My grandmother was much more ready for her funeral than the rest of us

In September 2016, my extended family got together to celebrate my grandfather’s and first-cousin-once-removed’s 90th and 80th birthdays respectively. We didn’t all get together again until June 2017 with my grandmother’s passing. 

As my father said after the gravesite ceremony, ‘You know, I think we had a lot more fun at the birthdays.’ But we had a lot of fun at the funeral, too, just with more crying and sobs mixed in. This was my euology at the service.


Thank you all for coming here today. It means a lot to see all of you here and know that Betty impacted your lives, as well.

I’m going to try to not go on and on or get choked up too much. My Mama had only so much patience for long-winded speakers, and she was about the least sentimental person when it came to the idea of her funeral.

Some of you probably remember her joke about going grocery shopping. ‘At my age, I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.’ And she thought it was very funny! But it was harder for me to find it funny.
She’d been doing that sort of joke for years. I must have still been working at the newspaper seven or eight years ago when she told me that the first thing she did when she got the paper in the morning was turn to the obituaries and see if she was in them. I’m sure she would have rolled her eyes and said ‘Oh Gawsh’ to find herself on the front page, too, but it meant a lot that she was recognized for her service during her life and after.

She’d been trying to get us all ready for her passing for a while now. When we’d get together for some family event like the cruise she and Herb got for us to go up to Alaska, she’d say, ‘This was great, I hope everyone had a fun time, and who knows if we’ll be around to see each other again’. You’d go over to her house, and she’d give you stuff because she said she didn’t want anyone to have to go through all of her junk after she was gone.

My sister and I would chide her and say, ‘Mama! Don’t talk like that.’ But she wasn’t being morbid or pessimistic. That was just how she was about everything.

‘You never had to wonder what Betty was thinking: she’d let you know.’ And sometimes, that’s a nice sort of way to say someone is kind of rude. ‘That guy is a real jerk.’ ‘Yeah, he tells it like it is.’ But that’s not how Mama was.

For example, some people, if they don’t like a certain food will politely decline it, or if they’re in a social setting, they’ll go ahead and suffer through it quietly. You might wonder if they disliked the dish or were just full already.

But if you offered my Mama shrimp or oysters, there could be no mistaking how she felt about it. There would be a visceral reaction that utilized her entire face, her tongue would come out of her mouth, and she’d say ‘Yuck!’ and maybe shudder. For some reason, my family finds people’s culinary preferences to be endlessly amusing, and I inherited that, so I would regularly ask her if she wanted seafood or some of the black licorice candy I was having, just because I knew the answer and wanted to see that reaction.

She had great reactions for life. If she heard music she liked, she didn’t just tap her foot or bob her head a little. Her entire self got involved in moving, whether that was any of the dancing dolls she had throughout her house or a song coming over the loudspeaker during a Permian football game. From another room you could still tell if she had gotten to the punchline of a joke she really liked or saw children doing something that especially tickled her, you could hear her full, body-shaking laugh. When she was happy, it took up everything about her. You didn’t have to wonder: you knew.

Gosh she was fun.

But that bluntness didn’t extend to being mean to people. Sometimes, she’d say, ‘I just don’t understand why’ about something. That could be something she’d read in the news or some weird thing on TV. After the car wreck that hospitalized her and Herb in 2009, I got to stay her at her house to help her out a little till he was released. She talked about how she didn’t understand a lot of commercials, and I said, ‘They’re probably not trying to sell anything to you,’ and she said, ‘I guess that’s right.’ She didn’t need to assume the worst thing. She lived the Great Commandment. She loved God, and she treated other people the way she’d want them to treat her.

She was able to do that, I think, because she loved God but also because she knew what it was like to have people use bluntness as a way to be needlessly cruel.

My grandma didn’t have an easy time growing up, following oil camps around West Texas. Her home life wasn’t always the best. But by the time she was in high school, she was quite a looker and also painfully shy. She didn’t interact with many people she didn’t have to. A long time after she graduated, she found out that on account of those two things, some people thought she was stuck up or considered herself too good for them. So some girls said mean things, called her oilfield trash and worse. And my Mama remembered that. Seventy years later, she remembered what it was like for someone to say something they probably didn’t give a second thought to afterward but was mean enough to have made her cry. She told me, ‘You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life’, and how, if you said something to someone, it might stick with them for the rest of their life. So she made sure to say lots of good things that would stick with you for the rest of your life.

My sister described Mama as an encourager, and that’s true. She didn’t have to understand you to be for you, to want to see you be successful, and to see you happy. After I moved to Seattle, literally all she cared about was that I liked it up there and I was happy. You didn’t have to wonder if she loved you, because she told you so and showed you so every chance she got.

I think that’s about all I can manage today, but I had one more story I wanted to tell on her, and I don’t think there’s any moral except that I think about it often. My grandparents’ landline has a phone number that’s very similar to a pizza chain, and on occasion they would get calls by mistake and have to give people the right number. But one evening, they get a call, and my Mama answers it, and they say, ‘Is this Domino’s Pizza?’ And she says, ‘No, you’ve got the wrong number. You need to call this other one.’ And she gives them the right number and hangs up. A little while later, they call back and say, ‘Is this Domino’s Pizza?’ and she has to explain again, ‘You’ve got the wrong number. You need to dial this other one.’ Well of course they call back a third time, and say, ‘Is this Domino’s Pizza?’ So my Mama answers, ‘Yes,’ makes like she’s taking their order down, and hangs up. Then they didn’t call back and she was able to enjoy the rest of her night.

Thank you.

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adavidjohnson

A David Johnson, of many. The (poorly) recovering journalist of West Texas extraction one.

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