My grandmother was a little girl when she announced to the amusement of all that she wanted to have "16 children, all white and mostly babies." She surpassed that mark with 5 children, 15 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. That's only part of the story, though, as she opened her arms and her home to legions of neighborhood kids, family friends, stray dogs, and even a torpedoed British mariner whose ship went down off Massachusetts, and who only knew one family in America: the previous owner of my Grandparents' home in Brookline. No matter; they invited him in and would maintain a decades long correspondence.
She adored children and they were drawn to her, even late in life when time had confused her mind. There was always that spark in her eye and a transcendent joie de vivre. A visit to Gran's was to enter a permissive world where children had the freedom to explore and everyone could be secure in our Grandmother's love and interest in who we were, no matter how small or the buffets that life had dealt us.
I learned to swim and ride a pony, to whistle and skip and sail at Gran's, for there never was a home where hospitality was such a watchword as Windrock in the Summer when the family was down for the season. Unless it was Christmas in Brookline, with an enormous tree dominating one of the formal rooms that my Grandfather bought at the last minute when there were bargains to be had and set up on Christmas Eve, or Thanksgiving around the groaning board when 18 at the grownup's table was about average.
"...You will be interested to know that I used Athalia and Mr. Ogden in a sermon a few weeks ago. I was preaching on cheerfulness and what a great service one could give the world these days by giving it cheerfulness. I spoke of what your dear husband told me some years ago when Athalia was small - about her always being with him for breakfast and how by her bright and cheery spirit she always braced him up for the day, and that he asked her if she always felt cheerful in the morning, and that she told him that she did not always feel so, but that she felt a duty to be cheerful. And then I spoke of the duty of that virtue, and that whatever Athalia gave to the world - and I knew it would be much - I was sure she could render no greater service than to cheer it up...Athalia will always spread the sunshine around her." - Norton Houser