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Grandma Kay 1915-2008

July 30, 2008
Grandma Kay at her surprise 90th party (2005)

Grandma Kay at her surprise 90th party (2005)

My grandmother passed away during the night last night. She was 92. She had increasing health problems, but I think it was simply finally her time. My oldest niece Erin stayed all night with her so she wouldn’t be alone. I thought that was an extremely grown-up thing for a 16-year-old to do. Dawn and I went to see Grandma Kay (or “G.K.”) yesterday and, given the condition she was in, I wasn’t prepared for it. Looking back on it, I’m glad we didn’t bring the boys with us; it’s not the last memory I want to have of G.K., let alone for my kids to have of her. Naturally, it’s very hard to lose the matriarch of the family, but at least she is now finally at peace.

Grandma Kay loved to travel (Hawaii, Mexico, Europe, Asia, numerous cruises), she loved to play the slots at the casinos, and she loved to play cards. I suspect that anyone that knew her longer than about 10 minutes has played at least 2 games of Canasta with her. Dawn and I flew out to California shortly after Ian was born- one night while we were out there, most of us cousins and respective spouses stayed up until 4:30am or later, playing cards and doing Jell-O shots {the entire time} and guess who was right there with us, hand for hand, shot for shot? I gotta tell you, it’s some damn good times watching your grandmother toss back Jell-O shots. That’s just how G.K. was. She would have stayed up for 3 days straight if we would have. She was not going to miss anything, by gum- and most of the time, she didn’t.

Grandma Kay had four children: Brad (wife Marj), my folks, that live here in Springfield, Marilyn (husband Cal), residing in Carson City, NV, Phil (wife Pam), and Steve (wife Kathy), both of whom live in northern California.

She had eight grandchildren: my sister Jennifer (husband Brian), me (wife Dawn, obviously), my cousins Laurie, Anna, Whitney (husband Kenny), Jennie, my brother Jeff (wife Kathy), and my youngest cousin Joe (wife April).

She had twelve great-grandchildren: Erin and Kathleen (Jennifer’s kids), Ian and Adam (my boys, obviously), Ryan and Jessie (Laurie’s), Zomina (Anna), Piper (Whitney), Mikayla (Jennie), Quinn and Canon (Jeff), and the brand new addition, Joe and April’s daughter Nia, who was born this past May 20th, and whom G.K. unfortunately never had the chance to meet. We cousins may all have varying degrees of education, success, and what have you, but we all share the profound ability to create some damned good-looking children.

We threw her a surprise 80th birthday party in Lake Tahoe in 1995. Unfortunately, a couple of us weren’t able to make it- Jeff and his eventual bride-to-be Kathy, most notably- but some of G.K.’s nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews did make the trek from SoCal. We laughed, we cried, we told stories on G.K., we ate WAY too much (some of us drank way too much…), it was simply a great time shared with people that don’t really see much of each other very often. I don’t know how much of a “surprise” it really was for G.K., but I think it served its purpose.

The REAL surprise was her 90th birthday.

G.K. was simply a California girl. She had lived in California for virtually her entire life. Then several years ago, and not without resistance (nor some measure of family contention), she moved here to Springfield. I long believed she was never truly “happy” here; not that she didn’t “want” to be here, but she was a California girl and that was home in her heart and always would be. Plus, she hated the winters here. But then, I’ve lived here all my life and I hate the winters here.

ANY-hooze, the family pulled off a major, MAJOR coup for her 90th birthday in 2005 when we managed to get damned near EVERYBODY here from California, including G.K.’s sister Mickie. Again, there were several that couldn’t make it, but G.K. was definitely surprised and overwhelmed (and, naturally, thrilled) to see Mickie, as well as simply by the party itself. She had no idea there would even be a party, let alone for so many grandkids and great-grandkids and various other branches of the family tree to be there. It was definitely mission accomplished that time.

