If you asked me who the most influential people have been in my life, I'd give you a list comprised of writers, civil rights activists, children, musicians, teachers and my closest friends and family including my grandmother, Iva.
I can tell you without hesitation what valuable lesson she taught me: to be a fearless girl. It may not seem like a big deal now, but I grew up in a generation where everyone still told girls what they could do and couldn't do and I had older brothers who said as much.
I don't recall she ever specifically sat me down and told me I could do anything if I set my mind to it. It was simply the environment she created, the stories she told, the pictures she shared, and the way she lived her life growing up, too. It was in her expectation of me.
At the tiny lakeside house where she lived, she taught me how to canoe by myself, how to bait a hook, catch a fish and clean it -- kinda gross, but a good skill to have.
She taught me how to make a bathing suit out of bandanas, how to mend worn socks, even how to identify and catch snakes with my bare hands, much to the disappointment of my older brothers who were too chicken to try. Iva taught me to believe in myself, in my ability to do the same things the bigger, older boys could do.
She also taught me how to make a killer sandwich, how to know when the apples in the orchard were ripe for picking, and how to make German pancakes that didn't collapse and pear bread that didn't turn to mush. It seemed she could do anything and knew everything.
I've told Grandma Iva plenty of times over the years just how much I love her, and how much she's taught me; I've always felt like we share something special. Then again, she's such an awesome grandmother that all of us grandkids feel that way about her.
But I'm not a little girl anymore, and Iva isn't the active, adventurous grandmother she used to be. Alzheimer's disease is clouding her mind. She knows I'm family, but she doesn't know my name. It's hard to know exactly what she remembers, or if she can still feel the connection the way she used too. It's a depressing, often heartbreaking reality, watching the essence of a person slowly slip away.
Rather than wallow in the sadness, I'm determined to remember my grandmother is more than the disease in her brain or her old age, or the pieces of her lost each day.
The Iva I know and love is still there, in my renewed determination to remain fearless. I am proud to be part of her legacy.