In Memoriam: To The Ultimate Power Couple: Joyce and Alfred Richter
An Obituary, A Memorial, Life Lessons from my Grandparents
A Biography and Mythology of Family, 20th Century Nostalgia, and How to Succeed in Business
He was the Fixer, The Wolf, for country clubs. Papa shook hands with Sinatra, threw parties for the mob, organized the first major celebrity golf tournament, and was one of the first Catholics honored by the state of Israel.
She was the power behind his throne- a suburban Cinderella who learned to navigate the full spectrum of society across the United States-upstairs and downstairs — from celebrities to golf caddies; and raise an epic family all the while.
In the 90s they retired. Only to end up running half of a theme park.
This is their story, or at least pieces of it.
Why tell it now? Because we just lost my Nana at the end of August. Her passing came hot on the heels of the loss of her partner, my Papa-earlier this year. I haven’t been able to really process that initial foundational loss of him. To lose her now as well. Ooph. I am drowning in grief. But rather then pause for years in pain on writing anything to celebrate them and attempt to tell their story, I’ve decided to do what they taught me to do: and just go for it and get it done.
ATTENTION: If your grandparents or older parents or great grandparents or great aunts and uncles are around — -stop wandering around the internet and reading this and go hang out with them. Right now. Go collect their stories, preserve their memories. Record their voices. Take pictures.
I feel so fortunate to have spent so much time with my Nana and Papa. Enough to have had a chance to glean at least a part of their story. I grew up with them as more like a second set of parents. From age 6 upwards, I spent every summer with them wherever they happened to be at the time. And I’d endlessly probe them at every visit to tell me family stories, to walk me through old photos, lost in-jokes, life lessons learned that they imparted — often without realizing they were doing so.
But I came in at the end of their story, and only glimpsed those those later life adventures: running country clubs in California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida — before proper retiring among family outside of Atlanta. Everything before that is fact-checked legend, slightly sepia toned and fuzzy round the edges.
But I’ve gotten ahead of their stories, haven’t I?
Let’s start back at their beginnings.
Because Papa always pretended to get upset when we’d write her name on envelopes before his name or when we’d use her name first when we spoke of them (as in ‘Nana and Papa’) but yet he was always the one to ensure she had the top billing in everything.
Joyce Elaine Voirol was born December 3, 1934 in Wheaton, Illinois to Delmar Ferdinand Voirol (1902–1969) and Hazel Minna Gaede (1906–1971).
She was a true daughter of the town. Her mother’s family, the Gaede’s, were among the founding members of the township. And to this day the Gaede’s hold a massive reunion picnic there for descendants to gather and network. Nana’s father was an outsider to the town — -a Missourian with enough French left in him from his family’s immigration over from Switzerland to be nicknamed ‘Frenchie.’ She was one of five siblings: Carolyn, John, Don, herself, and baby brother Jim. She came of age as World War II waned and victory was achieved by the US. She didn’t like to garden, because it reminded her of the scarcity of her childhood and the Victory Gardens of the war. The late ’40s and ’50s would leave a permanent stamp on her aesthetic: She was a brunette who spent most of her life as a natural blonde. Her voice sounded like a more velvety version of Doris Day (with maybe a hint of Zoey Deschanel mixed in). And her turn of phrase was often straight out of the Golden Age Hollywood musicals we would watch endlessly in the summers of my youth. Though her fashion evolved with each decade, her nighttime attire remained stunningly retro as boudoir formal — pastel silk robes and ballet slippers that looked like they were pulled off of Veronica Lake during long lost photo shoots.
A quiet sibling among many, Nana bloomed after high school. She got her creds in typing. And for a hot second was living in an episode of Mad Men, commuting with a high school friend to their jobs in downtown Chicago — pretty young things living the office life. Whenever we’d watch The Apartment with Shirley McClaine and Jack Lemmon, she’d comment on that period of her life — a strange period for her of freedom away from the suburbs and her family, mixed in with the disappointing dates she’d gone on, and themes of sexism in the workplace.
