For that first decade, she was a feature in my mother’s stories and a face in photographs: one of a pair of girls with linked arms and matched smiles or the pretty young woman with the doll-like baby that somehow grew up to be my towering uncle “Chic”. In more contemporary pictures, she had a smile that shaped her cheeks exactly like mine.
When she came to visit us, she brought art books and vine charcoal, two porcelain Siamese cats that she made sing and dance for me. She loved to tell tales and eat rich foods like egg yolks, dark meats, and creamy foreign cheeses. She openly and proudly adored her mother and her sisters and spoke long and vibrantly about the family.
Gladys was the sort of woman who knew herself and had no fear of showing her colors, from experimental cooking to show tunes played loud in her car. She gave praise and criticism with equal passion, always meaning to love, even if her words could sometimes cut.
To me, she was something altogether new and wonderful. She was a loving grandmother who dared to invest herself in an eclectic and sometimes unpleasant girl, showering me with care and attention even though we were two states’ width apart. She made me want to learn to whistle ornate symphonies the way she could, and she bolstered my self-esteem by letting me cut her hair or insisting that my backrubs were the best.
I’ll never forget the garden she drew from the hillside around her house or the lush curtains of fuchsias that spilled from hanging pots along the perimeter of her porch, and I’ll never forget the way she would exhaust herself to talk to me on the telephone the month before she passed away. My concerns were still more important to her than her own, and she still offered me warnings and advice that I wish I had given more heed. She never stopped providing her love.
I used to send her “Happy B(earth day)” cards and find them pinned to the wall in her office months later, and she will always come to mind before tree planting or river cleaning on earth day. She was the voice of the gnome that lived under the maple tree, the hand that tended the peonies and roses, and the heart that smoothed the tension from a hundred family disputes. She is unforgettable.
Picture One: Gladys
Picture Two: Lucille Kinsella and her cousin, Gladys
Picture Three: Gladys and Chic
Picture Four: Beth, Gladys and Kayte
Picture Five: Kayte, Gladys and her marvelous garden