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Emily Ford column: The most important title of all

The first time my daughter Clara laughed, she was in Grandma Pence’s arms.

We were at a beach cottage and, as always, my husband’s grandmother was surrounded by children. While the older kids played on the floor, Grandma sat on a footstool holding little Clara.

Suddenly, Clara laughed. Not a giggle, not a chuckle, but a belly laugh. The only person in the room more thrilled than me was Grandma.

To know what was important to Grandma, you need only to have read the grave marker at her funeral last week in Virginia: “Wanda M. Pence, Mother, Grandmother and Great-grandmother.”

Of her many titles and accomplishments, she was most proud of those three.

The youngest of eight children, Grandma became a military wife and moved more than 20 times. She and her husband had three children, and Grandma raised them alone for months at a stretch while Pop served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Military life was hard, but she found ways to have fun. She may have even invented the predecessor to today’s baby monitors.

When she lived on the base and wanted to play bridge in the evening, she would put her kids to bed and call her friend’s number. She’d place the receiver in the crib and slip out, then listen on her friend’s phone for any sign that the children were stirring.

Grandma didn’t let much stop her.

My children will remember her as a funny, inquisitive, lively lady who could sew just about anything and was always ready for a card game. The night she died, they took comfort by wrapping themselves in the quilts she made for them as infants.

Grandma loved babies and toddlers, and she would “bug walk” her fingers up their arms until they squealed with delight. My husband can remember Grandma bug walking up his arm.

Every day, I read a needlepoint that Grandma made and gave us for our wedding.

“Two are stronger than one, for if one falls, the other will lift him up again.”

Maybe that’s how she and Pop stayed married for 53 years.

Grandma did a lot of lifting up. She cared for daughter Linda and her young family as Linda died of breast cancer. We named our daughter, Clara Linda, for her.

My husband’s mother Betty was there as well. There at Linda’s bedside, caring for her younger sister. Twenty years later, Betty repeated the vigil, this time for their mother.

These women inspire me.

January marks the death of Pop, Linda and now Grandma. After Grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer, she said, “I should have stopped smoking sooner.”

Yesterday marked the anniversary of my own Grandma Pearl’s death, also from cancer. Also a former smoker.

Grandma Pearl never met my children. She won’t wear my sister’s line of jewelry, named M. Pearl for her. She won’t watch my two sisters get married this summer.

Grandma Pence won’t see her granddaughters walk down the aisle. She won’t hold their babies and bug walk up their arms. She won’t hear their first laugh.

If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit today.

Our daughter Eleanor loves pancakes, which my husband prepares every morning.

He loved them too, and Grandma Pence always had “hotcakes” waiting for him, along with a little luxury — Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.

When we returned from Grandma’s funeral, Eleanor came downstairs to find her pancakes waiting.

Next to them, a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.

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Emily Ford is a freelance writer living in Salisbury.

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