Her Chicago working-girl life was, however, shortlived. Throughout this time — she’d started a series of pen-pal friendships with her brother Don’s comrades-in-arms. They were lonely and a world away fighting in the Korean War. Among them was Papa.
Alfred James Richter, Fred — was born April 18, 1932 in New York City to two recent German immigrants: Alfred Richter Sr (1902/4–1957) and Johannah (Hannah) Seimiller (1904–1999). Both had seen the early seeds of discontent in their different regions of Germany (East Berlin and Wiesbaden in the South respectively) and had made the long journey as singles before meeting and marrying in New York. Though not Jewish, they lived in a Jewish neighborhood and between their neighbors there and back home in Germany — both they and subsequently Papa and his brother Leo had Yiddish mixed into their vernacular (enough so that a second cousin once convinced 10 year old me that we were actually Jewish. I went heads down into the Talmud and started planning a bat mitzvah before Papa had the heart to correct me (and he still kinda threw me a bat mitzvah pool party anyhow).
For Papa: imagine the voice and accent of Grandpa Al from The Munsters, but with Yiddish and a smidge of New York Italian and you’ll get an approximate of Papa’s sound. Papa gave all of us grandkid’s Yiddish-y nicknames, building off of his initial endearment of me as his ‘Putz.’ Everyone of our generation (kids and pets alike) — got an ‘utz.’ And this was by no means a casual nickname — he called me ‘Putz’ 90% of the time instead of using my given name. Another favorite of mine — he’d say “mootz-a-rella” for mozzarella. This and other colloquialisms of his were delightful remnants of the accent melting pot of early 20th century NYC that inexplicably preserved older remnants of dying European language patterns. A topic which Papa would patiently let me schpeal at him about once I started researching it. (‘Schpeal,’ that’s another one I get from Papa). Papa always wore cologne, a gold chain, a heavy gold watch, and a gold and blue stoned ring— and somehow pulled them all off with aplomb. He was an anachronism that somehow made it work regardless of the decade.
Papa’s father ran night clubs in NYC for the goodfellas of the day. And both his boys were enlisted to assist. They caught glimpses of celebrities, snippets of performances, and even more of the assorted mafia powers that really ran New York during that era. Great Grandma Richter meanwhile, eschewed the norms of her day and also went to work — as the rather fancy secretary of a German toy company CEO based in the US. Her family had been rather affluent in Germany and she came to the US well-educated and well connected and not willing to sit on the sidelines. Papa picked up a combo of street-smart wise guy skills, party planning know-how, feminism, and business back end as a kid. And he had just found himself faced with the choice between finishing college (Hospitality at Ithaca) and being on the Yankees’ farm team to play baseball as a semi-pro when the Korean War broke out and he found himself a world away from everything he knew and in need of a lifeline to write to.
My Great-Uncle Don, trickster, prankster, Loki, now also gone — didn’t just set Papa up with his sister — he set up at least three, if not four, eligible gentlemen in his paratrooping unit up with her. And for months, she exchanged letters with all of them, capturing multiple hearts. When the conflict in Korea ended — two of them raced back to the States to claim her. Papa actually got there second, but she liked him most of all.
Their Early Life Together
Papa, unfortunately, was a lapsed Catholic to Nana’s Protestant at a time when it was still awkward for such inter-religious matches to happen. And it took them awhile to find a local church willing to marry them. For the rest of their lives they were both keen to support others facing adversity over their romantic choices and to break other social stigmas around who should be allowed to love and hang out with whom. Though of a generation where most people only had white, straight friends — they had friends of all colors and sexual and gender preferences throughout their lives.
