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Offbeat grandma passes out pre-Halloween cemetery treats

By JIM BUSEK • Oct 30, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Judy Eckler is not your typical grandmother.

Yes, she’s old enough. (“I don’t care if you tell my age,” she said to me. “I’m 74.”)

And like most “traditional” grandmas she’s retired and loves spending time with her grandchildren.

But even she admits: “I’m not a normal grandma, I know. I’m a lot more fun. I wake up every morning and wonder how I’m going to amuse myself.”

You might suspect as much after running into her in the rec center parking lot as I did recently. She emerged from her Prius wearing a neon green jacket and sporting a statement-making electric-red hair do.

Pert and fit, she was on her way to a session with her personal trainer.

But, remember, this is a story about her unique grandparenting style. It’s just one example, but I am guessing it’s symbolic of how she lives her life.

Why don’t I just let her tell it.

“I had planned this for a long time,” Judy said. “I told two of the girls at the beginning of summer that we were going to an undisclosed location sometime.

“I didn’t have a particular date in mind. But when I realized Amanda was going to be home (a few weeks ago), I decided to take the three that were here at the time--Amanda Springer a senior at the University of Toledo, Nicholas Hrivnak, a sophomore at UT and Jonathon Hrivnak, a senior at Edison.

“Originally, I was going to do it with just Amanda and (her cousin) Erin Hrivnak, but Erin was hiking in Colorado. I kept trying to figure out how to get them together. And they were really on me about it. They wanted to know where we were going. They kept trying to trip me up: “How long is it going to take to get there? What are some businesses that are nearby? Things like that.

“Anyhow, when it started getting colder, I thought I better just do it with the three I’ve got.

“First, I took them to Subway and told them to get whatever they wanted. ‘Oh, they said, it’s a picnic!’

“I just said, ‘Maybe.’

“Then we drove into Norwalk. Then on to New State Road. They were really guessing by then. ‘Oh, it’s got something to do with pumpkins and apples’ one of them said.

“Then they saw the sign for North Fairfield. Nicholas got on his phone to Google what was there. He started reciting ‘Volunteer Fire Department, museum, post office…there’s really not much there.’

“We turned left on 162, and they still couldn’t figure it out until we got about 50 yards from our destination and Nicholas said: ‘We’re going to the cemetery!’

“I said ‘Bingo!’

“My tombstone is there, mine and my husband’s.

“So we had a picnic at my tombstone.

“They said they were glad I wasn’t dead. So I said, ‘Well, then, let’s take a happy picture at my tombstone.’ Which we did.

“Then I said: ‘Let’s take a sad picture, too. Let’s pretend I’m dead. I told them to look like they’re mourning--rubbing their eyes, kind of sobbing. I had practiced a couple of weeks before when I was in the cemetery with two of my cousins. I laid on the ground in front of my tombstone like I was dead. Just for fun, you know. When you actually die, you don’t get to see people mourn you. So I thought it would be fun to see how people might behave at my funeral.

“After we got done eating and taking pictures, I pulled out a timer and gave them a challenge

“I had pictures of five different tombstones. Eleonore and Phil Lewis, my aunt and uncle. Then another aunt and uncle. And then two cousins. And my mother and father, John and Margaret Skinn.

“I gave them one of the pictures and said, ‘You have four minutes to find this tombstone. And if you do, I’ll give you 40 bucks apiece. Take picture of it on your phone. Then come back and get paid.

“The $40 one was farthest back in cemetery. My mother and father’s grave was real close so I just paid $10 for that one. All told, I paid out $140 apiece for finding the five tombstones.

“They get quite a bit of my money,” she laughed. “I’ve thought of a lot of things like this over the years.

“Anyhow, when they all got back with the first picture, I started to give them the second one. But Nicholas stopped me and said: ‘First, tell us a story about each of these people.’ It was nice that they said that, and it was nice that I got to tell them stories about their relatives.

“When we left the cemetery we went to the old North Fairfield school, then to the farm I was raised on, and on the way home I showed them where three other relatives of ours live.

“They loved it, absolutely. Of course, I was having more fun than anybody.

I said: “Wow, I’m going to have to figure out another undisclosed location to take you to.

“But all three of them said they didn’t think I could ever top this one.”

See what I mean? Not your typical grandma.

Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.

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