‘Be kind,’ Grandma would say as we sat together at her home for the holidays.
She would be kind. I was always excited to go to Grandma’s house on Christmas Day because I knew there would be a fantastic gift, or McDonald’s coupons, or even loads of cash waiting for us. We all secretly wondered what kind of back door operation Grandma had to display such generosity. However, she was not participating in some less than reputable business practices; she was simply a kind person.
We were piled on top of one another that Christmas Day. In a living room designed to seat 5 people comfortably, we managed to fit in around 20 individuals of varying widths and sizes. Grandma’s house was warm that day; it always was. Those unable to take the heat of the living room seating arrangement, that was more reminiscent of a packed clown car, skirted around the ‘overflow’ section of the house; the dining room and the kitchen.
We would sit in that living room and we would all watch grandma carefully and slowly…very slowly, unwrap her Christmas gifts. One by one, package by package, sweater by sweater, grandma would delicately open her gifts, each time smiling and excited over receiving each present that looked eerily similar to a gift just the year before. Each family member would reflect Grandma’s joy and surprise as we all playfully mimicked her excitement over each gift.
‘Ohhh…isn’t that nice!’
It’s at this point, usually proceeded by a few crass remarks between the siblings about each other’s weight or outfit selection for the day, that we would hear the all too familiar words:
Grandma was exceptionally kind, and generous. She loved her family. She loved her husband, our grandpa. I remember the love she showed towards ‘Sonny’ or ‘Ben’, even as his own health declined in his last days. I can only imagine the memories that her children, our parents, must have of the love she displayed each day growing up in the Binder household.
Grandma loved to have the family together. I remember many sunny afternoons playing in their backyard on that rickety swing set, or in the Metroparks each Father’s Day, or even in the basement or the upstairs of the house, which held untold mystery and adventure for young, small, bodies that were able to squeeze through different passages behind walls that connected rooms. She loved her family.
Grandma loved her church, and loved her politics. While I didn’t end up as a Catholic (Lord, have mercy), I do credit my faithful upbringing to a family that honored their faith and earnestly sought to follow Jesus each day. I also remember joyfully discovering that she and I shared many of the same political beliefs, much to the chagrin of some of us here in this room. With pictures and letters from Dennis Kucinich and Pope Benedict in the living room, how can one go wrong?
She loved her animals. Whether it was a dog, bird, cats, neighborhood squirrels, or even a stuffed animal monkey, Grandma fed them, cared for them, and lit up every time she was around them. She loved them all.
Grandma was kind. She loved. She laughed. She lived with compassion, humility, and integrity.
Many of us here this morning have our own memories and stories of Mary Binder to share, to keep, and to cherish. You may be wondering what the best way to honor her life is, after all she has given and shared. We, her family, ask one simple thing: be kind. December 16th is her birthday; she would have been 89 this year. On this day, remember my Grandma Mary, and share some kindness with the world.
We all will miss you, Grandma. We are sad this day, and we will mourn your loss. But the good news is this: because you have shared so much of yourself with us, our lives cannot go on without being influenced by you. Each time we celebrate the holidays, or gather as a family, or even enjoy the neighborhood squirrels, we celebrate your life. Your love and legacy will certainly continue on for eternity, and most importantly, your kindness.