Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Beautiful Grandma Dee

This week I travelled to NY to celebrate the life of my beautiful Grandma Dee who passed away.  I was honored to deliver the eulogy at her funeral.  As you can read below, she was one sensational lady.

Dolores Willemsen had five children with her husband, Ike. Setting aside fear of sounding like one of those really old books in the bible, allow me to introduce myself and a few others. I am the oldest grandchild, Autumn Willemsen O’Bryan, daughter of the oldest son, Russ and his wife, Paulette. I am married to Robbie and have a son, Tate and a daughter, Lily. I have two brothers, Tony and Rusty. Tony is married to Heidi and has two sons, AJ and Jaxson and Rusty, who recently married Sarah. My Uncle Dennis is 18 months younger than my dad and my Aunt Karen is the middle child and has one daughter, Emily. My Uncle Brian has a son, Nick and a daughter, Jacqueline. The baby of the family is my Aunt Becky who has two daughters, Ashley who recently wed her husband, Jamie and her daughter Skylar. Allison is the youngest grandchild and has a daughter, Jade and is expecting a son to be named Wesley.

Total that up and you have five children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. It is impossible to talk about the legacy of my grandmother and not mention these people. In fact, the greatest definition of her legacy sits before you today.

She would hate this. Seriously…think about it. She would hate every second of this. A group of people, sitting around talking about her. Even worse? Shedding tears…We had a hard enough time getting her to let us take her to a Mother’s Day lunch. I wish adults viewed death the same way children do. When I asked my 5 and 6 year old what I should say about GG, I was reminded of childlike faith. My son said he’s excited because now she can watch his baseball games whenever she wants. My daughter had a more practical approach. She said, “She will be really happy because she is finally with Jesus and back with PopPop.”

I wish I had the same innocent thoughts but like most adults, death is hard, and I find myself really sad at the thought of never talking with her again. My mother often compares me to my grandmother as I often skirt away from emotional matters. It is not for lack of feeling that I do, but I am extremely private about matters of the heart. Grandma Dee is definitely a matter that is my heart. I have been blessed to be raised by a group of strong women…grandmas, aunties, and of course, my lovely mother. I mean this as no disrespect to any of them when I tell you that Grandma Dee had one of the greatest amount of influence on the woman you see standing before you.

For the past several years, I have dabbled in and out of writing a book. It is not lack of commitment that the book is not finished, it simply needs some undivided attention and focus. The book focuses on women in leadership, “Modern Day Eleanors”, as I like to call them, after one of my favorite historical figures, Eleanor Roosevelt. With your permission, I’d like to read an excerpt from a chapter I wrote entitled, Do One Thing Everyday That Scares You.

“Do one thing everyday that scares you”… these words were spoken by the ultimate risk taker, none other than Mrs. Roosevelt herself. It reminds me of one of my most favorite days in my life. In March 2002, my mom and dad flew to Orlando, FL with my grandparents to watch me coach in a softball tournament at Disney World. When we weren’t playing, we spent the day touring the theme parks with the team. What started out as a bet over ice cream sundaes, turned in to me standing in line waiting to ride the Rockin’ Rollercoaster, with you guessed it???? My Grandma Dee. She was so excited and you could tell from the look on her face that she was even prouder to be a 72 year old grandma waiting in line to ride a pretty intense coaster. I remember as we sat down in our “rocket”, she turned to me with a beam in her eye and said, “Are ya ready?” I remember praying through the whole ride that this wouldn’t be her last ride. When the car stopped, she turned with a big smile on her face and said, “Wanna go again?”

That was my Grandma. She had a zest for life that was unmatched. The twinkle in her eye and the glimmer in her smile were so alive with a sincere love for the life she was living. Like I said earlier, Grandma had a tremendous influence over the woman I am today. I remember one time specifically where I think Grandma probably chuckled a bit as she saw her “zest” manifested through her eldest grandchild.

Grandma would tell the story so poignantly, so I hesitate to even attempt, but I will try. It started as a lazy July afternoon many years ago. Grandma was working in the house and I was laying on a lawnchair, by the pond, reading a book. Grandma would come to the laundry room window to check on me through the afternoon. One time, she walked up to the window, scanned the yard to find me and then she stopped. I can only imagine her eyes bulging out of her head as she spotted me standing buck naked on the diving board. Yep, that was me, the pastor’s kid and oldest grandchild, standing as free as a bird as I practiced a classic swan dive into the pond. Grandma would admit that she stood for several attempts watching this spectacle of a sight skinny dipping in her grandparents’ pond.

Yesterday, as several people came through the line and expressed their condolences, I heard the same thing, over and over again. “They broke the mold when they made that one.” I have to agree.


I am sure that every grandchild sat through a Wednesday night planning session where Grandma would comb through the classifieds and plot her course for the garage sales over the next few days. Each one of us sat in the passenger seat, her co-pilot, as we would read each advertisement for yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, moving sales…any kind of sale. I would love to hear Grandma’s reaction as she would get super excited about beating “the others” to the sale. You couldn’t help but get excited with her. The day always ended with a smile and a treasure from Grandma’s coin purse. For me, the treasure was in her laugh. I just loved to hear her so happy. It made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

One of my last memories where Grandma and Grandpa were both healthy, was at my wedding. I had dreamed my entire life that Grandma Dee would make my wedding dress like she had made my mothers. Imagine the complication as we mailed sample patterns 800 miles for me to try on and have pinned. As a matter of fact, I never even tried the actual dress on until two days before my wedding and amazingly, it fit perfectly. That was a gift that my grandmother gave to me that I could never repay. There is never a time that I look at my wedding picture that I don’t think of her.

