Friday, September 19, 2014

Nana's Memorial Speech- A Family's Matriarch Passes Away

Charlotte Morton, the undeniable matriarch of the Morton Family, passed away this year after more than 90 years on this earth. While this wasn't a Christmas prayer specific to the family, I felt it important to include it as her passing and service left an undeniable mark on the family that will be felt for decades. This was the speech that I gave at her service.

Nana’s Memorial Speech

With each, “I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother,“ that’s been passed along sincerely to my family and I over the past week, it’s given me great pause and reflection to come up with something short and meaningful to properly reflect the importance of role that she played in this family. How do you possibly say in a sentence or two the impact that she had on nearly every person in this room? How can a simple sentence like, “She had a long and full life,” even properly give her justice? Short of sitting down and sharing her story, how do you allude to a love that provided an indelible and permanent mark on us forever and forged a family wide in size and deep in kinship? Three children, ten grandchildren, dozens of great-grandchildren- and recently, a great-great grandchild- all looked to her as the matriarch of the Morton Family.

Nana wasn’t complicated by any means. She had an incredibly strong navigational moral compass and the world was black and white without much gray. Her common-sense meter was as strong as any person I’ve met and if it failed that test, well, she would probably let you know. Bluntly. There wasn’t time for beating around the bush. She told you like it was. And more times than not, that’s how it really was. She was fiercely independent and embodied that great 1920’s stubborn work ethic that anything good in this world was worth whatever hard work that came along with it. Nana was tough as nails. There was nothing she couldn’t build, take apart, drive, put together, create or do. Can’t wasn’t in her vocabulary. Do you remember the famous World War II-era Rosie the Riveter poster that has a lady flexing her muscle and saying “We Can Do It?” Nana might have been the model for that.

It’s hard to separate memories between Nana and my Pop Pop. For nearly 70 years, the two of them were nearly inseparable and she doted on my grandfather with the patience of a saint. Pop Pop called her "Babe" for as far back as I can remember. It was the highest of high compliments that he could pay her. She cared for him as well as anyone could ever hope for through a myriad of life-long illnesses and would just smile and humor him when Pop Pop would spend endless hours chroming and pimping out his Ford Escort or search endless hours through every tackle and bait store in Northern California and beyond for that elusive magic fishing lure. Through sickness and health wasn’t just words in a ceremony, they were a vow she kept for seven decades. Pop Pop was a lucky man and he knew it.

You also can’t separate the thought of Nana and the images of past Christmas mornings. My earliest memories are there in her trailer on Whispering Palms Drive, Nana making the most delicious breakfast spread. I would sit there on a footstool in front of the mail slot at the sliding glass front door, taking in the smells and listening to the family stories that occurred before me. That was also right in front of the hole that an errant Pop Pop-thrown bowling ball that had been carefully covered by one of Nana’s perfectly sized framed cross-stitches. As the family expanded with marriages and new babies, we outgrew her home and moved across the street to the park clubhouse. Remember, I mentioned lots of grandkids and great-grandkids? Eventually, we moved away from Nana’s but only in physicality. It was always Nana’s show. A couple years back, she gave me copies of all of the family Christmas prayers that had been read by Pop Pop, my Dad and then I over the last four decades. They make up one of my most prized possessions. And those Christmas-gift quilts. They’re hard to even fathom the amount of hours of love that went into each one. They’re another possession that each of us lucky enough to receive one know that they’re irreplaceable.

Nana’s passion for travel and the outdoors was another hand-me-down memory. I remember vividly memories of sitting in her Pace Arrow motorhome dining room table. Under the glass was a map of the United States where she or Pop Pop had drawn in ink over every highway and city they had visited in that stylish olive green set of wheels. There was lines drawn in what looked like every state. On every highway. Nana would sit there and share her travels with us with the tip of her finger as her guide, sharing visions of National Parks, roadside attractions and historic stops to any wide-eyed kids that would listen. And while on the surface it might have looked like it was Pop Pop’s thing, Nana shared a passion for fishing as well. And could that lady fish. I remember once her taking Jennifer and I out on the Delta for catfish. She launched the boat, drove the boat, carefully took time helping Jen learn how to bait her tackle (okay, maybe she baited Jen’s tackle), and promptly caught somewhere around 30 fish in a few hours’ time. When we got back into the marina, she took Jen over to the fish cleaning station to show her how to clean and filet the fish. Jen admits to not helping much that early afternoon, but she did see Nana wield a knife with a faster skill than most master sushi makers- an astonishment Jen still talks about today.

I for one, will remember her most for what she left behind. A family that adored her. A model and example of an almost-impossibly long model of a marriage that we can all point to as an example. A passion for travel and the outdoors. And these keepsakes. These irreplaceable and priceless quilts and blankets and dollhouses are just some of them. But the memories of making jam and smoking salmon and fishing are just as equal keepsakes that we’ll hold just as dear. I love you Nana. We’ll miss you Babe.

The Morton Family at the conclusion of Nana Morton's service