You’re never exactly ready for this sort of thing. She’s the last one of my grandparents. Quite probably the best. 96 years old. Longest-running newspaper columnist in the united states, she’s been writing the same weekly since WWII. A record, according to the feature that NPR did on her a few years ago after her 3rd (and only true) retirement. At 65, when she “retired”, she stopped walking to work and started driving. At 85, she stopped driving to work and caught a ride each day. Finally, at 93, she set down her pencil for the last time. This is the legend that is Catherine Lovise (Rask) Johnson and now, at 96, she lays dying.
She was the only daughter of Samuel Rask, a Minnesota Senator(R), whom I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs and his wife Harriet(Miller) Rask. They raised her their large home in Blooming Prairie, MN(yes, that Blooming Praire) and sent her up to the University of MN, where she joined her sorority and earned her english degree and her teaching certificate.
Considering her status and stature, Gram could’ve had her pick of suitors in Minnesota. There was one young man, however, from whom she couldn’t turn her thoughts. A mountain of a man with a gentle, romantic heart. A colorblind paint salesman(now that takes balls!), he’d grown up not far away in La Crosse, WI. He even rode a Harley! Sure, he was “beneath her” socially, but she didn’t care. He was brilliant, charming, funny, capable and he loved her dearly. She’s recounted in confidence her many tales of love to me, including stories of her parents coming home from evenings out and how they were nearly caught making out on the couch before she rushed him out the door. All I can say is that their household staff must’ve really liked him, too, because her parents never found out. At some point, however, they were indeed officially engaged.
Although he loved the fact that she was going to college as he had, he feared losing her to some fancy rich boy and begged her to marry him. Finally, before she returned to school her final year, they drove to The Little Brown Church In The Vale (yes, that one) down in Iowa and eloped. Her family never found out about that, either! After her graduation, they continued as normal and had their more official ceremony.
I won’t detail the rest of their life together here, but suffice to say that they had twin girls, then a boy and lived their lives together quite happily. Always active in society and especially acting and the theater, they entertained and traveled extensivley throughout their lives.
To this day, she says that she never thought she’d have to live so long without him after he was gone and that she misses him dearly. To much of the rest of the world, she may be the great Kay Johnson, but to her, she’s always been “Don’s girl”. All I’ve ever wanted in life was a love like that.
This morning, Gram was given 2 days to 2 weeks. It’s crushing to know that we must go on without our ever-graceful matriarch, quite possibly the most classy, highly-mannered woman I’ve ever known, she was, all at once, a modern, independent woman and a lady and she’ll be missed terribly… but my heart smiles through my many tears, as I know, perhaps more than any other, that she’s anxiously anticipating a long-awaited date with the love of her life.
We had that kind of relationship, she and I. The romantic secrets and tales, shared with noone else. Kindred hearts. We both know what truly matters in this world… most of which I learned from her.
Dear Gram, I want you this to know
Now, should I never get the chance.
The things I’ve learned – to me bestowed,
Came not to me by happenstance.
The selfless love of fellow man,
Though I’m not perfect, still to try
To help him when and where I can
And rarely ever question why.
The wealth found in integrity
And wondrous possibility of chance,
That freeing truth called honesty
The lie behind one lone word: Can’t.
The everpresent grace within,
That faith in God would set me free,
To live a life in serving Him…
All of these things you taught to me.
To treat my love in the kindest way,
Adore her like she’s heaven’s light.
To share my precious love each day
And never go angry to bed at night.
The magic of each written word
And beauty in a choral song,
The blessing of the springtime flowers
And gardens when the days grow long.
My wanderlust to see the earth,
To witness those horizons new,
This lust for life I’ve had since birth,
All of these things, Gram…
I learned from you.