Goodbye and Godspeed, Grandmother
My grandmother, Mary Higgins Hash, passed away early Tuesday morning.
She suffered a massive stroke on April 21, and died 11 days later at a well-lived 83 years old.
By offering to pay for my schooling (to get me out of a dead-end job), she had the biggest hand in the general direction of my profession. For that, I’ll be eternally grateful.
It wasn’t uncommon for Grandmother to give me a call on the telephone as soon as she received her copy of this newspaper. Whether it was a grammatical correction or a bit of praise, she shot it to me straight.
She was Irish, served in the Navy, was a hard-line Democrat, and she treasured visits from her four great-grandchildren: Madison Stewart, Marcie and MaKayla Stewart and Caroline Mercer.
She was more than the grandmother who catered to my sweet tooth with a Kroger ‘Cookie Club Card’ as a child or worked her magic to get me a personally autographed copy of Bobby Knight’s autobiography, ‘Knight: My Story,’ in 2003.
Grandmother was always up-to-date on the goings-on in the sports world. For a guy, the only thing better is if his mom and spouse are the same way.
She enjoyed watching the Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball team, loved them even more when they were winning, and pulled no punches when she felt like Tubby Smith had been out-coached.
When it was time for March Madness, she always submitted a bracket or two in the company pool.
This year, she was the runner-up, whipping up on people less than a quarter her age. Myself, supposedly the expert on sports, included.
In the end, she picked Florida to win it all. And they did. The effort paid a whopping $15, but it could have been $15 million judging by her reaction to the payoff.
Sunday afternoons were usually reserved for watching PGA golf. I can’t say for sure if she ever really had a favorite player, but as long as Tiger Woods didn’t win, she was happy.
She taught me how to play the 5,000-year-old game backgammon then regretted it when I figured out how to beat her. Each time I put her on the bar, she’d let loose with a part-groan, part-laugh and ask me to, ‘Take it easy on poor Grandmother.’
She loved to play the ponies anytime my late aunt, Meg, and I made a bi-yearly trek to Churchill Downs.
With a magnifying glass and The Courier-Journal’s list of entries in hand, Grandmother would scribble a few names and horse numbers onto a piece of paper, hand me $20 and remind me to add the 1-2 daily double to her list.
Meg and I studied tip sheets that analyzed everything down to the last meals the horses ate. Despite the research, we rarely cashed a ticket.
But Grandmother did.
Anytime I was blessed with a press credential to a major sporting event, she shared in my glee, then usually tried to find Forrest Gump (aka me) on television.
When I beat former U of L coach Denny Crum in hold ’em poker on April 18 ‘ the last day I talked to her in her full capacity ‘ she was almost as carried away as I was. She congratulated me and looked forward to hearing about my basketball game the next night against the South Central Lady Rebels.
The Sunday after the stroke, she was sort of ‘awake’ and I made a joke about my new lack-of-hair cut. Due to her condition, I never expected a response, but Grandmother kind of let loose with the backgammon groan-laugh, which was more communication than she’d showed in the previous two days.
A short while later, we gazed in each other’s eyes and said nothing, yet communicated on a level I can only describe as spiritual. It was like she knew I was there and I knew she was there and everything was going to be OK.
One of her favorite passages, the Irish Blessing, seems like an appropriate way to say goodbye, and Godspeed, to my Grandmother.
‘May the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.’