Tuesday, January 29, 2013
A life of fulfillment
Anyone who happened to meet Marian Amdur for the first time never stood a chance of accurately guessing her age. Whenever someone would ask how old my grandmother was and I replied she was 94, there would be a momentary pause and look of confusion.
Ninety-four?! No way. Not this woman who had the looks, the energy and the attitude of someone at least 20 years younger.
How many 94-year-olds do you know with that kind of busy lifestyle? Brunch with family at 11 a.m. Bridge with friends at 2 p.m. Then dinner and a show downtown. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all that, she had time to construct personalized, homemade birthday cards for all of her grandchildren. Hallmark never collected a dime from this woman.
The running joke whenever I'd return home to Phoenix would be if Grandma could find the time to squeeze me into her hectic schedule. Lunch on Wednesday? No, she already had plans. Dinner on Friday? Sorry, she already committed to attending an art exhibit. Maybe a quick stop by her apartment late Thursday afternoon ... after her regular bridge game, of course.
Or after she updated her Facebook status. Yes, my 94-year-old grandmother had a Facebook account. All of her grandkids had one. How could she be left out of the fun? Just show her how to set the thing up on her laptop, and she'd be good to go.
Truthfully, Grandma's only concession to old age was the acknowledgement she couldn't play golf or tennis anymore, two of her favorite pastimes well into her 80s. She used to play doubles almost every morning with much younger men and women. I remember trying to join her on the court when I was a kid and not even coming close to keeping up with her.
Grandma was forever trying to get me to play tennis. "I don't understand," she'd say. "You'd be very good at it. Serving a tennis ball is the exact same motion as pitching a baseball!"
I'd try to explain that the two really aren't that similar. (Though I'd leave out the part where I just don't like tennis all that much.)
Golf, on the other hand, was much more enticing to me. And as I started to pick up the game in my 20s, I always took advantage of the little nine-hole, executive course that surrounded her condo. By this point, Grandma couldn't really play anymore, a bad back having restricted her ability to twist and turn and walk the course. But we convinced her to join us one last time, maybe five or six years ago. Just take one swing on the first tee, we told her.
Little did we realize we'd set ourselves up for abject humiliation.
While my father, my uncle and I all shanked our tee shots into the ground, onto to the adjacent street or off some poor resident's patio, Grandma calmly took a smooth, picture-perfect swing and sent the ball flying onto the green. We all looked at her in slack-jawed astonishment. She just looked back as if to say, "What's the big deal?"
Everything came so easy to Grandma. A highly gifted artist who studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, her work was displayed in galleries for all to see, but more importantly in all of our homes. There isn't a member of our family who doesn't have an original Marian Amdur painting, watercolor or sculpture somewhere. (I'm admiring one in my living room right now as I type this.)
Did I mention she took dance lessons as a teenager from a fellow Squirrel Hill native who ran a small local studio before heading west to Hollywood in hopes of making it big? His name: Gene Kelly.
During my trip home last August, my sister was describing her Zumba class. Grandma asked what kind of dance moves were involved, then stood up and started mimicking them herself. Don't tell this woman she was too old for anything.
Because of all that, we probably took Grandma for granted. She lived alone in that same condo until only a few months ago, drove her car during daytime hours, went shopping on her own and would run into my mother at Costco. Every one of us was convinced she'd live to be 100. Never thought twice about it.
That made the events of the last week particularly surprising. She came down with what at first didn't seem like anything more than a common cold. That quickly developed into pneumonia, though, and despite the best efforts of her doctor and nurses, she simply couldn't bounce back. She died peacefully on Sunday, surrounded by family, having lived a complete life with no regrets or qualms.
I'm heading back home to Phoenix for the rest of the week to join my family in celebrating her life. We'll reminisce about her early days in Pittsburgh, how she fell in love with my grandfather after the two went ballroom dancing on their first date, how together they raised three wonderful children (Joni, Lois and Elliot), how she never lost her zest for life after Grandpa died 31 years ago and how she devoted her remaining three decades to her five grandkids (Julie, Elana, Mark, Eric and Traci), three grandkids-in-law (Matt, Larry and Rachel) and six great-grandkids (Marin, Arielle, Luke, Emery, Brian and Drew).
And though we'll realize we'll never get the chance to see her again, we'll take comfort knowing she's permanently imprinted in all of our lives. There are the paintings. There are the birthday cards. And there are the lasting memories of a Grandma who touched us all so very much by truly enjoying every moment of a most fulfilling life.
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 7:00 AM