A Rich Life

My grandma, Beverly Starns, passed away on March 1, 2017 at the age of 93. I shared these words at a celebration of her life.

One of my early memories is sitting on the floor of the St. Arns clothing store while my Grandma Starns took a scrap of fabric and made a bright pink polyester dress for my doll. I’m sure she had plenty of other things to do, but she focused on me — her preschool granddaughter — and lovingly made a dress. The doll wore that dress for years. And the memory has lasted more than forty.

I know from personal experience, observation, and stories from you how my grandma’s gift of herself touched so many people. There are thousands of examples — big and small. And those little everyday stories are the fabric of our memories of “Grandma”, “Aunt Bev”, and “Beverly”

While I could have reflected on her love of my grandpa and their life together, time spent with her in the kitchen baking, lazing on the screened porch glider, or playing Scrabble for hours on end, I want to share my thoughts on how she lived.

My grandma was hospitality personified.

American Satirist, Ambrose Bierce, once defined hospitality as:
n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.

Hospitality was my grandma’s essence.

She was warm and welcoming — whether you came down the alley and just dropped in, called to say you’d be around in the afternoon, or packed the house on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone was welcome. We all looked forward to it, catching up with family and friends, and being part of that special atmosphere.

Grandma was generous. In meaningful ways. She was generous of time. She would shift gears with ease, pausing whatever she might be doing to focus on you, listening to what you had to say, and making you feel important. She was generous with her possessions. When we were kids, she pulled a bunch of dresses, shoes, and costume jewelry out of the closet and let us play with them. These artifacts from the 40s and 50s were unlike anything we’d ever seen! From the pink satin dress with bell sleeves to the drop-waist ivory dress with a silver mesh overlay, we had years of good play out of this trove. And grandma would watch each fashion show as it if were the first — happy to see us have so much fun dressing ourselves and styling the little cousins.

She was unfussy as a host. She’d pull up a chair for you, crack open a can of Pringles, and invite you to make yourself at home. Having grown up in a big family and raising three boys, were undoubtedly factors in her no-nonsense style. Her focus was on people, not pretense or over-preparation. The way she went about hosting, has made a lasting impression on so many.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When you’re a child, this played out in wonderful ways! Grandma’s was the kind of place where, for the most part, kids didn’t have different rules than grownups. You could eat your pumpkin pie in the living room and make a bunch of noise upstairs without raising suspicion. We could pull out boxes of old family photos for the hundredth time and sort through them ourselves with the implicit expectation that we were treating these treasures with respect. Having room to make those choices (and so many more) helped shape who I am today and challenges how I parent my kids.

The magic of my grandma’s brand of hospitality is that she also enjoyed herself. She did so many of these things to ensure we were comfortable, welcomed, and felt like we belonged — but she also had a good time. At some point, when we’d eaten all the turkey, tacos, or italian beef and made our way through cookies, pies, and brownies, dishes would quickly get cleared away and the serious business of euchre would begin. Grandma would be in the thick of it. Hearing her laughter and exclamations as the game heated up was music to my ears.

From Matthew to Ann Landers to Martha Stewart, people throughout the ages have written about hospitality. This thought from Pope Francis sums it up nicely:

“When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them-some food, a place in our homes, our time-not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched.”

My grandma lived a rich life by enriching our lives. Wherever she is, I hope it’s a place where the screen door swings open with visitors all day, the Italian beef is to her liking, and there’s a seat at the euchre table whenever she wants to play.

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