The last time I had a conversation with Grandma was on Christmas Eve. Anyone that has spent any amount of time with me knows that I love Christmas and the reason I love Christmas is because of my Grandma Dee. On Christmas Eve, I spoke with Grandma about my Christmas Day menu. I asked her advice and she praised me for being bold and serving Italian on Christmas Day. It gave me such joy this year, to host my family, in my newly renovated home, for the holidays. I set the table, cooked all day, and absorbed every moment of love I could possibly get. Just like Grandma Dee always did for us.

After the visitation last night, I walked with my cousins, Jacqueline and Emily, to get a bite to eat. We all agreed that our sense of loss lies simply in the fact that we will never be able to hear her practical words again. I know there will be days when the water is boiling and the veggies are still firm, and I need to hear her words. It is those moments that I will miss her most.

I know the gifts that she gave to me will last a lifetime and her legacy lives on in all of us. For me, it’s a love for the kitchen, the hunt for the ultimate deal, and a zest for all things alive. I can only hope to maintain the legacy that she has left for me. Whether my book ever comes to fruition, I know one thing for sure…there is quite a bit of Dolores in this Modern Day Eleanor.

Gone but not forgotten...I love you,

Monday, January 10, 2011

Neighborhood Watch

One of the reasons Robbie and I decided to remodel our house instead of dropping the price and buying new was because we just love our neighborhood.  

We moved here before Tate was born and it's wonderful watching all of our kids get older.  

Snow Boots
Warm Mittens
Big Hill
Lots of Friends



a small vehicle consisting of a platform mounted on runners for use in traveling over snow or ice

We woke up to a winter wonderland.  It took a few hours for everyone to brave the outdoors, but once they started, the whole neighborhood appeared to take on "The Big Hill".

We tried my childhood sled from Grandpa Ike, but it just couldn't compete with the "newer" models.  

My kids loved riding with the older kids down the hill and soon enough, they were venturing out on their own.  Even the adults took our own trips down. 


 It's great to be a kid again!!!


Out with the Old...

I love to organize.  I find solice in cleaning out my junk drawer or sorting through old pictures.  There's something about taking what you have and making it fresh and new.

Last Night with Family
Add in Some Good Friends
Tableful of Food
Midnight Cheers



a resolve or determination

I was reminded this New Years of the things that matter to me most.  As I collected my midnight kiss from my husband and two kiddos, I enjoyed a swell of my heart...the first of 2011!!!  Here's to another year of family, friends, and fun.

Happy 2011 Everyone!!!


Just Call Me Russ..

I don't like it one bit.  A boy becomes a man and then decides he wants to change his name.  I never had that choice.  "Oh yea guys, from now on, I want you to call me Aubrey."

Tennessee Tech
Golden Eagles
Coach Russ
My Baby Brother



a person who trains an athlete or a team of athletes

The life of a basketball coach means a short break for Christmas, so we loaded up the car and headed to Cookeville to cheer on Bobo.  As luck would have it, the University of Tennessee was playing that night so that were many boosters to enjoy the Skybox.  

It was a really nice treat to have nice seats, good eats and a place for the kids to stretch out.   
I don't care what they call him.  He'll always be "Baby Brother" to me.

Happy Birthday Jesus!!!

It was a storybook Christmas straight from a Norman Rockwell painting.  

The Halls Were Decked
The Stockings Were Hung
Santa Came Down the Chimney
Walking in a Winter Wonderland



the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus

The kids slept until almost 9:00  

Wrapping paper was spread all over the living room

Santa was good to most of us

The kids loved playing with their new toys

Pops made his famous omelets

The kids and daddy played in the snow

Dinner on our wedding china

Birthday cake for Jesus.  

Who could ask for more?  Not me, I'm sure.

Peace, love and joy to you all!!!

And Stay By My Cradle Til Morning is Nigh...

I was blessed with two babies who were great sleepers.  There are days (like today) where Lily will still take a 3 hour nap.  There is nothing I love more than watching my babies sleep.  It is a time when all of the commotion of the world is calm and they can rest their souls.

Cuddly Slippers
Full Tummies
Comfort of Home
Those You Love



a state of tranquillity or serenity

Although we stayed busy, there were still many moments of tranquility filled with Christmas music, warm cookies, or a snuggle from the kiddos.

On Christmas Eve, I went around the house to check locks and turn out lights.  Right before I tucked myself in, I stepped outside to check for snow and took a moment of pause.  The air was crisp and the night was still.  I couldn't help but think of that night so long ago when the world stood still, for just a time, gazing at the light of the world.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'll Be Home for Christmas...

One of my favorite Christmases I visited my dad's parents from Tennessee.  We chopped down my own tree, baked cookies, built Gingerbread houses and did all of the other things that go along with Christmas tradition.  Although these were all memorable, the moment that I hold closest to my heart happened under the twinkle of Christmas lights.

Grandma's Chair
Warm Afghan
Singing Softly
Off to Sleep



a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection

I will always celebrate Christmas as it was modeled for me by my Grandma D.  We always felt like a guest of honor for the holidays.  You could count on good food, yearly traditions, presents for everyone, and most importantly, enough love to go around.  

My mom often compares me to Grandma D because I don't show emotion, but I know her secret.  She gave me love in her own way...a dimpled smile, a deep laugh, a twinkle in her eye, or a warm place on her lap.

If I could share one thing with my kids, it would be to love others as Christ loved us. There were many moments throughout this holiday that I saw that lesson coming through in them.

My parents blessed me this year by sharing that Christmas love in my home.  I could never repay them for building a lasting tradition with my children that they will never forget.