After the birth of their first child, my dad Gary — the newlyweds moved from Nana’s Chicago to Papa’s New York City — where they then had two more kidlings in rapid succession — my amazing Aunts Linda and Laura. And what a culture shock it was for Nana — not just to be a new mom, but to be a new mom in a new city. She relied heavily on the newfangled omnipresent telephone to stay in touch with her mom and sister Carolyn. Throughout their lives Nana and my Great Aunt Carolyn maintained close comms. So much so that growing up, my special endearment for Aunt Carolyn was Auntie-Talks-A-Lot, because until I was 12 or so — I knew her only as the voice at the other end of the phone that my Nana carried endlessly around the house with her as they shared the back and forth of their daily lives together. The ultimate best friends ❤.
Nana loved the evolution of the phone. She always had really amazing commentary on the progression of technology that she had seen and used (even when she struggled to use it) — what tech and ideas had stuck, what had evolved. She marveled at such things. One of our last solo conversations was about how crazy it was that we used to have to budget conversations towards how much long-distance calls cost. And now we could talk for free for however long from however far apart and even have video if we wanted. I loved how much she loved the changes that had happened in society — not just to tech, but to our ideas and values. So much had changed from when she grew up and we spent endless late night visits doing impromptu lessons for us both to learn about random subjects — first via the encyclopedias she had hidden away in this big shelving/TV unit they used to cart around and then with internet dives on topics she didn’t get to learn at school. She remained particularly outraged over not getting to learn about evolution as a child and was even more outraged that there were still people out there who could not accept the science behind this foundational concept. I think she enjoyed a bit of that outrage though — for the last decade or so — she nearly always had CNN on in the background to keep abreast with the latest disappointments in news and society for her to react to ;)
Meanwhile, back in NYC in the 1960s — Papa had taken over where his dad left off and started managing hospitality ventures — moving from planning parties and running night clubs for the Rat Pack era scene (cue the positive anecdotes about Sinatra, Dean Martin, & Sammy Davis Jr and the negative ones re: Peter Lawford that would get trotted out every time I’d crush on him and make Papa rewatch Good News) to managing hotels and club-clubs-i.e. the fancy gentlemen’s clubs (not the ones with strippers, but the ones that cost a fortune and act as fancy hotels and concierges and meeting rooms in different cities for their members). For Nana, this meant a husband with an ever-increasing commute as they moved house farther into the posher suburbs upstate. This meant she had to dip in and out of ‘mom’ mode to ‘socialite’ mode to join Papa for networking parties and events.
She turned her first of these NYC experiences into a Mean Girls parable for me about perseverance and sticking it out with good humor. Apparently that first party in New York was something of a nightmare — there was some awkwardness on Nana’s part when the elevator dropped them off straight into the room vs a hallway. And there was such thick yellow carpet that it was a struggle to navigate the room in her heels (and which resulted in her comedy PTSD re: yellow carpet). Everyone was super posh and incredibly well dressed and Nana felt awkward as f. She promptly spilled something (red wine?) all over everything, including herself. But somehow by the end of it she’d worked through her nerves and broken down the snarky naysayers and made them her new friends. Through good humor and grace she managed to make everyone forget those social gaffes. Pure Aunt Dimity style. (Note: Aunt Dimity is a literary figure known for such things, not an actual Aunt of mine).
Living her dual life between the suburbs and the city, Nana ended up with a couple of different social circles and one hell of an amazing vintage designer dress collection. But eventually — as my dad and his sisters Linda and Laura grew up — she went into the city less and less. To balance things out — Papa eventually moved his work out of the city as well — in the hopes that running country clubs would allow them all more family time together. And while my aunts and dad have more detail to offer here on the family shenanigans of them as kids — I’ll kickstart some offline convos with just glimpses of a few often-told fables I’m aware of:
· like the time my pre-teen-aged dad went into the wrong hotel room while they were on a family vacation (Florida?) and walked in on a random woman in the shower (Nana’s fave comedy story to pull out).
· Or of the teenage saga of my Aunt Linda scandalously sneaking out of the house to go meet her gentlemen friend — and its extreme happy ending, whereby that illicit romance turned into a lifelong marriage with the amazing Uncle Scott (— you f-ing #LEGEND Uncle Codfish).
