which my grandfather co-founded. My grandmother was a partner in the family business, and kept the books for the business for many years. How glamorous they both look in this photo!

My grandma enjoyed traveling, and as a family, we took several memorable trips over the years. I earned my International flyer status at the ripe old age of 3, when my grandparents took my parents, sister and me to Spain to visit my aunt (their youngest daughter), uncle and cousins. It would become part of the family lore that, following that trip, I would refuse to swim in lake water, announcing that 'I only swim in the Mediterranean.' We also took trips as a family to Disney World (with my cousins), as well as trips to Vegas (my grandpa loved Black Jack), So Cal, and Hawaii.

My grandma also enjoyed fine dining, cooking, Michigan Football (her brother, Bob, was a wolverine and so am I, of course!), and watching golf. She LOVED Tiger Woods in his heyday! In fact, in the early 2Ks, my grandmother went out and bought a Buick Rendezvous, giddy with the knowledge that Tiger was the Buick spokesperson. My grandmother's guilty little indulgences included ice cream (she could always count on me as her dessert partner!), and a glass of wine or a cold domestic beer.

I was the youngest of the 4 grandchildren, and I loved going up to East Grand Rapids to visit my grandparents. Look at how cute my grandmother and me are in this photo! It's one of my favorites. My grandmother was so proud of all of us grand kids.

Speaking of the grand kids, this photo is of all four of us with my grandmother, my mom and aunt in front of my grandparents' house.They had a charming little house in a beautiful neighborhood, just across the street from Fisk Lake. My grandmother stayed in that house, with the help of her housekeeper, Goldie, the neighbors who looked in on her, and my mother's weekly visits, until well into her 90s. She would eventually move to Portage, where she could be around more people in a retirement assisted living home (and be safer with the medical and care staff close at hand) and where my mom could more easily tend to her and visit with her on most days.

This photo is from my sister's wedding shower in '08, and includes my sister, mom, aunt, and grandmother. While my grandmother was unable to attend my wedding years later, I'm so happy she could be at E's wedding.

Although my grandmother could not attend my and Brian's wedding this past October, we stopped by to visit her on our way back to Minnesota. I feel lucky that Brian got to meet her several times over the years. She loved hearing about our adventures in Chicago, in Austin and eventually in Minneapolis, and I enjoyed telling her about the happenings in our lives.

Gram, I will miss your smile and your spark. You had an undeniable presence, and a certain sass and spirit that can never be matched. Your legacy lives on in your two strong and independent daughters, your four grandchildren and your three (so far) great grandchildren, and I know you loved us all very much. I love you!