Grace Harriman Sexton

My Grandma

A picture of strength, talent,  poise, endurance, adventure, and humor. Throughout the 29 years of my life, my grandmother has always been that constant birthday card in the mail, open door at holidays, the squeal of delight to see my boys, and (perhaps my earliest memory) the ever-present voice of reverse psychology in my head to get me to eat my vegetables. As she’s wrapping up her time here with us, I needed a moment to reflect on who she has been to me.

Though I grew up in Tallahassee while she lived six pieces of pizza away in Sarasota, I felt like she lived next door.  She ALWAYS made a triple chocolate bunt cake for my birthday.  She also kept being my penpal regardless of how long I forgot to write back.  And within the first 18 years of my life we only spent one Christmas in Tallahassee instead of with her in Sarasota and the world was not right. (I mean even Santa forgot to come! Nice try on two days later though Mom…)

The Wilkinson Woods nest was my  Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Summer retreat.  The freezer was always stocked with mini snickers and heath bar ice cream. I knew I would arrive to chunky, chocolate chip cookies and my favorite cereal tucked away for breakfast.  The TV was huge and my grandmas leather rocking chair was paradise.  I was one block from a pool, tennis court, and cool seemingly abandon meeting house full of interesting books to read. A hop, skip, and a jump away was Wilkinson Woods elementary with the best playgrounds I’d ever seen.  20 minutes to the beach, 10 minutes to great shopping, and a step out the front door to a community of cat walkers (yes on leashes), and grandkid friends that I had countless adventures with. One even tackled me to the ground saving me from a deadly snake that I stepped on gallivanting through backyards.  Oh how I dreamed of kissing my hero.  It was a sad day when his grandparents moved away. But I made new friends, and resorted to taking some of my own. I will never forget racing Danielle, in the pool no less, to finish reading the latest Babysitters Club book we were both reading. Then there was the time we stayed up all night long playing upwords with rollers in our hair and thought it would be brilliant to stroll the Sarasota streets at 4am. My grandmother was so proud of me when I called collect completely lost 10 miles away, but we  were a bit embarrassed.  I’m pretty sure you met your aunt down there the first time right Danielle? The trip south was always a good time.

Christmas was family time. My big brothers couldn’t escape me.  I got to follow them wherever they went. Then every Christmas Eve the adults would go to play in the Christmas Eve service (even the midnight one) leaving the kids to fend for themselves.  After lots of present shaking we would all lay in the living room with some classic movies. The brothers would fall asleep during Scrooge and the shadows would haunt the walls terrifying me, but wasn’t it worth it to wake up to Tom’s voice seemingly minutes later “Teri, get up, its Christmas GET UP?”  Each year I’d think the humongous present pile was our biggest yet and gaze in wonder at the hundreds of ornaments my grandmother collected that were ALL Bass playing figurines.  One year it snowed.  It may have disintegrated when it hit the ground, but do you think that matters to a 5 year old seeing sparkles of cold white heaven glisten around her winter wonderland?  Those were some good times.

Then there was Thanksgiving…a perfect dinner with countless friends stopping by, some oddly enough dressed as pilgrims!  Ever since my mother and I tried to pull Thanksgiving off in Tallahassee without her presence in the kitchen we always seem to do something like accidentally turn the touch screen oven off for 5 hours without noticing. But hey, turkey is good cold too right?  Wouldn’t have flied in Wilkinson Woods where the food was always hot and fresh.  But of course Grandma did have her weaknesses.  Everyone that worked drivethru at her local Wendy’s new exactly what she wanted when she pulled through that line. And I was often treated there myself over our summers together.

One of the best summers was the one I stayed for Orchestra camp.  Though sad at first my mom left me, and nervous to take my cello I could barely play around hundreds of strangers, I soon learned to play beautifully with an orchestra as well as strangers.  And I would say that is my fondest thoughts of my grandmother–the many lessons I have learned from her life.  She was a woman that (as long as I was alive) always lived alone, was always strong, busy, joyful and had more friends than me.  The moments I spent with her, and especially the semester in college I lived with her, I am so grateful for.  I learned so many things about life and the woman I hope to be.  Before I get to those let me further detail why I had to learn so much.

No matter how much you hate to admit it, my grandmother was one of those people that was always right.  When I lived with her, I had a boyfriend at home (or on tour with his band somewhere).  As much as I told my grandmother how “in love” I was, she kept trying to set me up with all her college, and possibly even some of her high school aged students.  There were one or two that caught my eye, and I do totally regret never following her wishes to go at least hang out and make friends with them.  But I knew I was marrying my current catch and didn’t want to lead anyone on.  Well one divorce later and I had to admit, she was right.  Now I think back and go GRANDMA why did you still support me so much? You should have told me!  But she did and she knew, we have to learn the hard way sometimes.  On a side note, after Jono and I got married, the first time she saw him she (in Jono’s words) held on to him for dear life and looked into his eyes and told him how much she loved him.  “Man I must be good looking, because she loves me,”  he mused.  Well she knows a good thing when she see’s it.

This past Easter she was a little loopy in between medication changes and began to confess to my aunt and even me at the dinner table how she use to sneak up to the practice rooms at the University of Illinois and make out with Haskell.  We laughed hysterically as she talked about her scandalous premarital adventures with her widow.  She would shrug it off “what can I say? He was a trumpet player. Great embouchure. Great lips. Great kissing”

The Lessons I will never forget from my Grandmother

  1. You are never to old to travel internationally.
  2. Good friends are life’s greatest blessing.
  3. Never be too proud to ask for help, just be grateful when you get it.
  4. Never stop teaching until you’re physically unable.
  5. My boys ARE the cutest babies in the world.
  6. Make your bed, get dressed, and get ready for a day to be the best yet.
  7. Cryptoquips keep you sharp as a tack.
  8. You can learn anything at any age if you are willing.
  9. Don’t judge other people, just enjoy what they have to offer.
  10. If I don’t eat my vegetables then GOOD there’s more for her.
I love you Grandma! Thanks for helping make me who I am today.  I can only hope my life will be lived as exceptionally as yours.

3 thoughts on “Grace Harriman Sexton

  1. Teri , Very touching. Sweet. Your grandmother is a special woman. You are lucky to have her in your life. I hope your Mom is able to share this nice tribute with her. Thanks for putting your thoughts into words and sharing with us. – Nana

  2. This is BEAUTIFUL! I am crying! I had an Abuela just like that. I miss her everyday, but we are so lucky to have had those experiences. Nothing replaces a grandmother. It is a love like no other! Praying for you! Awesome post!

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