Grandma knew how to fill a child's heart with love

Family Matters

August 15, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

THE MINUTE RUDY Mihoces proposed to Viola McDevitt, she quit. During more than 50 years of marriage, she never drew a paycheck again.

But, for a woman who didn't work, Vi had a lot of jobs.

She was the devoted daughter of Gertrude, a mother she lost too young and mourned all her life, and of Thomas, the father she cared for while black lung extinguished his life like a candle in a coal mine.

She was a wife for more than half a century, until Rudy died eight years ago, and she dedicated her life to their four sons. She was most proud of the fact that her sons continued to come around even after they had homes and families of their own and that they genuinely liked to be around each other.

She volunteered so many years, so many days and so many hours at a nearby hospital that they finally had to put her picture in the paper.

And her prayers and good works filled every nook and cranny of the parish church she and Rudy helped build more than 40 years ago.

And, wow, could she cook.

Vi patrolled her tiny kitchen like a hockey goalie in front of a net, producing steaming pots of everyone's favorite foods: Stuffed cabbages, hot sausage, kielbasa, roast beef, kettles of soups and mountains of snowy white mashed potatoes.

The pies she created on a cookie sheet were a marvel: half cherry and half apple. She'd serve up slices the size of floor tiles and, before you could answer, there'd be a scoop of ice cream the size of a softball on top.

But the job Vi did best and loved most was that of grandmother.

There is a reason why the family refers to my son Joseph as "The Prince." That's how his Grandma treated her first grandchild.

And the mother of four boys introduced my daughter Jessie to everyone the same way: "I waited 40 years for this girl!"

She never missed a recital, a game or a birthday party for Kacey, Shannon and Rudy, the grandchildren who lived around the corner. And she traveled from Pittsburgh to Annapolis for Joe's wrestling matches and Jessie's graduation and everything in between.

This was a woman who believed in her grandchildren so completely, and loved them so unconditionally, that she would send report-card presents before the report cards had been issued.

I learned long ago never to correct my children in front of their grandma. Vi would simply say, "They're not bad. You're just tired." Or, "They're no trouble. Your nerves must be bad."

I always wanted to say, "You're right, Grandma. I am tired and my nerves are bad. And these kids are the reason." Wisely, I never did.

And Vi's love was protective in the most important way.

Once, Joe avoided the serious trouble that had snared his friends at a homecoming dance, and I asked him how he had managed it.

He said that he had seen the trouble coming and decided to skip the dance altogether because, he said, he could have never faced his grandma if he had been caught.

I can never describe for you the grace and love in which these grandchildren lived because of Vi.

We are taught that God loves us like this -- unconditionally. And that he forgives us endlessly. Vi went him one better. She never saw anything in these children that needed forgiving.

But God doesn't bake a thousand Christmas cookies. And he doesn't have a refrigerator door that opens on a magic supply of comfort food, and he is not here to squeeze cheeks and plant fierce kisses.

For that, there was Vi.

When my children were younger, they spent a week each summer with Vi and Rudy. This is how I wrote about those weeks with Grandma and Grandpa:

"The kids have been going to Pittsburgh every summer since they were babies. By now, the routine at Grandma's is set in stone. Joe and Jessie share a double bed in Uncle Danny's old room. There is a TV with a remote control, and, each morning, cartoons are at their fingertips until their stomachs growl.

"In the kitchen, Grandma is making whatever they want to eat.

"For a week, my children do nothing. There are no chickens to feed or cows to milk at this grandma's house. And though their grandparents fret that they should cart them to museums or carnivals or to see their cousins, the kids never want to leave the house. The cocoon of quietude, love and food is what they crave for this week.

"The children go to Mass with Grandma, and all her Irish friends exclaim, 'They are such angels in church,' while Grandma smiles as if lighted from above.

"When we arrive at Grandma and Grandpa's to take the children home, every stitch of clothing is washed and packed, and their faces are fuller, rounder. Grandpa slips them $3 each to spend on junk at Breezewood on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

" 'They are good kids. You are doing a good job with them,' Grandma whispers to me, and nothing she could say pleases me more. But aloud she says, for their benefit. 'I holler at them. They don't get away with anything just because they are at Grandma's.

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