Althea Mae Koerth (1923-2011)


Early Thursday morning, while my Dad held her hand, the best Grammy in the entire world passed away. I made it to Kansas just in time to see her, and talk with her, before she died.

I wasn't sure whether I was going to post anything here about it, but I want something out there, semi-permanent, bearing witness to the fact that this woman was amazing. Grammy was a Maker. She was my inspiration as a bookworm, a smartypants girl, and a Happy Mutant.

Althea was a knitter, who made sweaters for everyone in the family—upwards of a dozen people—every Christmas. She made afghans. She did needlepoint. She made teeny little hats that were donated to premature infants.

She also made toys. In 4th grade, I saved up enough money to buy a Felicity doll, one of those American Girls dolls that came with a book and a catalog full of expensive accessories. Grammy bought a book of dress patterns that Christmas and made all the beautiful gowns that I couldn't afford. She turned muslin and stuffing into whole dolls. She even made knock-off Pound Puppies for my cousins and me, complete with an embroidered logo on the puppies' rear ends, so they looked real.

Up until maybe 6 years ago, there wasn't a crumb of bread in her house that she hadn't made. Grammy bread was incredible stuff. The baked dough formed a texture like dense honeycomb. You could toast store-bought bread. But why would you? The butter just sits on top, even melted. Toasted Grammy bread was something else entirely. Butter infused into it. Peanut butter seemed to become one with the bread. Even in a cold-cut sandwich, Grammy bread was part of the flavor of the dish, not just something to hold the meat together.

Grammy Althea made cookies, too. And cakes and pies. She picked the flavors special, just for the people who would be eating them. Christmas cookies weren't random. When you looked at them all, laid out on the tray, you knew who each cookie flavor "belonged" to. The jam thumbprints, coated in a layer of crushed black walnuts, were mine. The oatmeal chocolate chip were my Dad's. It was always like that. My second cousin, Beth, remembers Grammy making lemon meringue pie every time Beth came to visit. Nobody else really liked lemon meringue. Grammy made that pie because she knew how happy it made Beth.

Grammy went above and beyond the call of the crafty grandma. To me, she was like a third parent. I spent weekends and summer weeks with her and my Grandpa. In grade school, she was often the one to pick me up after class on Friday. When my Mom and I moved two hours away, she still met Mom halfway to get me, and sometimes drove all the way there and stayed with us. In a childhood that involved a lot of new houses and new schools, Grammy was my stability. Together, we spent hours at the library. We watched the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour on PBS. We played brain teasers and board games. We went to the KU Natural History museum, and we went on long walks. I could tell her anything. She would always be there. She would always love me. She was one of my best friends, and I am going to miss her as long as I live.