When the phone rings during business hours, I answer; it’s usually money coming in. Today, it wasn’t. My youngest sister called to tell me that my maternal grandmother had passed last night. Geneva Cooper Beckum had died in her sleep. She was 92. The photo is from 1964 and shows her holding me.
Family is distraught, of course, but not surprised. She was 92, after all. Her mind was still sharp, but the flesh suffered the infirmities of advanced age. Although in her most recent photo, she didn’t look a day over 80. We’re comforted by the fact she didn’t suffer a long, painful illness, and died in her sleep. As far as is known, she enjoyed the longest lifespan of anyone in our family. All the more remarkable when one considers that the average life expectancy for white females born in 1919 was 59 years. She managed to outlive two husbands and nearly all of her friends. She lived long enough, in fact, to attain great-great grandmother status while still drawing breath.
Because she was still sharp of mind right up to the end, her sudden passing was all the more surprising. As my sister said, she was just always there. To my grandmother’s credit, she had made all her arrangements long ago, including leaving her burial dress with the undertaker. The family won’t be burdened with emotional decisions at a trying time, as everything is bought and paid for. So in death she offers the living a lesson.
I can’t say that I know much about her life, as children tend not to be curious about their own parents, much less their grandparents. I believe that she was born and raised in South Carolina, and lived there about half her life. She married before she was 18, which wasn’t uncommon in that time and place. When I was a small child she married her second husband, and they took up residence in Augusta, GA. Later they moved to Maggie Valley, NC, where they owned and ran a Stuckey’s convenience store for many years. They later retired in the area.
My main memories of her when I was a child was visiting during Thanksgiving and Christmas, when she would cook for the Russian Army. The term ‘groaning board’ hardly does justice to her holiday spreads. I enjoy cooking to excess on holidays, and I probably got that from her. She could be stubborn and she had definite ideas on how things ought to be done, and there’s some of that in me, too.
I wasn’t a dutiful grandson. In fact, about things like calling every once in a while, I was pretty bad. And so I learn once again the lesson that it seems every generation must learn: the things we take for granted are the most fleeting. I certainly could have found the time and treasure to visit with her, and now that opportunity is gone.
Vaya con Dios, Nana.