In memoriam: Frances Alvin (1924-2019)
Frances Alvin passed away last Monday, November 18. I had suspected she would pass away the day before: devout Christians have often preferred to die on Sunday. She proved me wrong with characteristic tenacity. There exists a proper obituary recording the relevant milestones of her life. Here, by contrast, are some brief and personal reflections on the great privilege of being her grandson.
Grandma was a serious, self-respecting person who lived a serious, respectable life. She showed and inspired great love and respect to and from her whole extended family. But beyond that, she enacted virtues that I, from my generation and in my youth and young adulthood, otherwise would mostly have experienced in a mediated way. This broadened my experience immeasurably. So, for example, there is a kind of industry and economy particular to those who lived through the Depression: I’d known about that, but rarely saw it firsthand. Also: Grandma’s manners ranged from “Southern-inflected” to “straight-up Dixie.” I’d mostly just heard about Southern culture and grace from country music.
Those manners! She had elegant posture. She enunciated beautifully and chose her words carefully. She answered the phone and front door in the way of those who know what proper conversations and visits really are. And check out this handwriting:
Throughout her life, but especially when I was a young child, she sent humor and lightheartedness my way (always in proper grandmaternal forms). This was consistently delightful in its own right; it also caused me to revise a distinction I’d tacitly held between the serious and the playful. She was both! Such coarse, naive distinctions are major barriers to understanding, and we should all be grateful to those who complicate them. In that way (among many others), I’d have become a worse person, friend, and reader without her influence.
I have lost not only a grandmother but my favorite bridge partner. I was obsessed with bridge for some years in the early nineties, but only rarely got to play the game. Grandma taught me lessons; gave me bridge-related gifts (e.g., AutoBridge) and book recommendations (e.g., Marty Bergen’s Points, Schmoints); and served as a patient and clever partner.
She was a skilled and well-respected player. Back issues of regional newspapers will prove that she did a lot of winning in her local games. (I also vividly remember a totally sweet move she pulled off against my sister and me in a game of Chinese checkers.) Grandma enjoyed both hosting the games, when it was her turn, and having the reason to visit other homes, when it was not; she attended to both the game itself and the culture of it; and, in her reserved way, she really liked to win. She might have preferred I stuck with bridge instead of taking up poker. But in learning how to appreciate a game of cards, along with its whole cultural, ethical, and mechanical context — and also how to improve at it — I owe very much to her. And in this, along with countless other examples of grace and care and love she provided, she has enriched every day of my life.