Yesterday Grandma Billye Jayne Charleville Lavrakas passed on. She brought beauty, style and a touch of frivolous whimsy to everything. She was the quintessential California beauty. My mother’s mother.
Fortuitously, if you can call it that, my brother, sister and I are all together this weekend. We’re driving out to the Midwest for my sister’s college graduation. Rather than oppressive sadness, we’ve taken joy in remembering her and sharing stories.
Grandma “L.,” as we called her when we were little, is a defining woman of my life. She is the matriarch of a family full of strong women … who loved to laugh … a lot.
Years ago Grandma drove a wood-sided le Baron convertible. When we’d visit, she’d drive the either the lucky girl or boy grandkids to the magic shop down the street and we could pick out something cool. We’d come home and “accidentally” spill invisible ink on the grandkids who had yet to go and try and make up something fantastical that happened, either we saw someone famous or that Grandma bought us something huge. Each had their special turn.
We had many years of fun in that convertible. Two of my cousins, Miranda and Laura, are my same age. For Christmas one year we each had received an American Girl doll. As a special treat the following summer we three girls dressed up, brought our dolls and drove in style in the le Baron for a tea with Grandma at the Newport Beach Ritz Carleton. I’m pretty sure we giggle the entire day.
Specializing in watercolors, Grandma was a very talented artist. The Ritz Carleton’s gift shop sold her paintings of a beach scene with the hotel in it. She sold her paintings at various arts and crafts fairs throughout the year. While my cousins in California could be there for more events, I remember visiting from Oregon and helping her to set up booths at the Sawdust Festival and other events. Though mainly using watercolor, she did an oil painting of each grandkid that each will have forever. Her absolutely stunning painting of Mt. Hood is the centerpiece of my parents’ living room.
Summers at Grandma’s house were the pinnacle of fun. Hours upon hours we’d spend swimming in her pool. Then we’d watch any of her large collection of classic movies. The fridge door in her kitchen held eggs, each in a little divot. One of the eggs was made of rubber, but looked just like the others, providing for many a feigned egg-throwing prank.
We heard many stories of Grandma growing up. They all either reflected fun or humor. Here are some that stand out:
– Grandma’s brood stood out as “the fun ones” among their cousins on both sides. My second cousin, Dimitra, my mom’s cousin on her Greek side, told me that that side was always loud, laughing and vibrant. Their other cousin, on the non-Greek side, recalled visiting in her youth when someone suggested painting the refrigerator. Next thing you know, Grandma is helping them paint it red.
– Grandma was always a prankster. She had some dishes that were “unbreakable,” though probably meant for an accidental drop here and there. When my mom was in high school she brought some guy friends home for the first time. Upon walking into the kitchen, Grandma threw the “unbreakable” plate at the young men’s feet, and they promptly shattered. She then burst into laughter. I can only imagine what went into these boy’s head.
There are far more, but I’m being dragged away from the computer.
Thank you Grandma for everything. Your loving embrace will always be felt.