Ruth Violet Hiatt Holt was my grandmother. She was a pistol.
Here she is trick riding on the back of a horse as a child. That’s her, in a nutshell. Intrepid. Stand on the back of a horse as it’s moving around? Sure thing!
Grandma found her match early in adulthood in Thomas Carlyle Holt, a geophysicist. While he was yin to her yang, they were highly engaged life partners. Grandpa was stable, steady, pragmatic, quiet, thoughtful and enigmatic, an analytical / engineer type. Conservative. Agnostic. Grandma was outgoing, expressive, curious, stubborn and dramatic, an intellectual with very strong Christian convictions. Liberal.
Grandma raised 4 children during and after WWII, sewing all their clothes and making toys out of thrift store finds. Grandpa travelled all the time finding drilling sites for the large oil companies he worked for. Busy with the children and homemaking, Grandma didn’t get her chance at college in the first blush of adulthood, but made up for it later, joining the inaugural class at Houston Baptist University and graduating at 45 with a double major in Biology and English Literature and a minor in the Old Testament. (She told me this recently, wryly noting that she finished second in the class but didn’t think it was fair because the valedictorian had an easier path, only earning a single major.) 😉
With her newly minted degree added to her years of wisdom and life experience, Grandma entered the workplace taught biology and English at an inner city high school in Houston. She remained in contact with many of her students for years afterward.
Grandma was fun. She let me order pheasant under glass at a fancy airport restaurant when I was 5 years old. She thought that if I could read it, I should be able to order it. My Dad absolutely loved that story and told it often. (I ate the pheasant.)
A strong Christian, Grandma taught Sunday school well into her 90s, researching and writing to defend her faith and Christianity from an increasingly doubting world.
Grandma was a feminist at heart, although she never would have called herself by that moniker or burned any undergarments to make a point. She just thought that she could do anything a man could do, and did.
Grandma taught me to waterski when she was over 60. She and Grandpa were avid boaters and had a variety of watercraft over the years, ranging from a 20-ft wooden hulled boat in the early years to a 42-ft Irwin sailboat in the more comfortable retirement period.
Grandma once rowed across the Houston Ship Channel in a dinghy in her late 60s, alone, at dusk, with no lights or radio.
Never a fan of TV, Grandma was still reading almost a book a day as she hit the 100-year mark, although most of the other pleasures of life were beyond her grasp.
My aunt and cousin engineered a wonderful virtual 100th birthday party for her, with various friends and family doing 5-minute check-ins on a Zoom call for over 2 hours, which delighted her. I told her about my post (below) regarding her centenarian status and the comments on it, and she was excited about that, too.
Grandma lived in various homes for the elderly near me for the past decade, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing quite a lot of her. We always had a little fun during the visits, like with this selfie from 2015.
Earlier this spring, just before the onset of the pandemic, Grandma and I were talking about spring, and poetry, and life. I asked her about her favorite poem, and without hesitation, she recited every line of William Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud:
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought: For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
And then she told of her delight in seeing daffodils in England during a college trip. I share this delight: daffodils are everywhere in England in the spring, even growing wild on the side of the motorway. I captured these during a business trip a few years ago, and now, I will never see another daffodil without thinking of her, dancing with them.
My last visits to Grandma were special. COVID restrictions meant that I had to wear a mask and gloves and stay 6 feet away from her, making communication a little difficult. However, I learned that bringing her a photo album from the many I’ve been blessed to inherit from the collection that she and Grandpa amassed was the magic button for stimulating story after story, memory after memory. What a gift. I should have recorded them.
Grandma outlived Grandpa by 18 years, until last Wednesday, December 30, peacefully leaving this world for the next one as the last full moon of the decade began to wane. Ruth Violet Hiatt Holt lived a full life: one hundred years, one month and one day.
And now, a farewell haiku for the intrepid little lady we lost:
goodbye, Grandma Ruth... we'll be seeing you, dancing with the daffodils
© 2021, Glover Gardens