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July 14, 2011

Cleaning up old stuff, I found a copy of the funeral program for my grandmother, Emily Litchfield Knapp, eleven years ago this September. In addition to the text of my eulogy, I found a copy of a poem by John Donne she had asked her daughter, my Aunt Lee, to read.

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
Into the house and gate of heaven,
To enter into that gate and dwell in that house
Where there shall be
No darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
No noise nor silence, but one equal music;
No fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
In the habitations of Thy glory and dominion,
World without end!

Here is the text of the eulogy I gave.

Granny was cool. I think she was cool in a way few of us can achieve in our lives, and I think we grandchildren were lucky in that she achieved coolness as an old person, which is when we got to know her.

Not that she was particularly uncool at any point. She and Grandpa used to go to speakeasies during Prohibition, and I think they lived a literary Bohemian kind of existence in Greenwich Village during the thirties. Granny was always tolerant of our partying habits, and I think by being tolerant, she taught us the value of moderation.

Granny held several strong beliefs and one of them was the inalienable right of the Queen of England to rule over one fifth of the world’s land and people. God Save the Queen.

One of the things I appreciate most about Granny was her ability to see things from other people’s perspectives. Not that she held back from expressing an opinion when she found you to be in th wrong. She wouldn’t quite come out and say it. She’d raise an eyebrow and purse her lips, and ask a pointed question such as, “Aren’t you cold?” and then when you fixed whatever the problem was she’d smile and say something like, “That longer skirt is much more flattering,” or sometimes just, “That’s better.” But she infallibly tempered her opinion with an explanation of what she imagined the other person’s point of view might be, and I think she was unusually insightful.

For most of her working life, Granny was a children’s librarian, and she went out of her way to seek out books to read out loud that would reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of her students. She spoke of mothers coming up to her in tears, thanking her for reading Hanukkah books out loud during December, saying no one had ever made her children feel that it was okay to be Jewish. This was in th fifties, definitely before the Civil Rights Movement changed our national consciousness.

Granny was completely interested in learning about other people’s cultures and beliefs. She went to every type of religious service where she had an introduction, and she used to talk a lot about the different styles of worship she had seen.

Of course, a staunch Episcopalian herself, Granny was thrilled to see her grandchildren one by one choose to return to her own style of worship. She could be completely open-minded about other people’s beliefs and yet still remain confident in the safe knowledge that, at least for her, her own way of doing things was infallible.

Granny was a great believer in lifelong learning. During my last conversation, she asked me what I was reading, and thank goodness I could say, Candide. She wasn’t asking me to check up on me; I could have told her I’d been reading historical romance novels and she’d have been satisfied. She wanted to know wha tI was reading because she loved to talk about ideas. Perhaps that was the underlying reason she was so very much fun to spend time with. Granny was always great to talk to.

Granny was a fierce enemy of mediocrity. She was brought up expect the best, both from herself and from others, and I think we all appreciate the fact that she applied this standard to everything she did, including her cooking.

Granny lived very well, and she was given something I think we’d all wish for: a long, healthy life and a peaceful death.

I’m grateful for her life, for its quality and for its quantity. Ninety hale years is a long time, but I wish she could have lived forever.

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  1. cindy thornton permalink

    She sounds like my Grandma. I wish I could have given her such an eloquent eulogy.

  2. Mary Knapp permalink

    She was everything you so eloquently said.

  3. Sam permalink

    I just remember she thought it was hilariously shocking to serve Danish bleu to unsophisticated kids.
    And oh, all the different silverware. The hazards of etiquette encountered when eating in her home…
    She was a wonderful and interesting woman far deeper than her accoutrements.

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