· Or when my elementary school-age Aunt Laura fell asleep on the school bus after school and disappeared before being found at the end of the line (Nana’s go to for the most frantic/scary feels she’d ever felt raising them all).
· That trip to Puerto Rico that may or may not have been sponsored by some “union” friends
· Tours of the comedy clubs of the Catskills with Papa’s bestie Uncle Joe Mauro — who has ended up being remembered more as the face of a pasta sauce in 1980s tv commercials than for his long running comedy career-also gone but never forgotten.
Papa, with Nana omnipresent behind his throne, rocked the country club world he found himself in. So much so, that when the Country Club Managers Association set up a Hall of Fame in the 2000s — he was in the first cohort of ten that they inducted into it. Deep in the bowels of the Library of Congress, there’s even a rare print book outlining the professional biographies of those ten. On the front page of Papa’s section is a photo of him and I with the Chicago skyline behind us — a photo that I hated at the time (I’m 14ish in it, gangly with braces and awkward 90s goth-sporty fashion sense) but now — I am so honored that that was Papa’s selection for them to include.
The text of Papa’s section in the Hall of Fame highlights some of the bits you might have gleaned from the top lines — he was responsible for the first major celebrity golf tournaments of the modern era — the ones that pair a celebrity with a paying participant as a team to compete. He also reorganized a few different forms of fundraising with his events that are still common practice today — often leveraging combinations of his club members, his growing cadre of athlete and celebrity friends (niche ones like Jerry Orbach) and businessmen — resulting in epic results for some of the charities and groups he was working with and a heap ton of industry respect and accolades. Among the charitable orgs was a particularly grateful group out of Israel that ensured his name was included in a national honors list that had never before allowed Catholics. In addition to a certificate for it somewhere, there was a big dinner and I believe there are also some trees planted somewhere in Israel in with his name on a plaque in front of them.
Papa also built intrapreneurship programs within his clubs — to ensure that folks could work their way up and continue upskilling their way to the top. He was a master of applied innovation theory like that. The ultimate facilities manager. And I was fortunate to learn both the fields of corporate anthropology and innovation under his tutelage from a very very young age. He’d take me into work with him to the office during my summer life with them. I had my own little miniature desk next to his in his fancy office in the club. He’d have me quietly sit in at meetings and listen and afterwards chat through the logic of the decisions to be made, Socrates style. Later, when I was older, I’d get to take the official notes and sign his name on assorted official paperwork (including high priced cheques, lolz) as his informal secretary. He’d go on a tour of the full club facilities at least once a week — getting out in the field and stopping in to chat with everyone. He knew everyone’s name, everything about their family, their dreams, their hopes, the things they were overcoming. And he’d do what he could to get them over those hurdles and nudge them all along as part of his grand plan to innovate the clubs and culture around them. By the time I was accompanying him on the job, he was already a legend in the industry — a fixer that was brought in to manage a country club in trouble and innovate it back into financial and social good health.
Nana’s business acumen should not go unremarked on though-either. Nana was a champion at politely getting what she wanted, how she wanted it. So much so that at the end of a negotiation with her, everyone parted ways feeling as if they’d won and without realizing how much they had utterly caved in the face of her iron will. Woe betide the shop assistant who fell under her spell or the antique shop owner who tried to fleece her on a price. Though she was increasingly anxious towards the end of her life, the Nana of her prime exuded a sort of royal air, a glamor, a confidence. Something very Grace Kelly and genteel but with the iron will of Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher. It is something I shall forever strive to emulate; and which I fear, I will forever fall short of achieving.
It was Papa’s Fixer role that brought the Richter clan to the west coast from the east in the 1980s. Though the kids were at that point mostly grown — all three — plus my newly acquired Uncle Scott — made the grand move across the states so Papa could fix up Los Altos Country Club in the Bay Area. Which is where my mom happened to be working one of her first jobs. In addition to marrying into the family and acquiring me — my mom also spent considerable time under the professional mentorship of both Papa and Papa’s other bestie — Uncle Pete (picture the Swedish chef from the Muppets (except in German) but add in the good-humored gravitas that comes from being a well respected fancy chef early in life and you get Pete). If I remember the legend correctly — not only did he and Papa first work together running a series of New Years parties at the Waldorf Astoria in the 1960s, but Chefie — as he was often called — was credited with re-purposing the Waldorf salad as a classy hors d’ oeuvres option).
