By Kylie Blanchard

I suppose I can’t say my Grandma Evelyn has changed THE world, but it is safe to say she has changed MY world.

Growing up, I thought everyone had a “Grandma Evelyn.” The kind of Grandma who made caramel rolls on weekends, the aroma of homemade dough and sticky caramel drawing you sleepy-eyed and smiling to her cozy kitchen. The kind of Grandma who organized pre-bedtime bingo and card games complete with prizes for all the winners, which meant everyone. The kind of Grandma who happily stayed with you when your parents vacationed; who attended your school and sporting events in a coat adorned with picture buttons of the various family athletes; and who never let birthdays pass without a card in the mail. The kind of Grandma who stayed up late, laughed at your silly jokes, bent the rules in the name of fun and memories, and made you feel loved in hundreds of little ways.

For many years I thought everyone had a “Grandma Evelyn” but, as I have grown older, I have come to realize how lucky I am to have THE Grandma Evelyn in my life. And, yes, she is still doing most of those wonderful Grandma things and, yes, they are still making me feel loved.

To tell Grandma Evelyn she is an inspiration would surely evoke a sigh and a quick brush of her hands through the air as to disperse such a statement. “Oh, I am nothing special,” she would say, a response on which I am willing to bet. But Grandma Evelyn truly is inspirational in many ways.

She is a strong, independent woman and, for as long as I can remember, she has always been busy taking care of her family and her home, tending to her large garden and lawn (only this past summer retiring from push-mowing her lawn and growing a large garden at the tender age of 81), traveling to see her children and grandchildren, playing cards and games, “walking uptown” to visit friends, the cafe and the post office, and cooking one or more of her delicious signature dishes.

She is a survivor of breast cancer. Facing her diagnosis in 2004 with courage and the request that we not worry too much about her after her surgery and during her recovery, she is now cancer free.

She is a woman of faith. She puts her trust in God and has lived as an example for her family in leading a Christian life. She spends time in devotion and prayer and plays beautiful hymns on her home piano as well as in church.

The youngest of eight children and the only girl, she followed eight years after her nearest siblings, twin brothers. She was the talk of the town upon her arrival as the surprise girl in a family of strapping boys. Clearly, she has been a special lady from the beginning. She has many stories of her family, the farm, and growing up in the small rural North Dakota community where she lives today. After her brothers were grown, Grandma continued to help her parents, and I believe this is where she began to develop her strong caring spirit. She raised four beautiful daughters and now also plays an important role in the lives of 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren; as well as son-in-laws, grandchildren-in-laws, and many others who call her “Grandma Evelyn.”

But what is truly inspiring about Grandma is her capacity to simply love. While doing the “little things” for her family and friends, there is never an overriding feeling of obligation, it just seems to come to her naturally. Even as her grandchildren have grown into adulthood, and her family expands with marriages and births, she continues to take the same approach to showing love and carry on the traditions she knows we love.

One of my favorite traditions begins each year on Christmas morning when Grandma Evelyn disappears behind closed doors. We all sit smiling with anticipation as we listen to the familiar crisp ruffling of shopping bags and wait for the door to open. Soon the Christmas-clad, red-sack-hauling “Grandma Santa” emerges, shuffling down the hallway in her festive sweater, reindeer socks pulled high out of her boots, red gloves adorned with “ho-ho-ho,” and Santa hat with a big white ball bouncing in time with her steps.

She dives into her velvety bag, picking out gifts and loudly announcing the name of each recipient until each of her children, grandchildren, grandchildren-in-laws, great-grandchildren, and friends in attendance has received a present. And although her youngest grandchild is now 18, she continues with this tradition because it is her way of showing us an extra dash of love during the holidays. I believe she has just as much fun seeing our smiles and hearing our laughter as she scoots around the room as we do in watching her play “Grandma Santa.”

What Grandma Evelyn gives to us isn’t extravagant, expensive or over the top, instead it is amazing, priceless and wonderful. Her greatest gift is just being who she is and her ability to simply love. This is a gift I will accept from her any day.

As her age has inevitably, and much to her dismay, slowed her, I am glad she has been such a great example in doing the little things for others that often get overlooked or taken for granted. It’s our turn now to give back and show our love through helping her. She has truly inspired me to not overlook loving my family and friends simply and also simply loving them. Because it is truly the simple actions that can fill a person’s heart and make them feel loved.

Kylie Blanchard is a local writer. She is also a self-diagnosed chocoholic, just like her Grandma Evelyn.