It might be hard to believe, but there is some semblance of a method to the madness of cranking out this column week after week.
When you do 52 of them a year, every year, for more than a decade, it can sometimes be tough to remember what you’ve written, and when. Most of the time I just write from the heart and let the rest sort itself out.
But one thing I try to do is mix up the general “feel” of the column from week to week. For instance, if I write something silly or (allegedly) funny one Sunday, I try to pivot back to something a little more serious the next weekend, if possible. If I offer something deeply personal on a given Sunday, I might try to come back with a piece that’s a bit more newsy the following week.
But I can’t always adhere to that rhythm. This is one of those weeks.
Last week, I shared some thoughts on my Mom. It was Mother’s Day, so the tie-in was natural. I certainly hope that many folks reached out to their mothers on that special day.
But on this Sunday morning I feel compelled to return to family, as this column space has lost one of its leading “characters.”
My dear Grandma, Edith McElrath, left this earth early on the morning of May 11. She was 99. Grandma, who had been in relatively incredible health for a woman of her age, suffered a stroke several weeks ago, and it was a significant setback. She died peacefully in her sleep at Abbeville Nursing Home. My brother — as decent a man as you will ever encounter — was at her side when she passed away.
We had a lovely service for her on May 13 at Abbeville Presbyterian Church — she was its longest living member, at 79 years — and laid her to rest at Long Cane Cemetery, alongside her beloved husband Jack and daughter Judith Ann.
I come here today not to eulogize her. I offered those words at the funeral, and I’ll let them remain there, with the many friends and family members who attended the service.
But I did want to acknowledge her passing here, for one simple reason: Grandma didn’t only belong to our family.
She belonged to you, too.
During the last decade-plus, she became one of the recurring characters in this column. I’d share stories and memories and various other tales about her every year on her birthday, or on Mother’s Day. I’d offer anecdotes about her at Christmastime and Thanksgiving. She’d pop up in this column space numerous times every year.
And so, when word started to slip out about her passing last week, I began to get messages — a number of messages — from readers and others who, though they may never have met Grandma, were mourning her passing just the same. So many told me they felt like they had come to “know” her through these columns, and were crestfallen to hear of her death. My old friend Bob Simmonds, the Index-Journal’s longtime copy desk editor, sent a note saying, “I feel like a member of my family died.”
It’s interesting that she spent the last decade or so of her life being oft-referenced in print and online via a newspaper column, because Grandma was a woman who otherwise lived far from the spotlight. She was an endlessly humble, faithful woman who spent her life dedicated to God, her siblings, her children and her grandchildren. She worked hard and enjoyed a quiet life at her little white house in the Abbeville countryside, where she lived independently up until just a few weeks ago.
But, eventually, she had a grandson — a real meatball — come along and make her into a minor local celebrity in the newspaper, which was attention that she never asked for. That said, she always enjoyed the phone calls that would come each March after I wrote about her birthday.
I appreciate — endlessly — everyone who has reached out to me in the days since Grandma passed. She was our family’s matriarch, and we loved her dearly.
But, let there be no doubt: She loved you, too, even if you only “met” in this column through the years. We’ve spent a lot of time together — her, you and me — right here on Sunday mornings.
We miss you already, Grandma.