Now that all the relatives have been informed, I am free to share the sad news that Violet “Pat” Byrd Stribling has passed away.
Grandma Pat died a few days ago, peacefully in her sleep and in the company of family. She was my mother’s stepmom and my last surviving grandparent, so the sadness I feel at the time of her passing is a selfish one, as a generation of my family is now gone, their stories continuing only in our memories.
But as Uncle Mark points out, Grandma Pat is now reunited with the love of her life, Papa Ivan. They were married in a chapel in Yosemite National Park, which was Papa Ivan’s favorite place. An Eagle Scout, he led generations of Boy Scouts to their merit badges in the shadows of Yosemite’s mountain cliffs, and took me and my sister on our first camping trip in Yosemite, if my long-thin childhood memory serves me. I remember the chill of the morning sunlight, and Papa Ivan showing me Half-Dome.
Papa Ivan and Grandma Pat lived in Merced, California, the city of my birth. Whenever we would return to the hometown to visit my mother’s family, there would always be a day of adventures with Grandma Pat. I remember she had a dog that scared the heck out of me, as most dogs did when I was young. My sister remembers her ice cream floats with Tab soda, which is a memory I cannot recall, honestly. Her house was eclectic and fun, and she showered us with love.
Pat was fond of miniatures and dollhouses, a fascination she imparted upon me. When I was three years old, she built me an amazing dollhouse – easily as tall as I was that year, three stories and entirely from scratch – no kits for Grandma Pat!
That dollhouse became the center of my childhood imaginings. It was home to legions of Barbies throughout the 1980s, and in the 1990s became the setting for a dozen haunted-house games where I would make up “choose your own adventure”-style stories for friends and babysitting kids. It got dingy, a door vanished, the staircase disappeared, but that just added to its mystique. As I grew up and learned about miniature construction, I always had big plans for restoring it, but life and starting my own family got in the way.
Believe it or not, I still have it. It’s in my basement, carefully propped up on blocks so it doesn’t get wet in our occasional floods, and probably home to more than a few spiders by this point. Many times when living in places too small for storage and especially when moving from place to place, I’ve considered donating or getting rid of it – it really is a big dollhouse. And while I never have ascribed to gender norms and would have happily rehabbed it for my son, he never showed any interest.
But I have never been able to let it go. To do so would be more than giving up a part of my childhood – it would feel like giving up Grandma Pat. Only as an adult did I realize the work that must have gone into designing and building that dollhouse from scratch for a three-year-old granddaughter. It was a work of love, and such things can’t be cast away.
Papa Ivan and Grandma Pat had been married at least 40 years by the time he died in 2007, and she’s been on her own ever since. I have not seen her in several years, as it’s been some time since I returned to Merced. We exchanged Christmas cards and emails, and she joined Facebook along with the rest of the family, but like many in her generation, she rarely posted or responded.
Now she is gone, and I think my mom put it best when she said, “She was simply awesome, a very unique person, a wonderful stepmom, a good friend, and she and my dad shared a beautiful marriage for many decades. How wonderful that she’s dancing in his arms once again! It’s as it should be. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this delightful human being who was part of my life for 60 years.”
And now I am able to cry, but it is really our loss for which the tears come.