Mary Alice Berg was my grandma and she died peacefully on January 7, 2013 at the ripe old age of 76. She had a long bout with renal cancer that spread to other organs. The daughter of an Irish orphan mother and a German immigrant father, she was born, lived and died in the state of Montana.
She was a Jehovah’s Witness and they don’t believe in eulogizing a person after they die. I’m going to give her the only thing I have left to give her, a proper eulogy.
One time, she bought my brother and I a pair of sunglasses. I think I was 9 or so. It was the 80’s and they were ridiculous sunglasses with leather on them. We went to the park where both of us promptly lost our new sunglasses. She wasn’t a rich woman and I don’t remember her buying us tons of stuff. I still have a lot of good memories of time spent with her. My memories are of the good times with her, not the things.
Cooking came naturally for her. There are a few dishes I wish I could get one last time. Her specialty was old-fashioned hamburgers, fries and shakes, all made from scratch. If we were really lucky, she would make us this dinner. The closest I’ve had to her homemade fries are In-n-Out’s fries. It was the meal straight out 1950’s Americana and it tasted spectacular.
I’ll never forget the time I rented a limo for her. She had come to Reno to visit me from Sacramento where she was staying with my uncle. To save money, she took the Greyhound bus. As surprise for her trip home, I rented a limo to take her all the way back to Sacramento. I never asked her if she’d been in a limo before. By her smile, I could tell that she hadn’t.
She took early retirement and used that time doing something she loved. After that, she volunteered for what Witnesses call regular pioneering. That means she spent 90 hours a month preaching or volunteering. Personally, I don’t agree with how she spent her time, but she spent her doing something she loved. Our lives go by one day at a time and we have one shot at them.
Not everyone spends their golden years volunteering. Seeing her not just spend that time, but retire early to spend more time was inspiring. I’d like to think some of that altruism rubbed off on me and is reflected in my volunteer work.
My grandma loved old movies. She would tape all of them and had several stacks of old movies that she recorded on the VCR. She was AMC’s target demographic way back when it started. It was funny that she mastered her VCR in a time where no one could. She needed to record those movies at a certain time and learned to program her VCR. Some of my fondest memories are of play cards (usually Gin Rummy or Pinochle) and watching old movies.
She also loved Wheel of Fortune and she was pretty good at it. Usually, she would finish the puzzle well before the contestants. It perplexed her that they couldn’t get better contestants on the show. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that most contestants on game shows are selected for their on air charisma, not their intellectual abilities.