She was born in Exeter, Devonshire, England in 1928. Her town was targeted by 18 Nazi air raids during WWII and she told us many times about the metal cage they had in their home so that when there was an air raid they could climb inside and be protected in case their home was hit and collapsed on them. My grandma was known to say "England is my homeland, but America is my country". She came to the United States at age 17(!) as a war bride, knowing no one but her new husband. She went from a modern, suburban life in England as essentially a schoolgirl in her parents' home to life as a wife and very soon a young mother in a very rural home with no indoor plumbing. When she would wash her first daughter's diapers in the winter she would have to hang them on a line indoors and they would freeze. Solid. She kept her home immaculate. IMMACULATE as in it looks like it was hermetically sealed in 1955 when it was built and nobody ever crossed the threshold again. But people did cross the threshold. She raised 5 children in that home and welcomed 15 grandchildren and 20(and counting) great grandchildren. She just never stopped. She never stopped cooking and cleaning and gardening and learning. She was a force.
She followed the news very closely and always knew the ins and out of everything that was going on here in the US as well as at home in England. She kept a close eye on the Weather Channel and was quick with a phone call whenever something serious was going to hit an area of the country where one of her grandchildren had settled. She watched the financial news and was extremely well informed about what it all meant for her savings, which she recorded meticulously.
One of my favorite stories about my Grandma was a time that I drove her to the bank. I can't remember now exactly when it was but I think it was about 9 years ago. Anyway, I drove her to the bank because her CD's were coming due and she had to do some stuff with interest rates and who knows what. I'll tell you who knew what--she knew what. Oh my goodness. She came in there, quite elderly at that point, unable to see particularly well, with all of her calculations written on the back of an envelope. She had calculated what the new rate on her CD should be based on the financial news and "what Mr. Greenspan said".
Have you ever seen those posters at the bank where they try to sell you CD's and they write interest rates on it with a sharpie to make you think they're on top of things? It turns out they're not that on top of things, but Grandma sure was. We were ushered into the cubicle of a poor young man who had no clue who he was dealing with. My grandmother began to discuss the business she had to complete and he began telling her that the rate on the poster was the rate that they would be using for this upcoming term on her CD's, and that Grandma could expect a return of x amount. Well, that did not match what was on the envelope or what Mr. Greenspan had to say...so...there was work to be done.
I was getting a bit nervous at this point because honestly I didn't understand a word of what they were discussing and my Grandma's calculations on the envelope were out to the 3rd decimal place and I hate math and I'm the kind of rube who would believe that the numbers on a poster at the bank are accurate. I had no clue who was right. I had no clue how this would play out, and I had never really observed my Grandma like this, out in the world. Grandma walked him through her numbers, which he conceded were correct, but could not be used until somesuch day. So, Grandma very politely and patiently walked him through it again because she literally knew his business better than he did. At this point the poor guy didn't know whether he was coming or going. Grandma sensed this and reached across the desk and put her hand on his arm and said: "Am I troubling you Derrick?" and I had to stifle a fit of giggles because it all seemed so hilarious. At some point a manager showed up and after some more back and forth guess what? Grandma and her envelope won. After a short and very polite speech about what people's unbridled borrowing is doing to the savers in this country Grandma was on her way with her CD's all squared away.
I will never forget that day for so many reasons. I knew my Grandma was really smart, everyone in her family was and you knew just from talking to her that she was sharp, but to see that kind of knowledge collected and calculated all on her own on the back of an envelope and used to school a bank--it was breathtaking. Even more breathtaking was the incredible, unshakable grace and politeness with which the entire matter was handled. Many people in her situation would have given up, and many more would have lost their cool and been loud or obnoxious to try to get their point across. She was just simply unflappable and polite. I still chuckle to myself everytime I think of the phrase "Am I troubling you Derrick?". Poor guy had no idea what he was in for.
I want to tell you so much about her, about how she walked everywhere, even to get her groceries into her seventies and golfed for years. She'd get up at 5am to play and then walk home and get right to work making sure everything in her home was just so. When my Mom had her 4th and 5th babies and was working full time she would come over and clean the house and make dinner during the day and when we'd walk in the door we knew immediately that she'd been there because everything was perfect. If she was still there when we got home we would all fight over who went in the door first because she was starting to lose her hearing and we would always inadvertently scare her which we hated to do. We started coming in the door and SLAMMING it shut and then SLAMMING our backpacks onto the floor while kicking off our shoes and TALKING VERY LOUDLY because she was not only hard of hearing but was often vacuuming something to kingdom come that you didn't even know could or should be vacuumed. We still ended up scaring her most of the time, but she was always happy to see us.
That's the thing I really want you to know about her. She had 5 children, 15 grandchildren, and 20 great grandchildren but she had a way of saying your name and talking to you and about you that made you feel like you were the only one. She was just so proud of every little thing each of us did and always made sure we knew what all the cousins were up to. Somehow she always made you feel so incredibly important and special. A lot of it was all the normal stuff of growing up, but as long as you were trying, that was worth reporting. She just loved us, and we all felt it. People always worry about there being enough love in a big family, but my Grandma is proof that there is always enough love.
When my own family started growing beyond what society considers decent, my grandma once grabbed my hand in between both of hers told me "Don't let anyone make you feel badly about these children. I know it's hard now. It's so hard, but someday they won't need you anymore and you will be surrounded by such love, Nella. You will be surrounded by so much love."
She was surrounded by so much love. My Mom and her siblings cared for my Grandma so beautifully and so generously that she was able to live independently in her own home until the very end. Doris Rexford was a force to the very last moment, weeding her garden and getting it just so.
Thank you Grandma R, for surrounding US with so much love. If I am a quarter the woman you were, I'll have lived a life I can be proud of.