Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Grandma, Areta Benson Jensen July, 16 1913 - January 16, 2013

Today we held a celebration of the life of my grandmother who we lost on January 16th.  This picture is of me and grandma and was on the cover of the program.  Below I will simply paste the talk I gave today in memory of her.

Megans.  If you don't know what that means I will tell you.  This is the name I called my grandma until I was about 9 years old when I became too embarrassed to call her that anymore.  I know this disappointed her because calling her grandma all of a sudden aged her in a way that she did not deserve.  When I took over my mom's old room on Achilles Dr at age 7 as my home away from home away from home while she was flying, I never imagined that I would eventually have the kind of relationship I developed with my grandma.  A relationship that I don't think many will understand.  As I look back now I realize that my grandma was truly my best friend during all the years I had with her.

Many of you have known my grandma for much of her life and I am envious of that time you were able to spend with her.  I was only allotted 30 of the exactly 99.5 years of her life.  What I want to talk about is the grandma I knew during my time with her primarily through her 80s and 90s.  A time when many people are not even on earth anymore. But thankfully for mine and my mother's sake she was permitted to stay.  Mom and I often talk about how we never could have made it without her.  I can only imagine how incredible she was in all of her other decades.

The only Areta Jensen I knew was the woman dedicated 100% to the happiness of my mom and me. My grandma loved me, then she loved me more and more and more.  I don't know if many people know what it feels like to be as loved by someone as much as I was loved by my grandma.  I did not know the routine of having a bowl of cereal for breakfast until I went away to college.  My breakfast went in phases throughout my life including French toast, pancakes, waffles, and eggs and bacon.  It wasn't just a hot breakfast every morning, it was a hot breakfast delivered to me on a tray so I could watch tv.

The same was true for my dinner.  Nothing ever done in the microwave.  It was spare ribs, steak, casserole, or if I was lucky maybe even an entire dinner rolled up in napkins courtesy of her afternoon lunch at Chuck-A-Rama.   As I ate my dinner on a tray in the living room watching ESPN, I could often times hear grandma in her bedroom laughing the rhythmic Benson laugh so many of us are familiar with (do the laugh)  while watching the not so popular British comedy "Are you Being Served."

I always gave grandma a bad time because it seemed to me she was the only one from her family that did not love watching sports and didn't follow a team.  Her sister Aunt Lavaan always came up to visit during the World Series and whenever we would go to the northwest to see her sister Aunt Noreen or when she would visit I would get an update on how the Portland Trailblazers were doing.  I must admit though from time to time grandma would ask me to teach her about football.  That was her favorite for some reason. But as an impatient young kid I regretfully never took the proper time to do so.  I must have found something endearing in that particular characteristic of not watching sports because I married someone who was blessed to be what seems the only person in her family with the same trait.

It wasn't just the breakfasts and dinners that this love showed through though, it was the conversations, the support, the interest she took in every aspect of my life that showed her profound love for me and mom.  She used call me and my mom a "sphinx" because we wouldn't divulge every detail to her about our lives over the kitchen table while having a piece of raisin toast.  She wasn't just making conversation though, she really cared about everything that was happening in our lives.  If we ever did open up to her she was a fantastic listener.

She loved my friends and considered them as good of friends to her as they were to me.  Sean Perkins love for a tuna fish sandwich with loads of butter comes from my grandma trying to stall him from leaving the kitchen to hear about his life.  And don't forget, "butter does lubricate the joints" says the career health and modern dance teacher.

A repeating lesson I heard from grandma would come after the following scenario:  I would hang up the phone with a friend and say something to the effect of, "Grandma, me and Josh Turner are going to go skiing tomorrow."  To which her reply would be, " okay that sounds nice but remember it's Josh Turner and I.  The subject is the person or a thing which carries out the action of the verb and the object is the person or a thing upon which the action of the verb is carried out.  "I" is a pronoun that must be the subject of a verb and "Me" is a pronoun that must be the object of the verb."

Grandma and I never had a real fight that I can remember, which explains well to my wife why I always lose our very infrequent arguments.  Honestly there was nothing to fight about with grandma.  The only times I ever remember being mad at her was if she embarrassed me by inviting my friends into her home if I wasn't even there.  Come in come in! Says the familiar voice to a random 16 year old girl whom she had never before met.  Little did the poor girl know she was about to divulge her life's story over a cup of hot cocoa (not just any hot cocoa, but Nesquick, the best you can buy) made in a pot on the kitchen stove.

You could tell how grandma was doing on any particular day by how many octaves high her voice was when she answered the phone (imitate her voice on the phone, Hello!). She was having a good day.  hello...She had just listened to Bill Clinton.  I have thought to myself how fortunate she was that call waiting was not around when grandma was in her phone talking glory days.  She would never have been able to finish a conversation for having to switch lines every 10 seconds.  I can still hear the familiar voices over the phone of Nancy, Aunt Joy, Louise, Uncle Conway and many others.  She had so many phone calls that the first time I had a phone call that lasted any length of time over 10 minutes it was decided that a separate phone line had to be installed in her home for me so that I did not take up her precious phone time.  Let me make that clear, the second line was not for me, it was for grandma!

