My grandmother, Elsie Marie Rigby Partridge
, passed away early Sunday morning. She was 95 years old, going on 96. She was raised in the farmlands of Idaho, where she had seven brothers and one sister, not to mention five stepbrothers and a stepsister. She had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood, including my mother. She had 18 grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren.
She suffered a stroke about ten years ago and had been in a wheelchair ever since. Her mind was still mostly sharp, but she had gradually lost the ability to much for herself. Between that and my grandfather's passing five years ago, she had been praying for the end to comemostly with good humor, at least on the occasions when I was able to visit her.
Grandma Partridge was a strong, funny, acerbic presence, one of the few people who could go toe to toe with my dad in the sarcasm sweepstakes and put him in his place. (She was his mother-in-law, after all.) She trained as a nurse before getting married and having kids, but I'd never call what she did settling down. As a child when we would visit, I remember all us kids looking forward to when Grandma would get home from work in her nurse's uniform. We were also always delighted to hear her talk about how she'd trained herself to say "shhh-ugar!" when she was mad, instead of the farm word she'd picked up from her many brothers.
One of my clearest memories of her comes from when Laura and I last visited her together, in early 2011. She would usually tire after a brief visit, but that day she was on, and she told us stories for a couple of hours. My favorite was about when she was a young mother living in Queens, where Grandpa's job had taken the family. This had to be sometime in the mid-1950s. She was driving with her three kids in the car on one of those outer-borough parkways that are still confusing to this day if you don't know your way around. She missed her exit and rather than risk getting lost put the car in reverse and tried to back up to where she had needed to get off. When another driver stopped and chewed her out, she played the just-a-lost-farmgirl-from-Idaho card and managed to escape the parkway unharmed.