Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"...my mother and my friend..."

My Grandma Gortat, my mom's mom, turns 95 today - Happy Birthday Grandma!

Grandma (Violet) was born March 25, 1913 in Grand Haven, Michigan. She married my grandfather, Thomas, June 4, 1938 at St. Patricks church, in Grand Haven. She was 25 when they got married and, according to my mom, back in those years that was considered old. But my grandmother did not want to get married until my grandfather finished college.

She met my grandfather on a trip from Grand Haven to Michigan State College (University now), where my grandfather played football. On weekends, my grandma and her best friend, Lucille, used to drive with with friends to Michigan State to go to dances at the college. She met my grandfather at one of those dances; what a romantic way to meet your husband!

I wonder if meeting and dating a college football player was as big of a deal then as it would be now. My grandpa was a handsome guy, very fit. I bet his dance card was rarely empty! My grandmother was obviously no slouch in the looks department, you can see from the pictures, they were quite an attractive couple! (I wish I had inherited my grandfather's abs!)

My grandparents moved to Ida, Michigan around 1938, right after they got married, where grandpa got his first teaching job at Ida High School. He taught business and was also the coach for all the boys sport's teams. Eventually they moved to Monroe, Michigan, and in 1945 built the house where my grandmother still lives today.

They have five kids - Dianne, Tom, Betty, Lori (my mom), and Carolyn. All of the kids still live in Michigan, except my Aunt Carolyn, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. I wonder how it is my grandma had five kids and still maintained a great figure!

It is probably because my grandparents led active lives, including golfing, swimming and playing tennis. I remember my grandfather seemed to have a year round tan. They spent a lot of time out of doors and eventually began spending winters in Florida.

They were huge sports fans - staunchly loyal to Michigan State and the Detroit Tigers. In fact, to this day, it is a rare, almost unheard of occasion for my grandmother to miss a Tiger's game!

Sadly, my grandfather passed away of pancreatic cancer on August 22, 1997. I think it was quite a change for my grandmother, to go from living with someone for 60 years to living all alone. However, she seems to have made the transition beautifully and seems quite content.

She now lives alone in the same house my grandfather built over 60 years ago - it is in great condition by the way, solid brick and well built, it has withstood the test of time - nice job Grandpa!

When my grandfather moved to Monroe, he opened his own business, a tool and dye shop, I believe. My grandmother used to do the bookwork with him so, according to my mom, that has helped her in manging finances after my grandfather's passing. Apparently, he included her in all personal and business dealings which, in those years, it was unusual for the wife to know anything, the husband handled everything. My mom says my grandmother is still pretty savvy about financial issues.

The funny thing is, my grandmother is so quiet and unassuming, that you sometimes don't realize just how sharp she is. She obviously knows money, she keeps up with the news, and she for sure knows sports!

One Thanksgiving at her house, the family was playing trivial pursuit. My grandmother knew the answer to almost every sports question that came up. Beth and I were blown away when she rattled off the name of some heavyweight boxing champion from twenty years past!

And, she has a sense of humor. A couple of years back, while dealing with cornea surgery that wasn't working out well, my grandmother was still trying to get out and golf. When we asked her how her game was going, she replied, "Not bad for an old lady with one eye!" Funny and optimistic!

My mom spends a lot of time with my grandmother, helping her live an independent life. Along with doctor's appointments, my mom takes my grandmother to the library every three weeks, gets take-out for the two of them and rents movies for the two them. Or, they just watch a baseball game together. According to my mom, my grandmother's favorite movies are the animated ones like Toy Story, Garfield, CARS, etc. Along with watching Tiger's games, my grandmother's favorite things to do are reading, doing puzzles and swimming.

My step-dad, Kenny, also spends a lot of time at the house, keeping up the lawn, and maintaining the pool and house. My grandmother's other kids help out too, but since my mom lives close, she ends up at my grandmother's house on a regular basis.

Thanks in part to this regular contact, my mom has developed a friendship with my grandmother that, according to my mom, wasn't there when she was young.

When I asked my mom, "What do you enjoy about your time together?", she answered, "Just being with her. We were never very close when I was younger, that was just the way my family was. So many of my friends have lost both their parents already and I feel very blessed to still have her in my life as my mother and my friend. Two years ago, when she had her heart attack, she was in the rehab facility at the time of my birthday. She asked Aunt Betty to get her a birthday card for me, and in it she wrote "I am so thankful that you are my daughter"....believe it or not, that was probably one of the nicest, most meaningful things she has ever said to me."

Happy Birthday Grandma Gortat! 95 years old and you are loved!


  1. Nice story Aaron. You need to start writing memoirs too! Your grandmother sounds like a great woman.

  2. Thanks Dale! She is a great woman! My mom says she had a great birthday as well! =)