Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Grandpolly died the day before yesterday. In truth, she was gone long before Sunday night and I am relieved. Just last week I was debating whether to send her a Christmas present - she wouldn't have any idea about it - but nonetheless I was thinking to send her a new throw to keep her warm. She hasn't been able to talk on the phone for a couple years but I have still kept her on my speed dial in my iphone. I have been missing her for a couple years now, but now I really miss her.

I always loved her hands and fingers. I don't know why but even when I was little, I loved them. They were slightly crooked from arthritis but she had beautiful hands and I loved the way when we were sitting at dinner and she was talking, she would tap the edge of the table with her fingers when she was making a point. I miss playing backgammon with her. Even when she was basically blind, she was still playing backgammon. We would read the dice out to her and she would feel the pieces and game-board with her fingers. I loved the sound of her true laugh, her chuckle that felt like a reward if you could get it out of her. We were bored by her repeated reviews of the latest book she was reading. My god, it seemed like she was reading about Lewis & Clark for my entire childhood!...but her love of history and reading trickled down through her family. I am forever grateful for Walloon and her gift to us of it. Whenever I drive by Pansies Point on South Shore Drive I have vivid memory of watching her swim to it from the dock and back. I am so thankful for the pictures she took of her grandchildren, it is safe to say that part of the reason the deBree children love photography so much is because of her. And we can't forget Grandpolly with Bill. Bill is still today my standard of a gentleman. He is what honorable means to me. He was the example of patience. He was so kind and so gentle to Grandpolly. He let her think that she was driving the train when really he was in the back steering everything without her ever knowing. Their dynamic was mysterious and we all thought dysfunctional, but at the end of the day Grandpolly loved Bill so much and Bill her.

Don't get me wrong, Grandpolly was tough and to really remember her, we can't forget that. She could be sharp-tongued and had a puritan streak to her that meant harsh judgements and standards that, alas, trickled down through her family. Grandpolly lived through heartbreak and tragedies (two husbands died, her son and daughter-in-law were killed in a plane crash, another son-in-law to cancer and more) and yet she never cried. No, I mean, she actually never cried. In college, I started ending every conversation with her saying "I love you Grandpolly" just to see how long it would take before she finally said it back. It only took 4 years. I remember it distinctly, I was walking back to my apartment in Brooklyn and she finally said it back. 

She was terribly competitive, so generous, principled, had impressive posture, a stubborness that the women in her family have inherited, and the very definition of a matriarch. She was a force to be reckoned with. And I loved her. 

I am so sad she died alone. Though it does seem fitting. She was so damn determined that I am going to let myself believe she waited for everyone to leave the room. I just wish I had sent that blanket to her last week. She would have died covered in something sent with love and that her fingers could feel even if the rest was lost. 


  1. Beautifully written, Mary. Grandpolly lived an interesting and full life. She will be missed.

  2. Echoing Hannah, this is beautifully written and thank you for sharing it with us, Mary. Sending all my love to you and your family during this time....

  3. Ha, this made me laugh. You captured G-dawg well. I had totally forgotten how you would say, "I love you Grandpolly" to her to get her to someday cave-in and say I love you back. That is very you. And I think you told me about how you were doing that and that's why I started doing the same thing. I had virtually the same results. I too distinctly remember when she said, "I love you" back. Because it sounded like an accident, a mistake that she didn't catch before it slipped out of her mouth. I had gotten so used to getting no similar response that I was caught totally off-guard. I wish I had asked her before her dementia set in about all the sweet, sweet hand-made valentines she made us as kids. They were so out of character. Anyway, thanks for writing this. love, o

  4. Right on! What a touching, loving, accurate tribute!! Thanks, Mary