Eulogy written for Mary Palewicz by Bradley M. Kuhn, her grandson.
As I began to think of what I wanted to speak about today, I worked hard trying to recall all my memories of my grandmother---Mary Catherine Palewicz. There are many such memories, but sadly the human brain is a faulty device, and as hard as I tried, I could only bring to mind the key events of what I know were many different joyous times I had with Grandma.
The first memory that I could clearly bring to mind was New Year's Eve of 1982. My parents and my aunt and uncle had left Dan, Ben and me for the day and over night for the new year at Grandma's house in Brooklyn.
At ages 3, 6, and 8, we were not all that easy to handle when put together. Grandma had bought a number of crafts for us to work on, along with colorforms and other popular childhood pastimes of the early 80's. However, as the day drew on, the buzz of bringing in the new year of 1982 overcame us. Meanwhile, you could see the strain and wear in Grandma's eyes, having spent a day chasing three energetic children.
Grandma rounded us to bed around 10PM. She was clearly too tired to handle us for any longer that night. However, we begged and pleaded that we be allowed to stay up. Eventually, she gave in. She got us pots and pans to bang as we ran outside on the front lawn, and she let us watch Dick Clark as he announced band after band on his "New Year's Rocking Eve". The night went on and on. Grandma just sat in her rocking chair, clearly tired, but unable to hide the smile as she watched us make up a new dance for every song that came on.
Unfortunately, through the mid-80's, my memories of Grandma begin run together. However, that powerful and loving part of her character that revealed itself to me in those first hours of 1982 never relented.
I would call Grandma each week. If my birthday was to arrive the following week, she needed to know for sure what kind of cake I would want. The selection was always too much to choose from. When she baked that cake, Grandma always put the most delicate and meticulous care into its creation. My entire life, I have been unable to truly explain to any person outside of our family, what is so very wrong with a Duncan Hines box-mix cake. However, that person would seem to understand once they had a chance to taste one of Grandma's cakes.
However, the best part of Grandma's baking process was being over Grandma's house while she baked the cakes, cookies, and other treats that she labored over for every party, holiday and event that occurred in our extended family. If a grandchild was around, Grandma would never simply rinse her pale-white Kitchen-Aid mixer bowl and beaters once the ingredients were blended. Before they were washed, we always got the opportunity to savor the bits of cookie dough that could not be scraped off by her spatula. Ever concerned about our safety, Grandma would worry that we were eating the raw egg in the dough, but I think she didn't have the heart to stop us from doing something that we loved so much.
I got to know Grandma best, though, in the late 80's and early 90's. I showed an interest in attending musicals at the theater, and Grandma was more than willing to join me month after month on excursions to all the local dinner theaters. We became regulars on the Baltimore dinner theater circuit. We began to recognize the actors from one theater to the next, and reminisce about how the fellow playing Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls this month was the same guy who played Curly in Oklahoma! last time. Oh yeah, and he was our waiter, too. This was dinner theater, after all.
But, like many who frequent local dinner theaters, we dreamed of one day being in the audience a real Broadway show in New York. It turned out that in mid-1990, one of the groups that sponsored Grandma's bus trips was sponsoring a one-day trip to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I could tell that Grandma was as excited as I was to get a chance to see the "real thing".
We enjoyed the bus ride up. Once we arrived and entered the theater, from the time the overture started until the show ended, I could not keep my eyes off the stage. Still in my mid-teens, it was the first time I had the opportunity to see such talented performers, and it was hard to contain my awe.
On the bus ride home, I asked Grandma how she liked the show. Her only answer was: "I was just glad to see you enjoying it so much".
It was only this past week, as I was recalling all the memories I could of Grandma, that I remembered this event and saw it in that new light. Thinking back, I can just barely remember that at our first Broadway show, Grandma hadn't been watching the stage the whole time as I was. A few times, I think I can remember seeing from the corner of my eye, that she was watching me. I know now that for Grandma, it was superfluous if she got to see the show---even though she was as new to Broadway as I was. What mattered to her was that I got a chance to see a Broadway show and that I enjoyed it.
Once I reviewed this remembered event in that light, I began looking back through everything that I had experienced with Grandma, and all the history of her life that she and others shared with me. It is so clear to me now that the driving goal of her life, beyond anything else, was to make sure that her children and grandchildren had the opportunities and the pleasures that she didn't have.
Having lost her husband so early in her children's life and with only an eighth grade education, Grandma still made sure that all of her children finished high school, and even went on to college if they wanted to. Once her children were married and had children of their own, she helped in any way should could---by watching us so our parents could enjoy a night out on their own, by cooking more dinners for the extended family that any of us can count, and by offering whatever financial support she could when any of us were in need.
Grandma lived as selfless a life as she could. She did so quietly, almost covertly---always deflecting the attention away from herself toward her children and grandchildren of whom she was so proud. She planned for the long haul; when faced with a choice between her own happiness and potential joy she could bring to the life of her children and grandchildren, she always chose to forgo what she wanted for the sake of us.
In my life, I can only hope to aspire to such silent selflessness that Grandma gave so willingly. However, in the future, when I see someone act without an inkling of fanfare in a kind way toward another, I will feel that I am seeing some piece of my grandmother, Mary Catherine Palewicz, that she left upon this Earth.