Thus when I was growing up — no party or dinner prep with my mom went without one anecdote or another from this point in her life — where she was learning the front of the house and management from Papa, and the back of the house and all things food from Chefie. Though she rarely busts out her skills these days (#CheesecakeGuiltTrip) — she came out of that dual apprenticeship with some seriously epic cooking skills, as a rainman for catering businesses, and with such a smattering of the German that Papa and Chefie would pass back and forth between them that she once inexplicably started translating a German tourguide on a train for me (thinking I hadn’t heard them- not realizing for a hot sec that it was even in another language. It was adorable).
Once Los Altos Country Club was on its feet, everyone moved to Southern California where Papa next sorted out some of the poshest clubs in Palm Springs and Laguna Nigel. With the kids (and now grandkids) up on their feet and living their lives — when they weren’t doting on us all — Nana and Papa started sneaking in a few more trips for themselves — Mexico, Hawaii, etc-exploring, trying new things, living la dolce vita etc.
The Heydays of Later Life
But eventually Nana and Papa were pulled back to the East coast — first New Jersey, then the Philadelphia area to run Cheltenham Country Club — the last of Papa’s clubs before his (initial) retirement. Cheltenham, like Los Altos, has a house on the golf course for their manager. Which meant Papa not only had an incredibly short commute via golf cart — but that Shiloh, Papa’s beloved lhasa apso, had free rein to chase chipmunks and occasionally accompany Papa to work. (A shout out here to both Shiloh and her eventual successor PK (also a lhasa apso) –both of whom brought both Nana and Papa much joy. Nana would always maintain her distance from both of them saying they were Papa’s dogs — but I definitely caught her talking to them often enough and cuddling them when she thought no one was looking 😉).
Reunited with their east coast friends from decades past, I think this era might have been one of their favorites (though I think they would have said they’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite and that everything was their favorite). This was a time of business success and brunches with friends and enjoying their kids and grandkids who’d now scattered across the states (my mom and I stayed in California; my dad disappeared (literally) to Vegas; my Aunt Linda and Uncle Scott and their daughters Tina and Jamie settled down in Connecticut; and my Aunt Laura and her son Matthew were based in northern Louisiana, then Florida, then Georgia).
When the option to retire came (and coincided with my Aunt Linda and Uncle Scott’s acquisition of a house in Florida for occasional use during Disney World visits) — Nana and Papa decided to take it and found themselves settling in in Ocala, Florida. Quickly unable to sit still (and facing the economic downturn and a society that doesn’t take good care of their elderly) — both of them ended up back at work. Papa took over catering and events at Silver Springs Park — a now defunct amusement and wildlife park mostly known for its glass bottom boat tours of Florida’s crystal clear springs. Nana followed suit, taking over the gift shop — expanding upon a habit she’d picked up of doing part time gigs in Hallmark stores or similar as a way to earn extra shopping money and make new friends in new places among the often like-minded staff. For me, these late teenage and college summers were spent accompanying them to the park — working behind the scenes waitressing for papa or splitting the day swimming in the springs and setting up merch to an endless loop of the Beach Boys that used to drive Nana and I crazy. Like everywhere before, both Nana and Papa swiftly set up a new social network of amazing folks to throw barbecues for and go antiquing with (a shout out here to Bob & John, the ultimate Floridian couple and party kings).
