Mandy Newham-Cobb illustration
Bourbon and marshmallows
My grandmother was a woman for whom a simple trip to the grocery store oftentimes turned into a Homeric journey. After her death, I struggled to narrow down her life’s stories canonical collection to only two or three that truly immortalized her to share at her memorial. It was a nearly impossible task.
My grandmother always inspired me to live a full life, to look deeper into things, so it was at her urging that I set about tracking down the family overseas who helped rescue my grandfather in World War II.
The Japanese captured my grandfather, a Navy seaman, in the Philippine Islands. He escaped and hid out in the jungle, falling deathly ill. An indigenous tribe came to his rescue, and there in the rudimentary village where no one spoke English he was nursed back to health. He was named a godfather to one of the village children. He was recaptured and narrowly escaped execution once again before being liberated from the confines of a dank, tiny prison cell in Manila.
An intense investigation by way of Facebook and an old letter from the villager who rescued my grandfather eventually led to a trip to the Philippines where I met Eugenio Torres, whose grandfather had rescued mine. Tears welled up in my otherwise tough grandmother’s eyes upon my return, when I told her that the story had come full circle as Torres asked me to be his daughter’s godfather, as my grandfather had been godfather to Torres’ father.
My grandmother had plenty of fight in her too. While she was a fancy woman who liked to drink bourbon from a crystal glass, she also cherished sitting on her Michigan porch with a BB gun shooting squirrels off of her birdfeeder. When our family had a marshmallow fight, she would put up a wicked battle. When we had monkey slingshot contests, even at 87, she was determined to win. When she got pulled over one day on her way to church and the officer arrived at her window, she simply informed him that she had no time to wait for him to write a ticket. She was running late…And with that, off she went.
Whenever I told stories about my grandmother, my friends would simply shake their heads—the stories weren’t good because I was good at telling them but because the story of her life was one that was always worth telling.
Standing to address the church full of people that had come to bid her farewell, I was struck by the thought that while I had stories of her life that I wanted to share, so too, did everyone else that was there. We spent the rest of the day telling stories and in telling them—the good, the bad, the heartbreaking and the heartwarming—she rose above it all, immortal. A legend. A story worth telling and a woman I was proud to call my grandmother.