Today I heard from Jack (Steph's father), that his mother (Stephanie's grandmother) passed away a few days ago. Stephanie loved her a lot, and if Steph was here today she'd be crying, and we'd be driving to the wake. But the wake is in Iowa, a long and snowy drive, and I wouldn't belong there without Stephanie, so I'll just write a few words about Ella Webb.
I didn't know her well, but I knew her well enough to be impressed. We'd met and visited with her perhaps half a dozen times, and there was definitely some Stephanie in her grandmother, or some Grandma in Stephanie. Jack told me that his mother had been a quiet woman until her husband died in the 1990s, but after that she became more outspoken. I didn't meet her until 1997, so she was always the outspoken Grandma Webb to me. She was nice, she was smart, she didn't mince words, and she didn't suffer fools at great length.
She was the Grandma that Steph visited as a kid, for Christmas, for Thanksgiving. She was the matriarch of the family. She kept a very detailed scrapbook of Stephanie's childhood, from which I've scanned many photos and learned some details of Stephanie's youth that I'd never known.
When I first met Steph's grandmother, she made me feel welcomed to the family, immediately and enthusiastically. Whenever we saw her, she always wanted to spend a little more time with Stephanie – and to a lesser extent with me, but mostly (and understandably) with Stephanie. I remember that she was sharp-witted and very much there, right up through her 90s, when we last saw her. I'm 60 and I can already feel myself fading through the years, so I envy that. She was 100 when she died.
When she was lightening her load many years ago, Steph's grandma gave us her dining room table. It's probably the table where Stephanie's father ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner when he was a kid. That table moved with us to San Francisco, to Kansas City, and now it's in the main room of our apartment in Madison. We usually ate at the table, but we called it "the desk," since that's where Steph and I kept our laptops plugged in. I'm typing these words at that table, so thank you again, Grandma Webb.
My clearest memory of her was when Stephanie and I put on our best clothes and drove a few hundred miles to attend a cousin's wedding in Iowa – a cousin's gay wedding, it must be said, and this was back when that was a very new and still quite controversial idea. Enormous societal changes can be difficult, especially for older folks. My niece got gay-married a few years ago, and my own mother refused to attend. But Stephanie's grandmother was there for the occasion, and she was 100% supportive.
During the dinner afterwards, while Stephanie was talking with someone else, we had a ten-minute conversation, one-on-one, just me and Stephanie's grandmother. "So, they're lesbians," she said. "I don't approve, but they didn't ask for my approval and they don't need it. She's my granddaughter and I love her and I'm glad she's happy. That's all that matters." Old and wise don't necessarily go together, but in Steph's grandmother they surely did.