An exception for Eleanore

(Photo courtesy of Megan Savela)

By far, my biggest fan since I started writing has been Eleanore Kott.

Affectionately referred to as Great Grandma by my wife, via blood, and me, via respect and circumstance, she never let an article or column of mine pass without letting me know she read it, and loved it.

This is not surprising; she had nothing but love to share.

“Where do you come up with all that?” she’d ask in genuine awe.

I never knew how to answer. I sure didn’t have the heart to tell her whatever I wrote was probably constructed in 10 minutes, and came from a business-like responsibility to meet a word count and a deadline.

I always took a magician-never-reveals-his-secrets sort of stance. A shrug and an expression of gratitude for reading at all would suffice.

This week, I lost my biggest fan. More importantly, the world lost its best kept secret, and now lies without its brightest light of life. It had been tucked away in Manistee, Michigan for the past 95 years.

In this space, I’ve kept up a weekly column. I’ve resorted to writing 500 words on topics like “The Weather,” (Eleanore loved that one). Today, I’m using the same space for her, hopeful that she’ll somehow still read it.

Of course, my relationship with Eleanore wasn’t limited to writer and reader. I married her favorite great-granddaughter Megan, and supporting us in everything we did just came with the territory.

Born in 1916, Eleanore Heuck was destined for a fruitful life, long and loving. World Wars sandwiched a Great Depression, and she endured it all.

She married the love of her life Eugene Kott in 1937, said her final Earthly goodbyes to him in 1982, and continued to wear her wedding ring in 2012.

She gave birth to two children, one of whom gave birth to two more, one of whom gave birth to three, one of whom I married last summer.

In a flourishing family tree, there are branches and then there are roots, soil, and rock. Eleanore epitomized the latter.

For 45 years, she ran the bar at First Street Tavern. She’d later tell us stories about the evolution of Manistee, passing through her life as patrons.

To my surprise and curious delight, she’d sometimes boast about being tough as nails behind her bar. I suppose you don’t fall five years short of a century on this Earth without an edge.

But Eleanore, as I knew her, was a darling and gentle soul — the most darling and gentle I’ve ever met.

She burst at the seams with spirit — the kind that could make an atheist regretful and an agnostic commit — and her beam would make you feel guilty about your petty problems, and wonderful about what life can be.

She was famous for hugging people she didn’t know and squeezing the ones she loved. Strangers were friends, friends were family, and family was her pulse.

She’d tell us time and again we were key to her longevity. She’d pull me and Megan aside at many family gatherings to tell us to stick together. Not in a make-this-marriage-last sort of way, rather make this marriage work: “Couples that play together, pray together, stay together.”

At Thanksgivings, Christmases and birthdays she’d insist on all our linked hands, and lead us in prayer: “Lord, I thank you for my family,” she’d say as her fragile voice rippled with the last word, referring to us, her hungry branches, tangled around the table and orbiting around our rock.

Eleanore’s jovial birthday party this past December was further proof she’d live forever. It certainly seemed like she could have, and she’s one of the few people who probably should have. In my naivety, that’s what I believed. If she was a child at heart at 95, why couldn’t I be at 25?

Early Monday morning, she passed away.

Early Wednesday morning, I’m composed enough to write this.

And I’m willing to make an exception for Eleanore with full faith she still has an ear out to hear my answer.

The humbled magician relents:

Great Grandma, this is from my sad soul and envious spirit. Not up my sleeve, but on it, every word drips from my heavy heart. I love you with it all.

Your family feels a little lost right now. Please forgive us; we deeply miss our rock.

But if you’ve taught us anything, it’s this: Together, we’ll find it’s still there.

We promise to stay in orbit.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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