Evelyn Kreider was my grandmother. When she died earlier this month, she was 102 years old. She was a remarkable woman, a devoted listener to WVPE and possibly the most passionate critic, for good and ill, of my work on Michiana Chronicles. She will be missed.
One of the maxims that grandma lived by was that you should always strive to have friends who are older than you and friends who are younger than you. For as long as I knew her, she would spend time visiting the elderly, while also making connections with people half her age. The elderly became a funny concept with her. One day, she told the story of being at the bank when a middle-aged lady came in with a walker. Grandma held the door for her. The woman smiled and said, someday you’ll know what it’s like to be old. Grandma was probably twenty years her senior.
Age didn’t seem to matter with grandma. For instance, as far as I could tell, she was the first reisdent in her retirement community to get an iPad. We had got her going with email with WebTV - if you remember that service - but when the first model of the iPad came out, I suggested making the jump. Even with advancing arthritis, she gamely learned how to tap on icons, purchased a special keyboard, and delighted in using the Tennis App.
Yes, tennis. If there was one thing my grandmother loved almost as much as politics, it was tennis. Occasionally, just to check her blood pressure, I would suggest that Rafael Nadal was a great player. Cheeks flushed, she would retort that while Rafa had a decent enough ground game, she could never support a superstar who picked at his rear end during a match. By contrast, Roger Federer could do no wrong. Roger,with his perfect manners and bright white tennis outfit, was a perfect gentleman. Then there were the Williams sisters. Grandma kept mental track of every game Venus and Serena played. Whenever Serena won a tournament, I would phone grandma to congratulate her. In recent years, that gave us regular chances to catch up.
When grandma moved out of her apartment into nursing care, I inherited one precious item from her kitchen. A mug with the image of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and the slogan “Made in America.” Grandma was a fierce political activist. She volunteered at polling stations, wrote letters to members of congress, subscribed to the New York Times, and not infrequently took her campaigns to the streets. Over the years, I wondered whether she might draw her final breath in a snowstorm, holding a banner in front of the courthouse.
One of my favorite images of grandma is of her at the local gun shop. A friend once challenged her, saying: if you feel so strongly about gun control, why don’t you go meet with someone on the other side of the argument? So, hitching up her modest Mennonite habit, grandma pushed open the door of the gun store and introduced herself to the manager. I wonder what on earth that man thought of this spunky nonogenarian with so many questions - but he was by all accounts kind and courteous. And grandma made a friend. In this era of political division and the building of walls, I love the image of my grandma reaching out across a divide.
Last month, my daughter and I visited grandma in her room at the nursing home. When my daughter said she was moving to the big city next year, Grandma was quite concerned. Is it safe, she wondered.
Grandma, we exclaimed - how can you ask that? In 1939, on the eve of a world war, she was the adventurer who got on a passenger liner in New York and sailed to England to join her future husband. Those two twenty-somethings, Carl and Evelyn, were married that year in London, and then proceeded to take a trip across Europe. Right through Nazi controlled territory. Years later, she told us hair-raising stories of looking out of a hotel window in Vienna to see lines of soldiers marching through the streets. What’s worse, they ran out of money on that trip, and had to write home to the states for emergency funds. Is it safe, Grandma? When did that ever stop you?
Always try and have friends older and younger than you. Take time to help others. Talk to people you don’t agree with. Take risks. Work for peace. Evelyn Kreider’s funeral last week bore witness to her life, and all of us carry a small piece of her legacy with us. Don’t ask “is it safe?” – ask “is it right?”