Grandma was punctual.  If we planned on her picking me up outside of a friend's house at 5:45 pm you better believe she would be there in her red Buick with the car idling at 5:43.  Some members of our ward may recall hearing grandma in sacrament meeting at church say in what she thought was a whisper, "welp they've gone over.  They don't know when to say amen."  Her timing was so good in fact that by passing away this week she managed to get me out of flying a 4 day trip with one of my least favorite captains.

Grandma was tough.  One of our favorite things to do was box.  Yes, box.  I would tap her on the shoulder while she ducked in defense and countered with vicious jabs that she rarely landed because if she did it hurt.  We also had our occasional arm wrestle.  If you remember we had an arm wrestle at her 90th and 95th birthdays. I will not admit to you when I finally had to "let" her win.  She was also a mentally tough grandma.  She and mom drove up to Logan when she was 91 years old to go on an airplane ride with me after I had received my newly minted commercial pilot's license.  I remember she demanded that she sit in the back seat of the complex 4 seat airplane.  I remember her rolling into the back seat and I wondered what it was that would posses this woman to risk those amazing 91 years on this moment. She would have done anything to support me though.

She wasn't about to go back then in her 92nd year.  I was told recently that our ward was worried that she may pass away while I was on my LDS mission in Brazil.  I can tell you that was honestly among the least of my worries. That was more than 10 years ago.  I had zero doubt that grandma would be around to see many more parts of my life through including graduating from college, getting married, and introducing her to her two great-grandchildren. After all this is the same woman that just a few months before I left for my mission fell and broke her femur in the basement.  The only phone we had down there for some reason was mounted high on the wall.  So she pulled herself up the stairs dragging the mangled leg behind her into the kitchen and called an ambulance.  Amazingly she recovered well from this break and when I got home the 90 year old woman had nothing more than a limp which did not interrupt any of her life's previous routines.

We had a rough past few years with grandma but she was still of sound mind at the birth of our first child Jett.  She loved him and would constantly say things like "look at the little rummy, I love eem! (him)". And she marveled at the roundness of his head.  Yes, she was very impressed with how round his head was and apparently that meant something special to her.  I remember one occasion when we all went to the mall or a store for something and we decided to leave grandma in the car with baby Jett who was asleep.  She is 96 years old at this time. We figured it would be easier to just leave the two of them in the car instead waking up a baby for something that was supposed to be quick.  When we got back to the car Jett was crying and grandma told us this story of how she couldn't climb into the back seat to help him although she was clearly out of breath from trying.  "I couldn't get this damn leg over the hump to get back there and get him out of his seat!" she told us.  We gave her credit for trying.

I had the privilege of knowing a very faithful, meek and humble Areta Jensen. She lost most of her sight at the end of her life but she had just enough to operate her tape player from the blind center. She would listen to books on her kitchen table during the day.  One year, I believe it was for Christmas, we got her the scriptures on tape.  Whenever I spoke with her she would tell me all about how much she loved "reading" them and that she was starting them for the second or third time.

If you never had the opportunity to hear grandma pray I feel badly for you.  When grandma prayed it was as if she was praying at the feet of God himself.  She entered a different realm where nothing could distract her from each thoughtful word she spoke.  Whenever I would bless the food and would ramble off the common dinner prayer of "bless the food to nourish and strengthen our bodies and do us the good we need amen...because I was starving, she would look at me and say, "Well I don't think that made it past the chandelier!"  I was in her home for 3 weeks after returning home from my LDS mission before heading back to Utah State.  I made her have companion scripture study with me each one of those days and she was incredible.

At times growing up I would get embarrassed of the things grandma would say or do around my friends. It was just the way her generation interacted with people and now as I have grown and looked back I understand why Tom Brokaw coined them as the greatest generation that ever lived.  To quote him "A generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order."  Grandma carried this legacy with her to the end.

I have said that my grandma liked to talk.  She talked a lot.  But I will tell you this, I will bore my kids to death with stories about my grandma and they will know how lucky they were to have known her, even as small and young as they are.

When my day comes to leave earth, I can tell you that the thought of seeing my grandma again will comfort me all the way to the end.  I am blessed with a knowledge of the reality of the eternal nature of families.  I know that we will be best friends again and we will be hanging out a lot.  I will finally take the time to teach her about football up there and I will demand that she tell me stories and that I listen and maybe get to know more of the grandma many of you have known during all those years.  The sister, the teacher and the daughter.  I love her so much and I hope than in time I can learn to love all of my family as much as she loved me...


camille said...

A beautiful tribute Josh. Thank you for sharing it.

kristi said...

I'm sorry to say that I'm one of those that never got the privilege of meeting her in this life. But I will make sure to get to know her in the next! She sounds AMAZING!

Dianne said...

She truly was amazing and your tribute was so fitting. Rest, Areta, you truly deserve eternal peace and joy.

Iri said...
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Sierra Benson said...

This is amazingly written and makes me feel as if I know her so better just from reading this tribute.

I only have a few memories of Areta but those few that I do, I will cherish.