Her greatest passion was, of course, her family. She bragged incessantly to anyone that would listen about her kids, her grandkids, and her great-grandkids. And she loved music. Our family is definitely a very musical family. My cousin Anna once playfully referred to us as the “Von Krapp Family Singers”. We have some really wicked-talented singers in the family. My uncles each had 50’s bands “back in the day”, Anna has an absolutely beautiful voice, and my niece Erin does as well. In my family, you sing. If you don’t sing, you play an instrument. If you don’t play an instrument, you dance. And if you can do none of the above, you still have a genuine love and appreciation for music. I can remember being as young as three, being weaned on the Beach Boys, and my love for music just exploded from that moment on. At extended-family get-togethers (any that I had the pleasure to attend), someone virtually always got some sort of songfest started, and everyone either joined in or sat back and reveled in it. Usually both.

21 years ago when Jennifer and Brian got married, my dad and my Uncle Phil and Uncle Steve, all great singers, got together beforehand and decided they were going to serenade the newlyweds (we’re big on surprises in my family, in case you haven’t picked up on that) at the reception. They sang two or three songs and absolutely rocked the joint. The entire crowd went nuts. Jennifer was bawling (natch), and people were coming up to us for weeks afterward saying what a great time they had and how awesome my dad’s and my uncles’ performance was. A family tradition was born, as Dad and his brothers have sung at damn near every family wedding since. I don’t know of a single wedding {that all three attended} at which they didn’t sing. Dawn and I were honored at our wedding by Jeff being included, and I was given the honor- and the thrill- to reciprocate at Jeff and Kathy’s wedding a year later. Erin, who was, I believe, nine at the time, was the “special guest” singer. She sang “A Whole New World” at the ceremony- quite beautifully- and then absolutely tore up Betty Everett’s “It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)” at the reception. As always, the joint went nuts.

It was done “for the couple” at each ceremony, but I really kind of believe it was done as much for Grandma Kay, if not more so, as I think she probably enjoyed it far more than the couple did- and that’s saying something. The look on her face- I noticed it most at Jeff & Kathy’s wedding, since I was up there singing, and at her 90th birthday party- was one of pride and pure enjoyment that was positively priceless and one I will never forget. They sang a little of everything over the years, from Elvis to Wilson Pickett to Dean Martin, and G.K. soaked it all up like gravy with a biscuit. One of her absolute favorites, one that she requested constantly, was a particular John Denver tune. I’m not a John Denver fan at all, by any stretch of the imagination, but because of G.K., this particular song will always hold a special place in my heart.

So allow me to leave you with that song, in memory of Grandma Kay.

I love you, G.K. May all your pulls be jackpots.


“My Sweet Lady” (words and music by John Denver, 1971)

Lady, are you crying
Do the tears belong to me
Did you think our time together was all gone

Lady, you’ve been dreaming
I’m as close as I can be
And I swear to you
Our time has just begun

Close your eyes and rest your weary mind
I promise I will stay right here beside you
Today our lives were joined, became entwined
I wish that you could know how much I love you

Lady, are you happy
Do you feel the way I do
Are there meanings that you’ve never seen before
Lady, my sweet lady
I just can’t believe it’s true
And it’s like I’ve never, ever loved before

Close your eyes and rest your weary mind
I promise I will stay right here beside you
Today our lives were joined, became entwined
I wish that you could know how much I love you

Lady, are you crying
Do the tears belong to me
Did you think our time together was all gone

Lady, my sweet lady
I’m as close as I can be
And I swear to you, our time has just begun

15 Comments leave one →
  1. nancy permalink
    July 30, 2008 6:11 pm

    What a nice tribute to your Grandma. She sounds like a very special part of your family. Sorry for your loss.

  2. Johann permalink
    July 30, 2008 6:15 pm

    Thank you, Nancy.

    She was a VERY special part of the family.

