I’ve spent the last week with my wife’s family in California. Normally, when we get together, it’s just to get together. But this time, it was to say goodbye. The family matriarch has passed.
Irene Tillman was a force of nature. Her kindness, her love, her passion, nothing could stop her; and few wanted to.
She was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, foster mom, and friend to my everyone. She used the skills she honed over the years as a high school drama teacher to be fun and outgoing and to draw everyone in.
As we all shared her stories throughout the week, we all agreed that she told the stories better than anyone. Even though there were times when we all thought, “not this story again!” as she would launch into one of her stories for what seemed like the millionth time, we all agreed that we would give anything to hear her tell her stories just one more time.
One of my favorite stories I heard over the past week was that of the Hotel Tolman, as her many adopted, foster, and honorary kids called it, was about what Irene called “frugal juice.” A woman with a big heart, at one point in time, she had as many as eighteen kids staying at her house. Hence the name, Hotel Tolman. To make money stretch as far as she could, she would make frugal juice by combining the leftovers of each juice bottle into one and topping it off with water. None of the kids in the house seemed to mind.
Irene was a collector of everything from friends to porcelain Lladro figures to baggies of bread ties. She kept the Hotel Tolman full and decorated with souvenirs from her travels. There wasn’t a space that wasn’t decorated with something she picked up from one of her trips. Even over the past week as we looked around the house, we’d find bins of popsicle sticks she had planned to make Christmas sleighs out of for each family member. When we’d open a drawer in the kitchen, there would always be a baggie of bread ties trying to spill out.
For my wife, there was no better way to honor her grandmother than by taking the kids to Disneyland before we headed back to Texas. Jessica would always spend summers in California with her grandparents. They would go to the local farms and farmers’ markets and pick out fresh fruit. There would be trips…