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This Week in Freudenfreude: Now That's an Obituary

This isn't really political, but obituaries are the theme of this week (and next week), so we checked with the judges and they will allow it. You've never heard of Virginia Jane Smith, because she was just regular folks. But when she passed a few weeks ago, she exited with the kind of obituary that everyone should aspire to. We tried to summarize it, but it works better to just read it in its original form. So, here it is (credit to her granddaughter, Laura Bassett):

Virginia Jane Smith, a New Orleans legend, died blissfully in a morphine cloud on her 98th birthday Thursday, Nov. 9. Ginnie was a spitfire, a sailor, a poet, a Katrina survivor, a stage performer, a geriatric Tito's vodka ambassador, and of course, my grandmother.

Ginnie was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1925, and worked as a secretary at a stationery company on Madison Avenue in the late 1940s. She fled to New Orleans after a handsome WWII vet named Fulton proposed to her outside the men's room in the Hoboken train station. The two leave behind three children, nine grandkids, and eight great-grandkids, all of whom adore them.

Ginnie was hyper-social and lived for entertaining—sometimes to the exclusion of paying utility bills. Her house was full of random music instruments, costumes, and eccentric little treasures, and she was constantly singing and dancing and inviting friends over for a Toddy. She was obsessed with her grandkids, smothered us with physical affection, and constantly tried to gift us her belongings.

Three of Ginnie's grandkids were raised in Homer, Alaska, and the greatest pleasure of her life was her trips to visit them. They would drag her out of bed in the middle of the night and the dead of winter to view the Northern Lights, in her nightgown with snow boots and a coat hastily thrown on. Later, after losing her eyesight, she would say she could still travel in her mind and see the sublime view of the Northern Lights over the ocean. Alaska was her happy place, to the extent that in her blind years she accidentally gave me an "Alaska" shot glass for Christmas, only to ask for it back when she realized she still needed it.

Ginnie lost her house and everything in it in 2005's Hurricane Katrina. She was a widow then, living alone in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Referencing dire warnings, we begged her to evacuate, but she clung to life in her then-boyfriend's attic, where she claims they survived for nearly a week on boiled eggs, water and whiskey. Right when we considered her lost to the storm, she washed up at my parents' house in Opelousas, Louisiana—with mud up to her knees, and holding a bucket she'd been peeing in—to ask them if they had any cherries with which to make a Manhattan, because she'd run out.

In her retirement home, Ginnie continued to party as hard as ever and regularly performed for the other residents. Most recently, she wore a Marilyn Monroe-inspired stuffed bra and blonde wig and lip-synced to "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Later, at the height of the pandemic, she caught the attention of Tito's vodka when a tweet of mine went viral about how we'd called Granny to check on health and safety, but her main concern was that the residence had run out of Tito's and needed reinforcements. The company sent her a lifetime supply of vodka and a closet's worth of swag, including Tito's sunglasses and a visor, which she wore constantly until she passed.

In her final years, as Ginnie lost her sight and hearing and refused to communicate via technology, she began sending grandkids and great grandkids handwritten poems in the mail (with crisp $2 bills folded in). She'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking of rhymes and write them down in giant shaky handwriting so she wouldn't forget them by morning. I always responded in rhyme, too, understanding that this had become her love language.

At our last visit, less than a month ago, she told me she'd just nearly been kicked out of her retirement home for stealing furniture. She'd recruited a neighbor by sticking a note under his door instructing him to wear a Covid mask and visor and meet her in the hallway, where they used his motorized wheelchair to scoot their favorite chair back from another ward. She was furious the next day when security called her and told her they recognized her from the camera footage, even in disguise, because her visor said "Tito's" on it.

Just weeks later, my grandmother was in the hospital fighting for her life. But she spent her final days in the best way possible for her: blissed out on a morphine drip, with my mom reading her loving, funny goodbye letters from her nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, including an audio recording of a soon-to-be-ninth-great-grandchild's heartbeat.

An employee at Ginnie's assisted living home told her son as she was dying that the whole staff at the place loved her for her rare combination of "grit, class, and gusto."

In a moment of clarity just before she died, my grandmother asked my mom to call her 93-year-old sister, Cece, whom she called "Froggy" (while Cece called her "Pearly").

"I have a question for you, Froggy," she said.

"What, Pearly?"

"Why did you let me tie a sheet around your waist and lower you out of the upstairs window that time?"

"Because I'm stupid and always did whatever you told me to do."

"See you on the other side, Froggy," she said, and then drifted back to sleep.

Vaya con dios, Mrs. Smith. And have a good weekend, all! (Z)

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