Helen Buxton Frey meant many different things to those of us who have gathered here this afternoon to remember and celebrate her life. As her granddaughter, her legacy to me lies not only in my genetics, but also, more importantly, in my heart. I would like to share with you today my thoughts on what Grandma meant to me in the 22 years I was blessed to have her in my life and what I hope she meant to many of you as well.
My grandmother lived almost all of her life here in this place - she was a true "Vermonter" at heart, the type of "salt of the earth" person that embodied the spirit of her home. More than this, Grandma was a person of great strength and courage. As a young woman, she enlisted in the Army and served bravely as a nurse in the South Pacific during World War II. It was only as I got older that I was able to fully understand what she must have endured. Although I know few details about Grandma's years of service, I know that she must have had enormous amounts of courage to survive the realities of warfare as such a young woman. Her civilian life, too, was a great example of strength and perseverance. She was a working mother and helped to support her family long before the feminist movement made this a common occurrence. From an early age, my grandmother was my role model. I never needed to look any further than Grandma for an example of the many things women should not be afraid to accomplish. She did it all with quiet grace.
However, more than this, Grandma's life was an example of strength in spirit. Grandma was never afraid to express her thoughts, and anybody who ever tried to change it knows that her opinion was not easily swayed. Some - including, at times I'm sure, the parents of the granddaughter who inherited this trait - may consider this stubbornness. I saw it as the strength to believe in your convictions and the courage to live life independently.
Grandma never failed to make those around her feel special. I loved even the way she would answer the telephone when I would call. Her warm "Hello Dear!" was always such a welcome sound. It would make even a hard day not so dark because I felt in that instance how much I was loved. She never forgot a single daughter, son, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandchild, or dear friend's birthday, and her cards were never even belated! She was a wonderful baker, and she always remembered everyone's favorites. For me, it was "S" cookies: wonderful anise flavored twists that I loved to leave out for Santa Claus every Christmas as a child. Even though it had been many years since I believed in Santa, Grandma would still bake those for me every year, even if I had never mentioned a word about them, knowing not only how much I loved them, but also how much the holiday traditions (even if they were a little silly for a person in her twenties) meant to me.
Grandma delighted in the simple pleasures her loved ones provided her. One of her greatest joys was listening to the music that her children and grandchildren played. She loved to watch Jane sing in her school musicals; hear Tom play his guitar; listen to the beautiful brass music played by Aunt Louise, Kevin or Alison; or even just sing along with us as the family caroled at Christmas time. One of my most vivid memories of Grandma is of spending hours with her playing bridge and Scrabble. Although she was quite a master at both and I was never very good at either one, she never seemed to mind. In fact, I remember as a young girl she would always let me cheat at Scrabble - I would search for words in advance of my turn in the Scrabble dictionary in order to come up with real zingers. She did love the game but her true love was the time it allowed us to spend together. It is only fair that I mention, though, that despite my many years of cheating and even my subsequent years of fair play as my vocabulary grew, I never ever could beat her!
Grandma's strength also shone through as she endured some of the hardships life handed to her. Many of those she loved preceded her in death. She outlived the brother whom she had nursed through polio after her years in the war, her sister, her husband, even her youngest daughter, and many dear friends. However throughout these and many other trials, she never let grief and suffering overwhelm her. Although she was a person of great faith in God and devotion to the church, it always seemed to me that her perseverance came not just from her faith in a higher power, but also from a strength rooted deeply in the fabric of her soul. She lived every day with a great love for life, and she never felt sorry for herself. I think she knew that life was unfolding as it should be.
At the very core of Grandma's life was a deep devotion and love for people, not only those of us whom she loved deeply but also many she had never even met. Indeed, the majority of her 86 years of life were spent serving others in some capacity. from her years working as a nurse to her hours spent reading with children at the Saxtons River School, her desire to help people seemed endless. She always found time to hand knit mittens for the less fortunate or participate in some charity work for her church. Although Grandma never possessed great material wealth, she was wholly unselfish with what she did have, giving to charities throughout her community and the world. Her unfailingly kind and generous spirit always astounded and inspired me.
Above all in her life, she loved her family and her friends. She loved to receive visitors at her house on School Street, but she always felt that anywhere her loved ones were gathered was the place she belonged. I will be forever grateful that despite her physical limitations she made the trip to Chicago last summer to watch me graduate from college. Her presence at that event was so important to me, and it will be a wonderful memory.
Grandma was wholly unselfish in the love she gave us. When anyone would ask her what she wanted for her birthday or for Christmas, she would always respond with "nothing" - and nothing is what she truly meant. The only gift she needed was to love and to be loved in return. I can recall several zany Christmases the family spent together - with 12 people things always got a little crazy. I remember amidst all the unwrapping and surprises and excitement, I looked up at my grandma. She was sitting quietly off to the side, as she had finished opening her gifts. What I remember is the expression on her face - her eyes and her smile were filled with such joy that I was almost moved to tears. It was not the gifts we gave her or our happiness upon receiving her gifts. The fact that her family was gathered in one room sharing that moment was the only thing we ever needed to give her. I know that she will live that way forever in my memory.
Grandma has left us a legacy of love and of taking the time to enjoy what life has blessed us with, and I know those things will be with me always.