My grandmothers story is one of bravery. She was (the past tense will never feel normal) the most beautiful role model for her children and grandchildren, as well as for generations to come.
An avid reader and brilliant kid, Mary Ann Diamond survived the death of her mom when she was quite young.
Mary Ann Howell then got married and had five kids by the time she was 30 years old; 4 girls and a boy. Each of them have huge personalities and their own set of unique gifts and difficult challenges. She handled them all with grace. While caring for these kids, she had a sick mother in law living with her, dogs, and the most high maintenance and difficult husband. She moved around all the time, relocating children and homes and life to accommodate my grandfather’s job. She even spent a year in California. She just astounds me.
My grandfather played basketball at Uconn. So, my grandmother would invite them all over for dinner. All of them. That was a big deal because there was a mix of White and African American kids on the team and they were not usually invited to the same functions. The formidable woman she was didn’t care about others opinions or the backwards customs of the time — she cared only that they were his teammates and they deserved to be welcomed to their dinners the same as anyone else.
My Uncle Jack was gay and at that time especially where they lived, that wasn’t acceptable. He was bullied all throughout high school until my grandmother finally decided it wasn’t worth it anymore. She made the fearless decision to pull him out of high school to protect him. She didn’t hesitate because of what the town gossips might say, she did what was right by her son. And then, years later, the wonderful Uncle Jack died. Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents do. But nevertheless, she persisted. She didn’t stop moving forward even when it would’ve been so easy to slip into the past.
All of that happened before I was born. The grandmother I knew personally was powerful. She was about 71 when I was born and all I remember about her in those initial years was her warmth. It was like she was a light that never flickered and I knew she would be there for love and support always. As I got older, I began spending more and more time with her. Her house in Clove Hill, New Jersey was the first place that I really remember visiting her. We would drive up and spend countless hours together. There was no technology in that house except for the omnipresent tv that my grandfather had on with the game or the news. I remember sitting at the table when she made BLTs. I remember watching Miss Congeniality together on one of the million chairs that they had in their house. I remember when they became snow birds and I got to see them both in Clove Hill and in Florida.
I remember when my grandfather got too sick to travel back and forth. So they moved, again, permanently to Florida. I remember packing up their house in Clove Hill. I remember the funniest jokes we all shared together in that house that now only three people know.
When they moved to Florida full time, is when we started spending every Christmas there. With Christmas comes my birthday and every single year, she went out of her way to do something special. My grandfather got the credit for a while, but it quickly became evident that even as he demanded things, she was the one who did it all. Every year— no matter how sick anyone was, I would arrive to a beautiful banner above the garage. “Happy Birthday, Samantha”, it would read. I always knew that rain or shine, sickness or health, that banner would be there triumphantly flapping in the wind. Knowing that someone loves you enough to put aside every possible issue just to make you smile is the most invaluable gift.
When my grandfather died, so did his reign of control that he held over her. My grandmother broke free in seconds. Suddenly, the house was painted almost completely blue (the color she was never allowed to have because he didn’t like it). When I say suddenly, it was within like a week, that’s how quickly she accomplished things. After he died, our visits no longer consisted of tip toeing around the house afraid of making too much noise. It became infused with joy even as she started falling. This fiercely independent woman saw no need to use a walker even after the first time she fell. Since I’d known her, she had broken multiple bones, beaten cancer, undergone years of chemo and came out on the other side stronger. Every. Single. Time. I hate the song and expression that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but in her case, it was accurate. I watched her silently suffer through the most painful of things, never uttering a word of complaint. Doing everything to make sure that everyone else was taken care of.
She was the grandma that sent newspaper clippings to you when she thought of you and called just to say she loved you. But you already knew she loved you, she made sure that you knew. She stayed up worrying about each and every person in her family, trying to do something nice to make sure they were all taken care of.
She was also the life of the party. As soon as she could, she became the hostess on the street. We threw Christmas parties, birthday parties, Valentine’s Day parties, and pretty much every other occasion you could think of. You knew people were going to come because literally everyone loved her. Her friends would show up at exactly the starting time, check their orthopedic shoes at the door, and enter for drinks, food, and a great time. I loved those parties. Her friends became my friends because she hated games but they all played mahjong. She hated games with a passion — we’d be playing go fish and she’s the person who would whisper “what do you need, I’ll give it to you. “ I started going with the mahjong girls and let me tell you, I loved it. I love the people on that street. They are the people who would come and stay over when she was too sick. They would help clean up when she fell time and time again. They defined community.
Even when she literally broke her neck, she did the surgery and came out on top. She wore a scarf around her brace and continued to live life.
Not only did she live her life, she ran it. A few years ago, she created her own business. Yep, in her mid eighties. She would “gobble up gumdrops” as she called properties. She would renovate them, and flip or rent them. She always had odds and ends to do in order to make her villas perfect for her renters or ready to put on the market. No matter where she was— home, the hospital, whenever wherever, she would pick up her phone. What if something needs tending to? She decided to renovate her kitchen one day this year, and the next day everything was already in motion. She got new countertops, switched around all of her appliances, and reorganized her entire house. If she was born in this day and age, she would be a CEO juggling a million jobs and ideas and a family. She would be the example that finally proved to all of the haters that a woman CAN flawlessly do absolutely everything. She’s the woman who inspires me to push the envelope and do more than I ever thought I could.
As she would’ve wanted it, her death was a celebration of her life. The family that she started all gathered as did her friends near and far to celebrate the powerful person that we all knew and loved. Her spirit was transcendent, always out of this world with her class and humor and brilliance.
I love you Grandma, but I know you know 😘