How Many Grandkids Exactly Do I Have Again?

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Courtesy photo

Noreen Britton Minkler is the child pictured at left attending her Aunt Nancy's graduation. Aunt Nancy is Susan Dromey Heeter's mom.

By Susan Dromey Heeter, Joyful Musings

My Grandmother Footit once asked me to write down the names of all of her grandchildren; she was never very clear on the exact amount she had but as a mother to eight, she simply knew there were a lot.  And indeed there were; that day I counted forty.

Is that Sir Luc with Susan Dromey Heeter?

As I continue to muse joyfully on big families, I think of the myriad of Grandmother Footit’s grandchildren, my brothers, sisters and cousins.  And I think in particular of one of those forty whose life ended much too soon, Noreen Britton Minkler.

Noreen was one of the earlier grandchildren; I suspect Grandmother Footit even knew her name; the rest she called, “darlin.”  But Noreen, a grandmother herself, knew the names of not only her own precious granddaughters, but celebrated and loved so many of those 40 first cousins.

I recently found a picture of Noreen at my mother’s college graduation.  Noreen is about six with long braids and stands between two women in the lower left of the picture, one of whom is Grandmother Footit.  Truth be told, Noreen’s head is enveloped by their massive chests, her little six year old braids almost lost between the breasts that, undoubtedly, had nursed a plethora of babies.

And I think of Noreen looking at this picture, laughing uproariously and sharing the memories of her Aunt Nancy’s college graduation, recalling the excitement of her six year old self at such a major event.

And Noreen laughed. A lot. And spoke her mind. When we travelled together down to our Uncle Doug’s funeral, Noreen told stories on the way from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, sharing family lore as only an older cousin can.

When we followed my brother to the church for the funeral mass and watched him go into a Dunkin Donuts to ask for directions, she was furious when he’d left his three-month-old son in the car. I thought she was going to punch him when he came out.

“John Bernard! What do you think you’re doing?” she yelled.  John sheepishly confessed, “Well, I could see him from inside.”

To Noreen and to most of my cousins, my brother John is known as John Bernard as John is the name to at least four other of the grandchildren.  Mary is another name where middle or last names are vital, Mary Louise can be differentiated from Mary Catherine or Mary Jean.

But Noreen was unique – with both her name and her style.  Noreen could cook and bake like no other. Her hot fudge was astonishingly wonderful, she delighted in recipes and food.  And anything she orchestrated in her kitchen was stellar – so entirely wonderful, buttery, high calorie joy.

Noreen told me that those braids she’d sported as a child were simply cut off one day; the braids intact, and she saved them somewhere, held on to the tangible memories of childhood.  And I hold on to the intangibles of Noreen – her laugh, her strong opinions, her wonderful recipes.

Godspeed, Noreen, and we’ll keep an eye on that John Bernard for you. And should he ever leave another baby in a car, we’ll punch that dopey benny right in the nose.

Susan Dromey Heeter, a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white, writes “Joyful Musings” for InDepthNH.org. Dromey Heeter is a secondary Spanish Teacher at Dover High School and the mother of two teenage daughters.  Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards. She also writes about thrift shopping and all things frugal  in a column called “Budget Vogue” for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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