Ever have a family member who embodies everything you are, and strives to be? My Grandma Violet, or as I called her, Grandma, was that person for me.
With the Great Depression around the corner, Grandma Vi (she always signed cards like that) was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1926. The eldest of five siblings, she acted as caregiver to all. It was these difficult times which molded her into the woman she was to become. She gave up on finishing high school as taking care of her family was more important. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Even though, her first job was her last “job,” she worked hard to pitch in where she could.
In 1947, Grandma Vi married her husband, who gave her nine children. NINE CHILDREN! I don’t know how she did it. I’m exhausted dealing with one kid, and one on the way. To say she was Superwoman, is an understatement. While Grandpa worked at the penitentiary as a guard, she stayed home and just ran the house. “JUST” ran the house, with nine kids. She cooked all meals, cleaned, did laundry (It’s not like today people. She worked to get all those clothes clean), got the kids to school and home again, washed walls, changed diapers, referee, coach, packed lunches, and so much more. I doubt she even sat down. She once told me, “That’s just what women did, and I did my best. Women didn’t work. They stayed home where they belonged.”
As the years passed, they bounced around a bit. (I remember Grandma once telling me her fondest memories were when they lived in the projects. People really stuck up for each other then. Everyone pitched in and helped each other, and Grandma Vi didn’t always know the names of people sitting at her dinner table when she served them, nor did she care. If you were hungry, and she knew about it, you were in trouble until you sat down and ate at her dinner table. Regardless of color or creed, all were welcome. (I now sit here looking at pictures of her children. All with blonde hair, and blue eyes, healthy, well fed, and strong. They’re all easy to pick out. Pictures of her from that time are rare as either she was a ninja, or she was taking all the pictures.)
Now jump ahead to 1975. When Grandpa passed away, Grandma Vi found herself a widow at the tender age of 49, with 4 grown children, and 5 still to care for. The youngest only just turned 7 years old. Did she panic and fall apart? I’m sure she had herself one heck of a cry in the bathroom, but according to family members, she stood tall, dug deep, and handled business. She bought a house and settled in. This house became my childhood home which I will always cherish. I would like to stop and apologize to its current owners. If you see me slow down and stare at your home, please understand I’m not a creepy serial killer. I’m simply reminiscing about the good ole days.
From the age of 2, when I moved in, I watched Grandma and took notes. I was forever in awe of her strength, her fortitude, and her courage. She made the craziest holiday get together seem like a walk in the park. I can’t even compare myself with 1 kid. Whether she was cooking a big meal for the family, (remember people. 9 kids!) or throwing a Christmas party, I’ve never seen her sweat. Her house was Grand Central Station. She was the “Don” of the family, for sure. It didn’t matter if you were family or friend, you ate, danced, laughed, cried, or just relaxed. It was better than being at Disneyland.
In a bittersweet moment in 1992, she was reluctant to sell her house, and move into a small 2 bedroom apartment. The money just wasn’t there anymore for her to keep the house, as it seemed to grow larger and larger, as children grew up and moved out. This is maybe 1 of 5 occasions when I saw her cry. But even then, only a few tears at best, and she didn’t sulk for long. Grandma Vi just kept on steppin.’Even though her new apartment was small, she was still the family “Don,” and had the only place to be for family get-togethers. We would pack ourselves in to the point where we spilled out into the hallway. Guys, I’m not joking, we took over the hallway outside her apartment too. I’m sure her neighbors hated us, but oh well. That little apartment was the place to be every holiday. Funny how that works, right? During quieter moments, she would say how she missed the house. So many memories, and emotions were had there. A lifetime of highs and lows.
19 years later, in the early winter of 2011, we began to notice little things that shot giant red flags into the air. Little things like forgetting to go shopping, asking the same question time and time again, and why she was standing in the middle of a room. I took her out to get some tests and the results were expected but still shook me to my core. My invincible superwoman, Grandma Vi had Alzheimer’s! I’ll never forget hearing the doctors voice tell me the diagnosis. The disease is in my opinion the cruelest of all. It slowly strips everything away that makes you… You. Memories, names, dates, situational awareness all steal away little by little, leaving nothing more than a shell of who you once were. My Grandma Vi spent her whole life making memories with the family and loved ones, to only have them ripped from her. Very scary, and cruel.
Not long after, she moved into her oldest daughters house Connie (who is awesome for doing that by the way) where she remained until a few months ago when her condition required her professional medical care. Yet even then, my aunt was by her bed every day, fighting the good fight. My mother and I helped where we could, but it was my aunt who did the bulk of the heavy lifting. She gave her all the care she needed and more, making her remaining years as comfortable as possible. There are no words I can say to thank her enough.
Grandma Vi died on the 9th of August, in a retirement home, and now it’s time to lay her to rest. I’ve been preparing myself for this day but dammit, it still sucks! Jerry keeps looking at me like the pregnant crazy lady is at it again as I keep mumbling to myself that she’s better off now, and no longer suffering. It’s the “should’ve, would’ve could’ve’s” that are driving me crazy right now. Why didn’t I do more when I had the chance? That’s just something I will have to live with.
Violet M. Riddell leaves behind 1 sister, 9 children, and 8 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren. All loved her in their own way. Her legacy of strength, get up and go attitude, and perseverance will continue on in the Riddell bloodline. I pray everyday to be at least half the woman she was.
May God grant you peace, Grandma. Please watch over us as we lay you to rest, and continue your legacy.
Violet M. Riddell
May 5th, 1926 – August 9th, 2016