Today's Tribute: Jean Munson, my grandma

Today's tribute goes to Jean Munson, my maternal grandmother.  My grandma is an amazing lady.  Sadly, I've never lived very near to her, but she has always found a way to shorten the distance between us.  I can barely imagine how close to her I would feel if she had lived only twenty minutes away, since I already feel close to her at a distance of thousands of miles.
One perk of having teachers for parents is getting summers off to travel, and travel we did.  We visited our far-flung relatives, usually for a few weeks at a time.  Going to see Grandma and Grandpa in New Jersey was always a highlight of my year.  Why?  Because every year she had some new and exciting thing for us to do at her house.  One year it was that she had redecorated the grandkids guest room so that one whole wall was painted with a garden/farm theme.  Another year they built us a treehouse.  Another time (after learning from my mom that my brother Chris was going through a big archery phase, thanks to watching Disney's Robin Hood incessantly), we arrived to find a hay bale with a bullseye target and real archery equipment!  Another summer there was a go-kart to careen around the Christmas tree farm they lived on.  One summer she taught me to drive a small tractor (I was 8, and there was nothing cooler than going back to school in the fall and telling everyone I had learned to drive).  Several times Grandma took me on excursions to the outlet mall for a day of shopping-till-you-drop.  There was always something to look forward to on the long, long drive to New Jersey each summer.
But it wasn't the material stuff that made seeing Grandma and Grandpa so wonderful.  The toys and activities were nothing in comparison to the love and relational time they lavished on us.  Going to be with Grandma was a guarantee to feel like the world's most special person for a few weeks.  She always made time for us.  She and my grandpa were some extremely busy retirees.  They ran a Christmas tree farm (still do, in fact) which is a lot of work year round in upkeep.  She also had gardens to tend, volunteer work to do at her church, and the usual household chores.
In full Christmas wreath production
She made the time, and often at expense to her own sleep. I remember being 11 or 12 or so and talking to her in the wee hours of the night. I was on a cot and she was near me and I just talked and talked and talked her ear off.  Every now and then she'd doze off and I'd wake her back up, and instead of scolding me she just gently apologized for falling asleep and kept listening to me.  It meant so much to have an adult who would give up sleep to be with me as I talked through all of my hopes, dreams, fears, and questions about life.  She did the same not only when I was young but when we shared a room together on a trip to Italy when I was 22.  She still listened and talked to me, sharing wisdom and advice into the late hours of the night.
Celebrating my mom's birthday
Another thing I treasure about my grandma is that she has taught me so many wonderful things. She is an artist--not by profession but by passion and talent.  She taught me to paint with watercolor.  She let me use her real, high quality brushes and showed me how to use them properly.  Grandma also taught me to sew, a skill which I still practice today and am very grateful to know.  I remember sitting in her kitchen at the sewing machine as she helped me sew some skorts the summer before eighth grade. We were talking about boys and how awful they were, but how someday they would be less awful.  At my school all eighth graders were required to take a semester of sewing in home economics, and I was so proud to be ahead of the curve thanks to my grandma's summer lessons.
Hmm, hardly any family resemblance...
Grandma was a model of what it meant to be a gracious, graceful woman.  She came from a time when a lady never left the house without her hat, gloves, and being fully done up; and although she no longer insists on the hat and gloves, there was always a ritual of getting ready to go out to the store or to church or wherever.  Grandma always changed out of her work clothes or house clothes and put on a pretty outfit and a bit of lipstick.  Since her own daughter (my mom) had never shared her enjoyment of makeup, she was thrilled that I was so interested in it, and the summer before ninth grade she took me to "get my colors done" at the Clinique counter at the county mall.  I used to spend hours every summer looking at her 1980s copy of Color Me Beautiful Make-Up Book, trying to figure out if I was a Winter or a Summer.  My grandma is the perfect blend of feminine charm and womanly toughness.  She was equally at home whether sweating in the horrible South Jersey humidity picking tomatoes from her garden or taking us to church in her Sunday best.  Born during the Great Depression and a young girl during the second World War, she knew what it was to be frugal and to make ends meet, but she never allowed frugality to be equated with meanness or discomfort. No matter how tight things were, she always made her home a cheerful and welcoming place to be.  Everything I know about hospitality, graciousness, and generosity, I have learned at the knee of my grandma and my mom…and I don't know nearly enough to do them credit.
Grandma and Grandpa visiting us in Oregon in 2010
I only wish that New Jersey and Oregon were not so far apart, since Ruby was 15 months old the  last time she saw my Grandma.  Max and Ben have never met her in the flesh.  Hopefully someday they will.  But even so, we have a wonderful connection in our very own home to my grandma: her amazing quilts.  They are truly works of art.  She should be winning craft fair prizes for them, maybe even selling them for hundreds of dollars.  Instead, my children are the lucky recipients. Ruby has a quilt with a "cute as a bug" theme and Max has a quilt with a theme of "Where the wild things are," and Ben has a Beatrix Potter themed blanket on the way.  I'm glad that in our home we will always have a tangible connection to my Grandma's creativity and love.
The Wild Things Quilt

I could go on and on.  I haven't even mentioned my grandma's great genealogical work in tracking down our ancestors and keeping track of their stories, nor have I told nearly enough about her other accomplishments.  But I will close by saying this:

Grandma, you are so special to me.  You are everything a grandma should be, and I love you so much!

Life in the Cookie Jar


  1. What a beautiful woman! You are blessed!

  2. What a great role model! And what a great post idea. I have many people I can dedicate a post to so I'll be joining you one of these days!


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