When I was a child I thought all grownups were the same. Some were a little nicer and friendlier than others, but in general, I assumed that becoming an adult was like everyone getting the same degree or putting on the same costume. I believed crossing the threshold into adulthood meant knowing all of the same things and believing all of the same things and basically carrying all of the same responsibilities. I assumed all adults had experienced a childhood similar to my own and that becoming an adult meant permanently laying to rest all of your childlike questions and emotions and insecurities.
It was a few years into my own adulthood before I realized my childhood assumptions were not accurate. Me at 18 and 21 and 25 was still me; just a few years older and maybe a teeny bit wiser. I was an adult, and yet I still had questions and emotions and insecurities.
This realization sparked my curiosity. If I was still me, still a real person with questions and emotions and insecurities, then maybe all of the adults I had known as a child had been this way too.
I have always been one to ask a lot of questions. As a child I would ask them until people would politely (or not so politely) ask me to please go do something else for awhile. I am aware that my propensity for asking questions can be exhausting to people. I consider it a privilege when someone will sit with me and take the time to answer my questions.
Seven years ago I began having conversations with a woman who had known me all my life but who I had never really taken the time to know. This woman agreed to sit down with me and tell me her life story. So captivated was I by her stories that those conversations have continued to this day. Through those conversations, I have learned that my grandmother is one of the bravest, smartest, most determined women I have ever known.
Thelma Evelyn Williams Hill was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio during The Great Depression, the third child and only daughter of Charles and Evelyn Williams. Though she was a child fortunate enough to be fed and clothed and educated during the depression, one could easily describe everything beyond those most basic met needs as a series of unfortunate events.
Despite many years of hardship, neglect and trauma, I have never once heard my grandmother complain about the hand she was dealt. I have seen her eyes fill with tears and heard her voice shake with emotion, but not once during our many hours of conversation have I witnessed bitterness or hatred or even judgement towards anyone or anything for what she has survived.
One of the things I admire most about my grandmother is her resilience. She survived many challenges through her childhood, but the sudden loss of her husband presented some of the most challenging moments of her life. With little means and five children still at home, Grandmother juggled jobs, home, farm and family while trying to process her own grief and loss. Eventually she began college and became a psychologist. Not only did she work tirelessly to provide for her children and get her college education, Grandmother drew from her own hurts to help others who were hurting. She is a beautiful example of compassion, determination and resilience.
Another thing I think of is Grandmother’s adventurous and independent spirit. She had a beautiful house built when I was a child where her children and grandchildren would gather for weekends and holidays. Her property held rolling hills and woods and trails and a river and a pond full of fish. Some of the best memories of my childhood were made on that property and in that house. She has traveled extensively. She still goes on cruises and road-trips. She plays poker several nights a week until all hours of the night. We all joke that Grandma has more of a social life than we do, she is always coming and going. Her commitment to exercise surpasses most of us in the family, she is an active member of the YMCA. She reads tirelessly- I love that she is still reading and learning- it gives us endless stories and topics to discuss. She told us this past Christmas that ziplining was on her bucket list. Christmas afternoon she rode the newly built zipline across the backyard along side her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I tell her often that I hope I am as active and adventurous as she is when I grow up.
One other thing about her, for tonight at least, I love that my Grandmother is a storyteller. Her ability to remember the details of her life astounds me. She remembers names and places and dates that span nearly a century and she does this better than most everyone I know. It is an encouragement and an inspiration to me, that storytelling is in my blood. Because of my Grandmother’s uncanny ability to remember and communicate, I have had the privilege of learning about my family, my heritage and my ancestors in a way I could not have without her. My Grandmother has influenced my life in many ways. Our shared connection to story just happens to be one of my favorites.
Watching the sunset is a favorite pastime around here. This pavilion was aptly named the “Sunset Pavilion”- from up here the view of the sunset is breathtaking.
“Sunset time,” as my mom calls it, has become a time to marvel and rest and give thanks. It is a time to look back over the day’s work and to tell the day’s stories.
Grandma, it is with joy and gratitude that we dedicate this pavilion and the goodness experienced under this roof, to you, your life and your legacy. Our hope is that you feel the freedom to sit up here and marvel and rest and give thanks; to look back over your life’s work and tell your life’s stories. Your resilient, adventurous, independent spirit inspires each of us. It is no secret we all want to be like you when we grow up. We love you so much, Grandma, and we are so glad you came to stay.