June 28, 2016 at 1:31 pm
My grandmother was a badass. That’s probably not the most proper thing to say about your Grandmom, but it’s the absolute truth. She was a true Boss Crone, though she probably wouldn’t have been super keen on the word “crone” — but maybe she would have come around after I explained that it means “Rad, Independent Lady that Gets Shit Done.” She was courageous and funny and fierce and poised, but most of all, she lived her life exactly the way she wanted, and let no one tell her any different.
Jane Audrey Baker was born in Delaware in 1925, which means she was growing up right in the middle of the Great Depression. There are a lot of ways that something like that — that kind of hardship and pain and frustration — can affect a person. I think it made my Grandmom a giver. Every day of her life that I was alive to witness, she was thinking about what she could save for someone else, what she could give now that she had plenty, because she remembered when the people around her didn’t. She also saved every single Christmas decoration she ever owned, very neatly organized in a HUGE closet, but that’s another story.
After she graduated high school, my Grandmom became a telephone operator at Fort DuPont during WWII, earning herself the title of Personnel Sergeant Major and the coveted title of “Miss Flashes” in the Fort DuPont Flash (the local newspaper). Let me tell you, my Grandmom was a hot tamale. Like, total babe status. And it was that total babe status that drew my grandfather all the way from another army base to ask her an absolutely insane question:
“Will you drop everything, leave behind your entire life, and move to Texas with me?”
And she said yes. She packed up her whole life and hopped from Delaware to the southern weirdness of Austin, Texas without a second thought. Brave, or crazy? Both, probably. I think that’s what my Grandaddy Zell loved about her. He got a law degree, she learned French, and they had two kids and made a life for themselves in a town called Weatherford, Texas.
And if that was where my Grandmom’s story had ended, she wouldn’t be that different from a lot of ladies of her generation. But she had a long way to go. My Grandad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in 1975. My grandmother was only 50, and was suddenly going through life without her best friend and soulmate. I think everyone expected her to roll up the sidewalks and close down for good. And for a little while, she did.
But Jane Zellers was not a woman that wallowed in anything: grief, pity, or otherwise. She started her life over. My Grandad left her as part-owner of an abstract company in their town. My Grandmom now shared ownership of it with three men — three men who surely knew better, had more sense, and had been in the business far longer than sweet Janie. That frame of mind didn’t last long. Not only did my Grandmom take an active role in the company, she worked there. She learned every aspect of that business from top to bottom; she was there every day until the day she retired, a tiny little nuclear reactor in jewel-tone shoulder pads and enough Aqua Net to stop a bird in flight. She learned the ups and down of her financial world and became an expert investor. She absolutely loved it. And she was very good at what she did.
Eventually, she worked with an architect and built the home she would live in for more than thirty years — hers and hers alone. Everything about it was completely Jane, from the blue marble countertops to the stained glass sunburst above the big wooden doors. Every summer, her backyard would explode with bluebonnets, and her back porch always had a hanging swing and rows of well-manicured rose bushes. Nearly every week, my Grandmom would put on her rhinestone-bedazzled denim jumpsuit, her white sneakers, and her gardening gloves and mow her lawn herself. That was the place I always knew her in, and it was so much a part of her that I can’t separate her from it in my memories. She carved a perfect place for herself in the world, and she put her heart and soul into it with every breath.
When she wasn’t working, she was partying with the extremely tight-knit group of friends she made when she started her life in Weatherford. To this day, they are known in our family as the Sacred Coven of the Supper Club. (Okay, I might have added the “Sacred Coven” part, but it was totally implied.) They did everything together, and every single one of those ladies was a Stone Cold Betty in her own right. They threw parties, raised kids, and traveled the world; they went to China, learned the art of ikebana, and knew how to throw a mean potluck. When these gals came together, serious magic happened. Eventually, they ditched the whole “supper” thing and became the Wine Group (because of course), but they stuck together for the rest of their lives. Every lady needs a coven, and my Grandmom certainly found hers.
My Grandmom retired when I was a teenager, but I think her actual retirement lasted all of twenty-five seconds. She may have given up one job, but she went out and found half a dozen more. She volunteered at a clothing donation shop, she volunteered in the local hospital, she served on board after committee after board and still had time for the occasional exercise class. I can’t text and walk at the same time and my Grandmom was doing cardio and re-learning Spanish in her seventies.
There’s not enough internet on the web for me to list all of the amazing things my Grandmom accomplished in her lifetime. She put two kids through college, ate mysterious dishes on the other side of the world, hosted weddings, hosted wine nights, hosted wakes. She lived her life in precisely the manner that she wanted — and it was a glorious life. My family is certainly feeling the loss of our Boss Crone, but as long as there’s rhinestoned denim in my closet and desire in my heart, I know that I’m making her proud.