Her name was Catharine

Published 2:38 pm Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This week of the 4th of July is always a time of celebration in our family.

For more than 50 of my 55 years, Compass Lake has been the place where we celebrated not only the birth of our nation, but the birthdays of many of my family.

It starts with my nephew, Stephen, who was born just ahead of the 4th on June 29. My son-in-law, Daaron, was born on July 7, while Mary Lou was born on the 8th. July 2 was also the birth of my grandmother, who would have been 100 years old this year. Her name was Catharine.

Email newsletter signup

While there were four generations of my family at Compass Lake this year, it was my Grandmother Catharine that introduced us all to this place. Her father invested in a Satsuma orange grove around the turn of the century in Florida not far from the lake. She was still a small child when they built their first cabin on the lake.

She lived in the same small town where I grew up and there was hardly a day that I didn’t see her when my grandparents were in town. She and my Granddaddy Joe were our “Sweetie Pie” grandparents since we were lucky enough to have several grandparents still living.

My great-grandparents were known as the “Other Grandparents,” which seems rather logical when you think about it. Their cards and letters to me were always signed the “Other Grandparents.”

Grandmother Catherine introduced me to much more than Compass Lake, although it was always part of our bond. She was a gentle lady who thought it important that we knew some of the finer things in life.

She would take us to restaurants so we could learn how to use the correct fork, spoon or glass. She always called a napkin a doily even if it wasn’t cloth. She made the most incredible new potatoes in white sauce that I ever ate. If she knew I was visiting she made sure there were some on the table.

She introduced me to sherbet, which she always had in her freezer. I would ride my bicycle down to visit her in the afternoon and she would suggest we have some while we visited. Orange or lemon was usually her flavor of choice.

It was her piano that first introduced me to my love of music. The first few years I took lessons I would practice in her living room on her Baldwin piano. I still have some of her original sheet music in my piano bench today with her childhood name, Catharine Ford, written with a flourish across the top.

She was a soprano in the church choir. I was always so proud of her when she sang a solo. In turn, she was very proud of me when I started playing on Sunday evening services. She never tired of listening to me play and even years later would ask me to “play something” when we visited.

She had a green thumb with a beautiful yard and flowers. She would cross-breed her flowers, particularly daylilies, producing some spectacular colors. After Mary Lou and I had children, we still would take a walk through her yard on each visit where she would point out the latest blooms. Garden variety plants were “just common” in her view.

We have some of her daylilies in our back yard, although somehow we managed to get the only common ones she had in her yard.

I traveled the country with her and my grandfather. No place was too out of the way if I wanted to visit. Canada, Mexico and all 48 of the contiguous United States were part of our itinerary.

Later they traveled the world together, visiting Eastern Europe long before the fall of the Iron Curtain. I visited our country with her and saw the rest of the world through her eyes.

In the later years of her life she suffered through her failing health without complaint. Cancer, strokes, three broken hips and a failing heart were more than anyone should have to bear, but she did it with grace and dignity.

While in rehab with a broken hip she was somewhat disoriented and afraid. She told me she wanted me to help her leave. The next day I brought her my Bible and told her that if she was afraid to pick it up and she would know that she was never alone. She asked me if I really believed that and I replied, “You helped teach me that.”

On my next visit she gave me the Bible back and said she didn’t need it anymore. I told her she could keep it but she said it was more important to her that I had it. Her faith was restored from a seed she help plant.

She loved my wife like her daughter. I slept on the front porch on an old army cot at Compass Lake from the time I was a child until I got married. On our first visit as a married couple I went to sleep on the cot and Mary Lou joined me. We could hear her telling my grandfather to make me get up and go to one of the beds in the guest bedroom. He told her he expected we were right where we wanted to be.

Our daughters weren’t her first great-grandchildren but they were the closest geographically. She beamed like a beacon when she would rock them on the front porch. She never tired of holding and loving them, even as her health failed. After my wife and my children, I was no longer her favorite, but that suited me just fine.

Just before our first daughter was born we gave my grandmother some stationary with her name on it. Five weeks later our first daughter was born. Her name was Catherine.

It was only in the hospital that we learned that we had spelled my grandmother’s name incorrectly on the stationary and indeed on every piece of correspondence, birthday or Christmas card I had ever written. Her name was Catharine, with an “a.”

It was the old way of spelling it she told us. In fact, my own Aunt Cat, her own first child, was spelled the same way. When I asked her why she never said anything to me she said it wasn’t important. I suspect she just didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

As we celebrated this week at Compass Lake with all our extended family, we raised a toast on the hundredth birthday of a wonderful mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and lady. Her name was Catharine.