September 6th, 2019 would have been my Grandma Jackie’s 100th birthday.
Growing up, I always remember her saying she wanted to live to be 100. She’d say it with a smile on her face, and for most of my life I never doubted she would see that day. Unfortunately, her body had other plans, and she passed away back in 2008.
A vast majority of the time I can be found with a smile on my face as well. I am a genuinely happy person, and naturally optimistic. I like to think I was born this way, but the older I get, and the more I realize happiness and gratitude is a CHOICE, the more I believe it was the model shown to me, with my Grandma leading the way, that shaped the way I am today. Sure I have my fair share of trials and tribulations like everyone else, but my Grandma’s spirit has always been, and remains, a constant influence in my life.
You see, along with my Dad, she helped raise me from the time I was 4 until she moved back to St. Louis (where most of my family is from) when I was in high school. At times she lived with us, other times she was right down the street. I would spend most weekends at her house, goofing around, watching Notre Dame football, eating blue bell ice cream with Hershey’s syrup, tossing a ball around, and playing game after game of Scrabble.
(Side note: If I routinely beat you in Words With Friends, you can thank her for that!)
She lived a simple life. She loved watching Sound of Music every time it came on tv, and at some point my dad finally bought her a tv with a VCR player, and we made sure she had that movie to watch any time she wanted. She lived on her own until the last couple months of her life. She would walk to the grocery store, take the bus for her other errands, and volunteer in her senior center office. When she moved back to St. Louis, we would talk on the phone on a regular basis, and go visit her a couple times a year.
Our visits never consisted of much excitement, and that was exactly the point. It was truly about spending time with the most important people, and simply enjoying each others company. She didn’t need to go on an adventure or go shopping, she didn’t care if we went out for dinner, and she could not have cared less what was happening in politics. She was simply and unequivocally grateful to have our presence.
At any random time she would say out loud, to no one in particular “Oh Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you for this day.” It was never trite, and she wasn’t saying it just to say it. Every time she spoke those words, she truly meant it.
And here’s why I believe that to be true.
From the mid 90’s until her departure, she dealt with some serious medical issues. Breast cancer resulting in a mastectomy, diabetes, 2 strokes, bone cancer, and ultimately stomach cancer (I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other things!). I don’t wish any of that upon any one, and that’s certainly not the most fulfilling way to live out the later stages of life. While it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, in true stoic philosophy form, long before I understood any of it, she made a choice.
She chose to be grateful.
She chose to put a smile on her face.
She chose to spread joy to others.
She refused to complain about her woes because in her words “I don’t want to hear myself complain, and I’m sure no one else does either!”
She knew regardless of what she was going through, she was still alive, and each day was a gift. She had people to love and those who loved her, and she could still put a smile on people’s faces just by talking to them and being the light she was.
Often it really is the simple things in life that mean the most.
I still think about her all the time. Her silliness, her smile, her saying “Well, it’s time to shit or get off the pot!” (always cracked me up), and her absolute joy for life. She lived the way I wish to live, and I strive to embody her spirit as much as possible, every single day.
So today, I celebrate Jacquelyn Martha Zalmanoff, my sweet grandmother who would have been 100 years old today. I’m sure if she were still her, she’d be taking out her dentures, having a big ol piece of cake, and saying “Oh Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you for this day.”