My grandmother died in April, and I miss her. I didn’t get to see her often, but I miss her being out there. She was one of a kind. She would have been 91 years old today.

I am still surprised that she died, even at 90. Its hard to imagine anything happening to her that she had not decided on. She may have had the strongest will I have ever encountered.

An example: One evening, in her mid-80s, I asked her how to successfully quit smoking.  Several people I cared about were addicted to cigarettes and having trouble quitting.  She said, “Oh, quitting smoking is easy.  You just decide never to smoke another cigarette again, and then you never do.” She told me how, in her mid-70s, after smoking heavily since she was thirteen years old, and after only one day of reflection, quit cold-turkey with a carton of cigarettes still in her pantry, never to smoke again.

Who does that? I got the sense that it actually was easy for her. The difficulty of self-discipline was like a speck of dust in the way of her ambition. She was born to a subsistence farmer in 1920, in a town in Tennessee which still has no more than a few hundred people. She died the most respected woman in her wealthy retirement city in Florida, and don’t think that’s hyperbole. She mastered that game, and many others. She was a state-ranked tennis player, competitive golfer, and all-round athlete. She had been a successful fashion model and produced fashion shows late into her life.

Not everything went her way, of course. She had her share of disappointment and, I think, a good deal more than her share of tragedy. By the time I knew her, though, she was in control. She had what she wanted, said what she wanted, and got what she wanted. I really appreciated how frank she was with her opinions, and how she expected the same from me. “The problem with your hairstyle,” she said once, “is that you don’t have a hairstyle. It’s just all tousled, like a little girl.” I thought that was hilarious and asked her to show me the “right” way to part my hair. It turned out that she knew the right way to handle every detail of everyone’s life, which the anthropologist in me had a ball with.

I appreciated how well she loved the fine things in life, fancy food, elegant clothes and jewelry, dancing to a good swing band, just-so etiquette, her town, her friends, watching the sun set. I feel sad that I will never watch the sun set over the Caribbean with her again. “We’re lucky here,” she would say. “This is the most beautiful place in the world. Sometime when the sun sets you can see a green flash. Watch for it!” I appreciated how she would crow over me when I danced with her, or “how handsome” I looked, dressed up, hair parted just right.

Sadly, I have lost the only photo that exists of myself as an adult with her. I also do not have a copy of the one photo of myself as a child with her. This is all I have, but it is appropriate. I think she would like to be remembered this way:

My Grandmother, 1950s