The following is a memorial speech I delivered February 20th, 2010 at the Memorial Service for my late grandmother, Doris Sherwood. The speech was dedicated to both my grandparents, Doris and Parker Sherwood.
I agonized for days trying to find the right words to honor my grandparents. My grandparents were both a huge, influencing part of my life and that influence resonates in almost everything I do. My grandparents have left a legacy of life lessons that I will carry with me always and will continue to shape my life.
The first lesson I learned is that if life has you down, create an alternate reality to escape it. Doris and Parker began this lesson when I was three years old with my first trip to Disney World. I had no way of realizing at the time that this would lead to me being the only 30 year old woman I know who has visited the enchanting parks no less than 15 times. The lesson was taken so seriously by our family that at one point my mother actually possessed a Walt Disney World season pass – even though she did not reside in or near the state of Florida. Ken, Jeremy and I are now like Pavlov’s dog; when tragedy strikes we turn to mom and say “So, when do we leave?” … Well, mom?
The second lesson I learned is the importance of education. Surely, this is a lesson that the majority of parents and grandparents strive to teach their kids. However, “most” grandparents don’t begin the college selection process with college interviews in the ninth grade. I recall being at Hartwick college in 1993 at an open house event and my grandfather pushing me to go talk to the Admissions Director. I actually started crying from anxiety. By the time I got to my Ithaca College interview, I was charming the pants off Admissions Directors and was accepted practically on the spot. My grandfather was unable to continue the college selection process with me, but my grandmother took his place. She was even there to drop me off the first day of college. I also remember asking my grandfather how long I had to go to school. His response? “Courtney, you go all the way.” I listened. Mind you, my grandfather was unable to attend college because of the cost. After a bachelors, a masters and a doctoral degree all earned from private institutions I wish his response to my innocent question had been, “Courtney, you go as far as someone else’s money will get you.”
The third lesson I learned was that you should make seeing the world a part of your life. It is no secret that my grandparents loved to travel the world having seen Great Britain several times and even visiting the former Soviet Union during the cold war days. They told me stories about seeing the lines of Soviet citizens waiting for bread and drinking vodka that tasted like oil. They were warned during this trip not to wander from the group. Can you imagine Doris Sherwood being told she can’t wander? Look behind doors? This is the woman who took me to an inn in Vermont and when presented with a door reading “private” said, “Oh, it’s okay we can go in.” You can just imagine her at the Kremlin sneaking into a private door and being tackled by the KGB. My grandmother is also the woman who put 1,000 miles a week on her car running around the Saratoga and Lake George regions. All jokes aside, my grandparents found seeing the world so important that they helped send me to Europe for a month when I was 15 years old; still one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
The fourth lesson I learned was taught to me by my grandmother and my mother. This lesson is as a woman no matter how much you may deny it, you will always grow up to be just like your mother. My grandmother was a cook, a baker, a homemaker and a hostess. At times she had a quick temper and always said that family comes first. “We have to help each other,” she would say, “That’s what it means to be a family.” She loved animals, the outdoors and was never afraid of hard work. When I look at myself in light of my grandmother, and naturally in light of my mother, I cannot deny that I am not only my mother’s daughter, but Doris’ granddaughter. If you see my mother chuckling next to me it is because she is thinking, “What?! You don’t cook!” But it’s more than that. I put the same focus on the important things in life as my grandma: friends, family, the outdoors, the simple things. I also have a quick temper and am a self proclaimed born hostess. I’m proud to say I am just like my mother and even more proud to say I am just like my grandmother.
The last lesson I learned from my grandparents is that true, unconditional, undying love does exist. My grandmother met my grandfather as a young teen, married him at 18 and spent almost 52 years as his wife. Grandpa was Grandma’s best friend, her confident, her rock. He was the one person who could ground her. And when he passed away suddenly in 1997, her world was never the same. She missed him so deeply you could tell how badly her heart was broken. She used to walk around the house talking to him and would say that “Parker is right here on my shoulder.” This is not to say that they were not without their problems over 52 years. But, what I learned from them is that true love conquers all and working through life’s difficulties and coming out the other side unscathed makes you as a couple stronger and your love deeper. In my grandmother’s final days, when her pain was great, she cried out for Parker. When she was calm, but could still speak, she talked to Parker. And, now she has been reunited in heaven with her Parker. In the tragedy of her death we find this romantic beauty. It is this kind of love that I have striven to find, and finally have, in my own life.
Rudy Giuliani said, “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And most importantly cookies.” Mayor Giuliani’s words are expressive of Doris and Parker Sherwood. Think of what you picture as the ideal grandparents. Those people in your life that you equate with fun, breaking the rules and unconditional love. You’ve imagined my grandparents. Ken, Jeremy and I know that we are extremely blessed to have been the grandchildren of Doris and Parker Sherwood and I know not one of us takes our memories for granted.