I have learned how to grow old gracefully from a 96-year old woman knew how to make every moment count.
This week we lost Gertrude Barton, affectionately known as our “Cape Cod Grandmother.” She was the epitome of the phrase “young at heart” and while we will miss her terribly, I cannot be more grateful for the example that she set for my family.
Gertrude was married to Sumner Barton, my father’s best friend. When my Dad passed away it was so comforting knowing that we had these two in our lives, as they were not only a source of great strength but also a link to him. As all of the cousins began to arrive, they may not have had Grampa Bill but Sumner and Gertrude stepped in to help fill that void. And, aside from the fact that they loved this next generation of adopted grandchildren, they kept us all laughing and never ceased entertaining the little ones.
In the past few years, Sumner’s age caught up with him and he passed away last year at the age of 94. As sad as Gertrude may have been, she never slowed down. This was a lady who, having lived in Chatham for more than 30 years, still drove herself to the beauty parlor weekly to have her hair and nails done, walked around as if she were a spry 70-year old and never turned down a cocktail at a party. During our annual family vacation to Truro last year, Gertrude made the trek to play with the kids and entertain the grownups with her stories. As she rolled her eyes and regaled us with tales of our Dad and Sumner in their youths, we threw our heads back and laughed until our sides hurt.
Hanging out with her never made you feel as though you had to be reserved or overly polite, the way you might with someone of her age. You felt as though you were having a drink with a friend.
Oh, and the kids. She would sit down and talk to them as people; no baby-talking or kiddie games. And despite her age, wouldn’t you know that the kids appreciated her for it. She found a way to connect with each and every one of them and this is why they enjoyed her so. She sat with a 9-month old Quinn in her lap, asking him questions and seeming to wait for answers. There are so few people who can do that.
We last saw her when my Mom brought Gertrude to visit us last month. It happened to fall on Derby Day, when we were having an impromptu party with the kids and a few friends. Wouldn’t you know, she arrived for the party wearing her Kentucky Derby hat and made sure to try all of the Southern-inspired hors d’oeuvres, cheered for her horse and even had a second cocktail. The kids loved having her here and I appreciated watching them see how a classy lady holds herself and thumbs her nose at what the world thinks a 96-year old should be like.
She sent me a note afterward (ever the lady), and I think that this tells it all:
“Enjoyed the party and all the goodies – bet you’re still exhausted getting things back to normal. Oh yes – your children are really homely and not at all well behaved. (Of course, you know I’m lying in my teeth when I say that about those gorgeous kids). Love n’ kisses, Gertrude.”
A sense of humor rolled around a huge heart bursting with love and a zest for life that we can all learn from. We are better people for having known her.