Nana and Papa’s house in Ocala is the easiest and most classic of their layouts:
· a den for Papa with his chair and big tv and two big couches that faced each other to encourage conversation;
· a dining room with the same timeless dining set they’d been carting round since the 60s;
· a fancy living room of crystal knickknacks no one used but Nana when she was on the phone or I hid away to read a book
· the Lilac room — a multipurpose guest room and Nana’s art studio featuring an all white wicker set of furniture and matching Lilac coated bedspreads and cushions. Nana briefly thought it would be fun to collect antique dolls and this is where they lived, and where I therefore rarely dared to go. Thankfully, she eventually moved on and focused her antiquing on less creepy quests (e.g. chimney flue covers — portraits painted on glass specifically designed to be hung over the historic holes in walls for chimney flues).
· Their bedroom — all blue covers and big fancy wooden furniture. Nana’s golden mirrored dressing table, everything smelling of Papa’s cologne.
· And my room — -decorated for me year round with assorted memories of our times together so that no matter what was going on at home in California — I would always have a permanent room with them and a second set of parents in them.
It is this house in Ocala that I picture them in in my head, even though it was their final home in Georgia that became their longest stay. In the Ocala house — Nana and I would stay up late doing massive jigsaw puzzles or looking over old photos. Nana and I would play riddle games, creating clues and quests around the house for each other to unlock. Every visit, my bed would be laden with puzzles and books all wrapped up in a pile. When they came to visit my first grown-up home in San Diego, I returned the favor, not expecting Papa to wear the hulu girl outfit that had been included as a joke. But he did. They were fun like that and always willing to put on something ridiculous and have a laugh. Even late into my teens and her in her 70s, Nana and I would regularly play dress up in Nana’s vintage dress collection and surprise Papa when he got back from an errand with whatever ridiculous theme had been decided upon (my favorite was ‘pirates,’ Nana’s was ‘Victorian tea party’— she’s way classier than I am).
On days off, we’d go exploring and antiquing. Or we’d stay home and Nana and I would paint. Papa and I would play Gin. Korean War rules (so 10 cards instead of 7, Aces high AND low). He usually won. And oh what I would give to play one more round of cards with him again. Or to stay up late into the night giggling over life and love and old photos with Nana and a cup of hot apple cider. And I mean late. While Papa was up at dawn and in bed early, falling asleep to Al Jolson, and the tunes of his youth and young adulthood; Nana usually didn’t contemplate sleep until after 1 am (or if she did, it was to doze off on the couch while watching late night TV). As a fellow night owl, I appreciated having this late night role model and someone who was on my schedule.
Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, Nana, Papa, and I went on a variety of family trips together — to Chicago to see Aunt Carolyn and the rest of Nana’s family, to New York to explore their old haunts and see Papa’s brother Leo and his wife, my Aunt Eileen, as well as Aunt Linda and her family in Connecticut. We were regular visitors to Amish country in Pennsylvania. I had a distinct phase where I wanted to be Amish and live a simpler, more sustainable life and Nana and Papa indulged me entirely — they got me books on the subject, we baked old fashioned treats (though Nana drew the line at us making our own butter), they let me paint a barn hex on a big rock in the yard, and they even bought me a bonnet. For all that, I think they wanted to see the end of that phase sooner rather than later, because they took the hex painting as evidence I should go to a day camp for art and theater for part of the next summer. And they were there for every ridiculous performance and gallery showing — all dolled up and ready to take me and sometimes my friends out to celebrate our dubious artistic success.
We went on road trips throughout the south — to see Uncle Don and his wife, Aunt Barbara in Tampa; Uncle Jim and his Rita in St. Augustine; Aunt Laura and Matt in Louisiana. They took me to Disney World and patiently found things that they enjoyed alongside my obsession with the Epcot Center (thank goodness for the Baseball themed hotel at Disney, Papa LOVED it).
And there was one grand summer towards the end of the Ocala years where everyone from across the generations gathered together for a massive reunion at Disney World to celebrate Nana and Papa’s 50th wedding anniversary .