  3. J Lo permalink
    July 30, 2008 6:21 pm

    John, my dear brother, that was a really thoughtful tribute to GK. Thanks for being there. ILY

  4. July 30, 2008 7:56 pm

    What a beautiful write-up, Johann. I am so sorry for your and your family’s loss. She’s singing with the angels tonight.

  5. July 30, 2008 9:07 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about your grandma! Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.

    “We will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength, and we shall fly like the eagle, we will rise again.” – one of my favorite songs. Just a little tribute for you in your time of sadness.

    You are one of my dearest friends and your words and love for your grandmother are beautiful!!!

  6. Johann permalink
    July 31, 2008 8:11 am

    Thanks to all of you.

  7. SpringfieldZebra permalink
    July 31, 2008 12:36 pm

    Thanks, Johann

    Extremely well done. I am going to send this to the entire family, Illinois and West Coast.


  8. KMS permalink
    July 31, 2008 2:42 pm

    Beautiful, J! Just the tribute she would want…and deserved. Regardless of locale, her heart was always with her families, as far flung as we are….and the silver dollar jackpots didn’t hurt any either. ;^) Our thoughts are with all of you this weekend.

    Aunt Kathy & Uncle Steve

  9. Uncle Phil permalink
    July 31, 2008 3:48 pm

    Yo Juan! Good words, Man! Pretty damned close to being 100% accurate, too! You’re so right about Mom and her love (as much PRIDE as love!) for her family. And that included kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, great-great grandkids, and greater than great grandkids! And yes, she dearly loved hearing her family members sing, no matter who they were. And, oh, how she’d gloat over it!

    I seriously doubt that there ever existed a moment (at which such a familial, musical performance was held) when her eyes failed to well up.

    I can dearly recall her telling me, at every post-concert gathering, that she knew I was singing some of those songs directly to her, “I could tell you were looking at me.” Truth is, due to the followspots, I couldn’t see beyond the front row, but I always responded, “Ya got THAT right, Ma!” And knowing that, I always tried to blindingly glare out to a spot I figured she was probably sitting at (during one of our crooners) so she’d get that same feeling.

    The responses I am now receiving (from friends of MINE who knew her at all) are ALL characterized by one central theme, I swear–that of what a great, positive, happy, warm gal Mom was. As one of my best buddies just told me (and this is a guy who didn’t interact much with her at all, other than the first year he started working with me), and I paraphrase, “Phil, we all have positive people in our lives who leave an indullable imprint on our memory. Your mom is at the top of my list in that regard! She really treated me great. What a great lady! And, I know you’re pleased that she’s not having to go through the depression of growing older, which comes with all its troubles, but the world, specifically MINE,” he continued, “is sad to be missing such a powerfully positive force in our lives.”

    Thanks for your wonderful expression and perspetive, Juan. It was an honor to read!


  10. DBeau permalink
    August 1, 2008 12:54 pm

    Those of us who had the opportunity to get to meet and have a conversation with Grandma Kay know what a loving beautiful woman she was. How she loved her family with all of her heart. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to know her. Your words are a beautiful tribute to your grandma. May your memories fill the pain your heart feels.
    Love to all

  11. Johann permalink
    August 1, 2008 1:31 pm

    Wow. Thank you, everyone. I’m quite humbled.

    I had no idea that what was originally meant as little more than a catharsis for me would wind up receiving the attention it has. I’m honored that you all thought of it what you did.

    Thank you, UP, for adding those last couple paragraphs.

    And thank you all- family, friends, and those I’ve never met- that left such kind words.

    I don’t think G.K. realized how many lives she did indeed touch.

  12. Renee permalink
    August 1, 2008 4:38 pm

    Dear John,

    What a lovely, lovely, tribute to your Grandma Kay, my beloved Auntie Kay. She deeply touched the lives of everyone who had the honor to meet her with her sense of humor, understanding and compassion. My Auntie Kay was always there for me whenever I needed her — there were many evenings when we greeted the sunrise after spending the entire night talking around the dining room table or yes, playing cards.

