Ever since receiving the call from my dad telling me that Grams had passed away, I have been constantly reflecting on how I would define my grandmother. This process has produced both tears and laughter, as Norma was truly one of a kind.
Here’s a list of all the roles my grandmother played in my life as well as others who were fortunate enough to spend time with her…
My grandmother was a faithful fan. I can hardly remember a sporting event of mine that she missed. That includes Friday night football games all over central Florida, basketball games, tennis matches, and soccer games regardless of the weather. She also made her presence known while attending these games. During a little league baseball game of mine, she wasn’t pleased with a call the umpire made. She then yelled, “That’s bologna!” My brother was unfortunately sitting right next to her, and when the ump turned around he assumed Daniel had yelled it and promptly threw him out of the ballpark. Grams slowly sunk back into her seat and kept quiet the rest of the game as Daniel took the walk of shame back to the car.
My grandmother was a scientist. This may come as a shock to those that knew her, but she taught me a lot about the science of biodegradable objects. We took many road trips to and from Ocala to visit Knox and company, and each trip would involve a fast food stop (usually Hardees or McDonald’s). After going through the drive-thru, we would get back on the highway and she would roll her window down. Out the window would go straw wrappers and napkin pieces, and I would say, “Grams, isn’t that littering?” She’d look back and say, “No no, that stuff is biodegradable. It’ll be gone by tomorrow.” She surely was on the cutting edge of science.
My grandmother was a lead foot. Grams never saw a speed limit sign that she respected, especially those in the green swamp. I recall 4 or 5 times that we were pulled over en route to Ocala or Black Diamond. I’ve never seen someone act so innocent when a state trooper approached the window. It’s because of Grams that I know the rule that you must stay out of the right lane when the police have pulled another driver on the highway. Thanks for that, Grams.
Sticking with the theme of car travels, my grandmother was not an advocate of seatbelts. You were never in the car with Grams that the passenger seat seatbelt sign wasn’t beeping and flashing. It always took a few minutes for her to say, “Ok, ok, I’ll buckle it.”
My grandmother was a matchmaker in her own mind. Never did I run into a girl who was remotely close to my age without Grams saying, “Why don’t you date her?” You knew that you were about to be set up when she started a sentence with, “You know who I saw the other day?…” Her other sayings in the category were, “What’s wrong with her? She’s cute, right? I’ll tell you who is absolutely beautiful now is… You should be asking so-and-so out.” Grams, we can’t knock your effort.
My grandmother was never accused of being a top chef. She could eat out at restaurants with the best of them. Staying at Grams’ house always meant going out to lunch and/or dinner. That being said, I’ll give Longhorns in Lakeland 2 months before they’re shut down. But whether it was Longhorns or anywhere else, she ordered one thing: chicken. She’d argue which restaurant we would go to, which felt foolish because you knew she was only ordering chicken. Grams, I hope there’s a Bennigan’s in heaven. Oh, and you should try their chicken!
My grandmother was generous. I have never seen someone enjoy getting gifts for people as much as she did. During Christmas time, she would put Santa and his elves to shame. I remember anytime I was home sick from school, Grams would take me out to get a new toy. Needless to say, my attendance record from grades 1st-5th was always among the lowest in the class. She wanted her grandchildren to always have what we wanted, and she made that happen, sometimes to the demise of our parents. Grams devoted so much of her time and money to us, so much that we could never come close to repaying her.
My grandmother was fun. This, I believe, is one word that I would truly use to define her. She was up for anything, and this was true to her last days. When my friends would spend time with their grandmothers it always sounded like a burden. They would say, “Ugh, I have to go over to my grandmothers house.” For me, going to my grandmother’s house always meant a good time would be had. When I was younger, she would play with us. Once we were older, she would keep us entertained with her comments, which were hard to predict. Grams was just fun.
Finally, my grandmother was never a great storyteller, especially as time went on. She would start stories with, “So the other day I was at lunch with what’s-her-face, and we ran into that one guy…” This turned into such an exhausting game of trying to guess whom on earth she was talking about. She gave us no choice but to pay attention to every word so that we could put together the puzzle of her stories.
Enough with past tense, let’s move on to present tense.
My grandmother IS now reunited with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She’s also reunited with her husband, Jack Harrell, and possibly her dog, Jake, but the verdict is still out on whether he made it through the pearly gates or not.
The single greatest thing that my grandmother passed on to her family was her love of the Lord. God has been so incredibly gracious to this weird bunch of people, the Harrell, Strawbridge, and Wilson family.
Thank you Lord for letting your servant, Norma Harrell, be a part of our family for all of these years. Her grandchildren, including myself, have received such an outpouring of kind words from our friends all across the country. Most of these comments have included this general thought— “Your grandmother was always so generous to me and my family. What a lady.”
What a lady, indeed. We’ll miss you, Grams, and we’ll look forward to being reunited with you one day. If there wasn’t any orange cake in Heaven, there is now.