Every time I hear Tiny Dancer, I think about my Grandma Shirlee. She wasn’t a dancer or even tiny for that matter. She didn’t marry a music man or count headlights on the highway. She did, however, have a pirate’s smile—a wonderful, crooked smile. If you want to know where I got my sass, Shirlee’s to blame. She was a short, strong, sassy woman who spoke her mind. She was a feisty red head with a bit of a mean streak and a wicked sense of humor. She was the leader of the tribe and the glue that kept the family together. She was one of a kind, that Shirl of mine.
My grandma was a lover of books; a Trivial Pursuit cheat; a dining room table pinochle champion; a wig wearing smoker with asthma; a hard worker; horrible housekeeper; and a fantastic cook. She wouldn’t hesitate to stab your hand with a fork when you reached across the dining room table. Trust me. She also had the biggest heart. She opened her home to us when we didn’t have one; she helped raise her sixteen-year-old daughter’s little girl; she cared for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with such love, compassion, and dedication; and she gave people a million chances when they deserved none.
My grandma passed down her love of reading to me. Every week, we’d go to the used book store and fill paper sacks with romance novels she devoured. I loved going with her and losing myself in a maze of books. She always had one on the dash or her car and another stuffed in her purse. “You never know when you’ll have to wait,” she’d say. Maybe I became a writer because she loved books so much. I wish she could have read my words.
Shirlee forced me to play cards with her and watch musicals for hours—Mame, Gypsy, The King and I. I think she believed she was Mamma Rose. I would do anything to be held captive by her again and play pinochle with a mixture of fear and enthusiasm. That lady was serious about her cards.
I was holding Shirlee’s hand when she died. I am so grateful I was able to share that moment with her. No force of nature could have moved me from her bedside. I kissed her cheek and thanked her for being my grandma. And just like that, my Shirlee was gone.
Grandma Shirlee’s sassy, stubborn spirit and strength lives in me, my daughters, Shirlee’s daughters, and my sister. We are strong, independent women just like Shirlee. If you push us, we dig in deep. We pick ourselves up when we get knocked down – every single time. We just keep moving forward because we decide which direction to go. It’s the legacy of a red head with a pirate’s smile.