    I don’t know if you know the story, but starting on my mom’s 80th birthday, Kristen and I took her to Las Vegas. It has become an annual tradition, a “girls only” weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate our birthdays (Mom and I are one day apart). One year Kay went with us, and I have to say those to octageneraians wore Kristen and me out. We had been up all night, it was about 5:30 in the morning and we were sitting at the coffee shop at the MGM Grand. Kristen and I were practically nodding out, we kept saying “Don’t you guys want to go to bed?” The response, in unison, was “We’re not tired”. I finally had to say “Look, I have the car keys, and I really need to sleep”. We finally got them to bed, and about 4 hours later they were up and raring to go out and play again. It was like that throughout the weekend, they had more energy than the two of us younger ones put together! It was one of the best times I’ve ever had in Vegas, and I always think of Kay every time I’ve been there since.

    Today my heart is breaking. Someday it may not hurt quite as much, and I know that my wonderful Auntie will live forever in my heart.

    My love to you and the whole family, may the wonderful memories you have of GK bring you some comfort now.


  13. Angela Kushan permalink
    August 1, 2008 6:02 pm

    Thank you for your words. I am the granddaughter of Kay’s sister, Naomi. I know how hard it was for me when my Grandma left us and I feel your loss. Perhaps it is not coincidence that they passed away a day apart in July. I have wonderful memories of Kay while I was growing up. Iam happy my husband had the pleasure of meeting her and I recently sent her a card with pictures of our kids since I know how much family meant to her. The Kushan’s are going to crank up the music and dance in honor of Kay!

  14. Kristen Foster permalink
    August 1, 2008 8:51 pm

    Hey John, Renee forwarded this to me and I wanted to pass on my thoughts to you and yours. I have so many wonderful memories of GK (or as I used to call her “Weez”). That name came up one weekend when she was riding in the car with me and she had an asthma attack. When she recovered, I jokingly said “Wow, sounds like you should have been named Katherine “Weez” instead of Katherine Louise. She laughed so hard and it became our little thing between us. She never failed to tease me in some way. One day, she had her hands cupped together and whispered to me “Krisser, come here I have a suprise for you!” I eagerly put my hands out and she carefully placed something in my hands, closing my hands around the “suprise”. Then she said, “ok, look!!” When I opened my hands, out flew a big moth, which promptly flew into my face and I screamed. She laughed and laughed at me. We had some great adventures in Europe together as well as in Northern California whenever we would visit up there. I just am so thankful we were able to come to Illinois for her 90th birthday. It made me so happy to see her face, and to see her sitting with my mom, both of them so incredibly happy to be together again. There is a hole in my heart now that she is gone. Even though we didn’t see much of Kay in the past few years, we had some great phone calls. She is in my thoughts often, always with a smile on my lips and now with a tear in my eye.

    My love goes out to all of you in Illinois and hope we can see you soon.
    Love you! Kristen

  15. Michelle Nechaev permalink
    August 3, 2008 5:14 pm

    Dear John,

    Reading your tribute made me crack up and brought tears to my eyes at the same time. You are so right about Kay, though I never learned canasta so we stayed up late many nights at my Grandma Naomi’s house playing backgammon and Scrabble instead. I do remember that fun 80th birthday party (I was so sad I couldn’t make it to her 90th) and my wedding was one of the ones in which Phil, Brad, and Steve rocked the house with their awesome singing. One of my fondest memories is when I was about 11 and I got to stay up all night with Kay and my grandma to watch the royal wedding on TV! I will miss her jokes and the things that made her so unique, like the way she said Riiiiiiight, and her great advice about teaching-I hope one day I’ll have eyes in the back of my head like she did. I also hope I’ll get good enough at gambling to never go home a loser, or so the legend goes. Please accept my condolences and those of my family. Great Aunt Kay was such a special lady.


    Michelle, Andrew, Alexandra, Nyah, and Adam Nechaev

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