Friday, November 28, 2008

A Beautiful Life

I know how fortunate I am to have had my beautiful grandmother as a wonderful role model throughout my life. She has been an inspiration to me always, and some of my most treasured memories of my childhood are special times that I spent with her. I remember thinking as a child that I wanted to grow up to be just like her. My grandmother wore beautiful suits, painted her nails and lips red, and wore high heeled shoes, and she always exuded class and sophistication. She went to work, came home and cooked dinner and still had time to spend with me reading or working on craft projects or telling me stories about her remarkable life. I remember sitting in her lap in front of the picture window at her house as she rocked me and told me stories about her sisters and brothers, her parents, her grandparents and growing up in Harlan. I was spellbound from an early age at these tales and hung on every word. And 40 years later, I'm still hanging on every word! My grandmother was ...and still is...a remarkable woman, and I am so proud to be her granddaughter.

Above: my grandmother on her 91st birthday. Above black and white photo: My grandmother, Aretta Lay Whitaker, and my grandfather, Paul Benjamin Whitaker, at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky in the 1940's.

On November 22, 2008, we celebrated her 91st birthday at her home with family and friends. When all the guests had gone, I listened as she talked about the wonderful, blessed life she has lived. As I listened to her reminisce about past times, friends and family, I realized what a testament she is to truly living and enjoying life. She has definitely lived it, learned it, and taught it! My grandmother, Aretta Inez Lay, was the second of eight children born to Albert Lay and Estella Rose Lay in Harlan, Kentucky. She grew up hiking and hunting with her father, learning to cook from her mother and enjoying the simple life they all lead in Harlan. She grew up and married my grandfather after meeting him at Green Mill Drug Store in Harlan, where she worked behind the soda counter. She had two children, taught kindergarten for 23 years, fought for economic and social progress in her community through MANY projects, served as a den mother when my father was a member of the Boy Scouts, volunteered as a "pink lady" at the local hospital, participated in a women's sorority that focused on community service, and still had time to make a beautiful and happy home and spend time with her children and grandchildren.

Those beautiful blue green eyes have seen so many changes in this world since her birth in 1917. She witnessed protests and crimes during the unionization of the mines in Harlan County in the 1930s and lived through the Great Depression, as well as WWII in which members of her family fought for our freedom. She could write volumes on the many things which she's had a first-hand account.

My grandmother continues to be a role model to me. At 91, she is still going strong and is as beautiful as ever. All my life, I have strived to be the kind of woman my grandmother has been throughout her life. She's taught by example, and if I manage to accomplish even half of what she has throughout her life, I would consider myself fortunate. She is beautiful, both inside and out, and has lived a truly amazing life...and she's not finished yet! She continues to be an example to her family and friends of what it means to live a full and blessed life. And we all feel very blessed to know her.

Grandmother blows out the candles on her birthday cake.

Grandmother Aretta Lay Whitaker with her brother, Albert Lay, Jr.

Grandmother Aretta with, left to right, Susie Mavinidis, Lakis Mavinidis, her son, Jay Whitaker

Grandmother Aretta with her nephew, Bill McSpadden, and his wife, Mary

My Grandmother with my aunt Vivian and me at my wedding in 2005.

Grandmother meets her first great-grandchild, Mary Addison, for the first time.


Janet said...

Happy Birthday to your grandmother. It's so wonderful she's still going strong.

Paula said...

Thanks, Janet. Yes, we're so fortunate that she's so healthy and doing well at 91! She's an inspiration to us all!

Down the Rabbit Hole said...

Dear Paula,

How touching! Your grandmother is beautiful, as are you! She does not look 91. What a blessing indeed. Thank you for sharing!


Sarah said...

Hi Paula! You have a beautiful blog. Mom and Dad (Mary and Bill) shared the URL with me. How great it is to see what's going on with you! I especially enjoyed reading this post about your grandmother. I'm glad she is doing well; Mom and Dad enjoyed seeing all of you at the party.