Nana and Papa were both so exhausted afterwards — as the belles of the ball they’d been in high demand and rarely slept throughout the multi-day reunion party so they could have a chance to catch up with everyone one-on-one. We went back to Ocala after and the next day was one of the few days in his life where Papa wasn’t up at 6 am to follow through with his morning ritual of setting the table for whatever meals were slated that day. He always had a schedule and a plan for all the meals in the household. And oh what amazing meals they were — regardless of which of them was cooking. Papa’s coconut chicken and chicken kiev. His special spicy cocktail sauce for shrimp. His love of a charcuterie board. And you’ve not had a proper cookie until you’ve had one of Nana’s “Fred strips.” Much to Nana’s amusement (and occasional frustration) — Papa’s elaborate meal planning came with very specific layouts for where things went in the fridge and freezer. As they edged into retirement, Papa therefore was given full responsibility for both the grocery shopping and the fridge so that Nana would no longer have to deal with his comedy nitpicking over the spatial position of certain condiments and his ever-present stash of Diet Pepsi. Where Papa dealt with the kitchen proper, Nana was queen of the crystal candy dishes that tastefully dotted the house. For all of us grandkids, and lately — the great grandkids — arriving for a visit involved a quick tour of the discreetly placed candy dishes to see what was in stock. Good N Plenty for Papa and Almond Roche for Nana were frequent staples. But the rest of the dishes rotated inexplicably towards whatever had caught one of their sweet tooths (or were thoughtfully planned around the tastes of whomever was visiting).
The Grande Finale: Georgia
Though some rooms were downsized, most of these concepts and traditions moved with them from Ocala to their final home outside of Atlanta in Georgia. Both Aunt Laura and Aunt Linda had decided to move out that way and make it a new family hub for everyone to gather, and gather they did. Nana and Papa spent their final years surrounded constantly by family, occasionally still picking up odd jobs (including Papa as a store greeter and sample hander outer! — Papa believed there were no small parts in the theater of life and would do them all) and still going on assorted adventures — out to visit me in San Diego, to visit dad in Vegas, and Aunt Carolyn in Chicago and round the local southern countryside (mostly more antiquing) — but more and more they were staying round the house.
Aunt Linda and Uncle Scott had picked a rather fabulous house in Georgia with a separate apartment for Nana and Papa to make their own. And though Nana made occasional jokes about her proximity to the Appalachians and the humidity that messed with her perfectly coiffed hair, they both loved having daily access to everyone in Georgia. Papa loved throwing family dinner parties and Nana loved hosting impromptu coffee dates with my Aunts. And as the great-grandkids have rolled in and stayed local –it’s meant they got to watch over the early days of all three of their superhero-named great-grandsons from Tina and her hubby Austin: Anthony, Reid, and Logan; and their step-granddaughter Charlee from Matt’s wife Ashley. Phone calls over COVID and since my move to Australia have been dominated by Nana and Papa’s tales of the great-grandkids visits and who likes what or did what mischievous hijinks on their latest visit. So while I’ve not yet had a chance to meet half of these recent tiny rascals that have arrived, I know them through Nana and Papa’s eyes.
While I hopped in and out of these last years, the flighty holiday visitor — — so so so much gratitude and love for everyone in Georgia who has been there on the daily for taking care of them, especially over this last year as they dwindled down.
I’ve skipped over and glossed over so very very very very much.
How can whole lives possibly be reduced down to mere pages? They can’t be.
This was just the tip of an iceberg — an outline to their saga, a hint of their larger than life personalities and merry misadventures as an unconquerable duo. There is so much more story to tell of Nana and Papa, of Joyce and Fred. Everyone whose lives they touched- family and friends, have different memories to tell, different facets of them they noticed, different eras that they were present for. These are just some of mine. My story of Nana and Papa’s lives is incomplete by very virtue of being from my perspective. However, I know the whole family will tell their tales and continue to flesh out their story for the generations that have only gotten a brief glimpse of them. They will never be forgotten. They live on in us.
A difficult platitude during such a heavy time of grieving, and one I’ve typed and edited through massive sobs in writing all of this, but a truth nonetheless.