I wish you could have known my Grandma.
She was the kind of person who connects with people instantly and permanently. She would meet a stranger from India and say, “I know one person who has spent time in India,” and of course the stranger would know him. Grandma was like that with everyone.
My grandmother, Gertrude Rita Fay Sullivan, was born and raised in New Bedford, a whaling town, so everyone always gave her whale items. We still give whales to my mother, her daughter, today.
After my grandmother graduated from Simmons College in Boston, she worked as a secretary to James Bryant Conant, who was president of Harvard. He was involved in the Manhattan Project, and I imagine my grandmother had access to all kinds of interesting confidential information. But she would never discuss any of that, even years later when my father assured her it had all been declassified.
My grandparents met at a Newman Club event when he was at MIT and were married in 1941. They moved to Baltimore 70-some years ago so my grandfather could be a naval architect and marine engineer for the Sparrows Point shipyard. She loved this city and made it her home.
After Grandma raised her four children in St. Matthew’s parish in the city’s Northwood neighborhood, she became a teacher, teaching business courses at City College. When she died, 25 years ago today, some of her students came to her funeral even though it had been years since she had taught them. I think of her often, but especially at Mother’s Day because May 8 always seems to fall around—or on, as it does this year—Mother’s Day.
Grandma always joined us for family vacations and trips to Boston to visit her brother, who was a Jesuit priest there, and she was a constant presence in my childhood.
She was also a devout Catholic, attending daily Mass, making wonderful friends everywhere she went, and welcoming them into the family, too. One St. Patrick’s Day after Mass in the chapel at Good Samaritan Hospital, she overheard someone saying it was her birthday. She turned and invited the birthday girl to dinner. That friend, Regina Soria, became one of our closest family friends.
When I think about Grandma, I remember her as a source of calm and comfort, always listening, always loving. When I meet someone with a New England accent, I always think of her. I loved listening to her talk and tell stories. I wish I remembered more of the stories themselves.
What I remember above everything else, though, is feeling so loved. I knew that Grandma loved all of her children and grandchildren so completely, so proudly. I feel so honored and grateful to have her name. And, even though I miss hearing her voice, I feel so blessed that she is still in my life.
Who is on your mind this Mother’s Day?