A Dedication: Dorothy M. VonBuren, 1915-2013

If you live to be 98 years old, you’ll more than likely have the good fortune of having your life celebrated; not mourned. And thus is the case with my great-grandmother, Dorothy. Born in April 1915, she passed away on August 2.

To put that amount of life into context, consider the circumstances into which she was born:

  • Woodrow Wilson was president
  • World War I was being fought
  • Women weren’t allowed to vote
  • Babe Ruth hit his 1st ever home run
  • The first stop sign was created
  • Orson Welles was born
  • The average home cost was $5,600


In all, she lived through 16 U.S. presidents, saw women earn the right to vote, experienced prohibition, the roaring 20s, the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, a man on the moon and…well, you get the point. She lived just 20 months shy of an entire century.

And what 28 year old can say he had a living great grandparent for that long? It’s an overused expression, but I have been, and still am, blessed.

Not only that, but I was fortunate to have a great relationship with her. At some point, I recognized that each passing year was an incredible stroke of good fortune. And every time I’d return to Rochester to visit family, I’d call her to plan a visit.

We’d cozy up in the living room of her one bedroom apartment. The modest space was decorated with the same artwork and furniture that had been there when she first moved in, but the space hardly stayed the same. There was a never-ending flow of pictures of newborns, toddlers, school-aged kids, teenagers, adults and even her own senior citizen children. There were coloring book pages scattered about, too, like a living, evolving museum of family life managed by a silver-haired aspiring centenarian.

The chosen décor at her spot on Alden Road would’ve been an interior designer’s worst nightmare; for her, it was the wellspring that sustained her as she marched toward 100.

When we would talk, she would sit on an old, light blue recliner chair in the living room; I would sit across from her on the matching Davenport (you’d never hear great grandma call this piece of furniture ‘a couch.’)

And she’d tell me stories. It was always about the people in the photographs, or the artists behind the coloring book pages – children, either hers, those of her friends, or of her numerous (37 in all) grandchildren. Rarely did she utter a word about herself and if I ever heard her complain, it was about “that damn weather.”

She had a great spirit – and an even better sense of humor. Three months ago, after being placed in a nursing home, my parents, sister and I paid her a visit. My father asked her nonchalantly if she planned to stay in the room the rest of the night, and she quipped “Do you think I plan on going out to party instead?”

She was always quick-witted like that and smiling, too. I called her every few weeks and you could just hear the joy pour out of her when she recognized the voice on the other line.

All of our calls ended the same way, too. She’d tell me to be good. I’d tell her not to stay out drinking all night. She’d tell me that she couldn’t promise that.

I’ll remember all of those things about her. I’ll remember that for nearly 17 years, 10 or 12 of us would meet at her apartment on Sunday mornings for coffee, Kaiser rolls and Coogan, a traditional German breakfast pastry.

I’ll remember her strong hugs despite her slight frame, and I’ll remember her kisses.

She left a legacy; a big family that often times couldn’t agree on much more than the fact that we adored, loved and cherished her. And if you’re able to leave this earth and have people talk about your memory in that manner, then you did a fine job of living. My great-grandmother is one of those people.

On the morning that she passed, my grandparents and my parents, after saying their goodbyes, went out to breakfast. On a newspaper dispenser near the door of the restaurant, a sign was posted that read “I’m almost there.”

By now, I know that she is.

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