A special lady who is very dear to my heart turns 90 years old today: my maternal grandmother, Bessie Lee (Gray) Gotto.
My siblings and I orchestrated a big birthday celebration for her this past weekend as well as a surprise gift, both of which called for some custom design work by yours truly. First the invite to the party:
My Granny has written a handful of verses over the years, until recently recorded only by her own hand in various notebooks which she kept. As a birthday surprise, we decided to have them “published” and presented to her in a book-length format. I created a custom-designed photo book—hard bound with a dust jacket—which features one of her poems on each right-hand page, complemented by photos of her, my late grandfather, and other family members on each of the facing pages.
As expected, the book was a big hit not only with her, but also with many extended family members and friends who attended the party and were able to view some sample copies that were on hand. Orders for several more copies were placed at the gathering, beyond the initial set which was ordered for my Granny and for the immediate family. A pdf of the entire book (minus the back cover and dust jacket flaps) is available for download here.
As a final tribute to my Granny on this day, I will close with the following bio, taken from the inside flap of the book’s dust jacket:
Bessie Lee Gray was born March 8, 1921, in Davidson County, Tennessee, to Alex Turner Gray and Annie Elizabeth Hulan. Her parents, both having survived their previous spouses, brought a total of seven children into the new marriage, thus making Bessie, the only offspring of their union, the eighth child of the household and the baby of their blended family. Her mother died in 1936, just a month after Bessie’s fifteenth birthday. On February 28, 1938—just a few days shy of seventeen—Bessie married Clarence Gotto. Together they had one surviving daughter, Cheryl Janice. The couple spent most of their years together living in Nashville, Tennessee, until Clarence passed away in the summer of 1976. The sadness of her husband’s relatively early death tinges much of the poetry in this collection. But, despite this tragic loss, Bessie is recognized by all who know her decades later as a lively personality and an uncommonly quick wit—one who enjoys nothing more than a good time, spent with loved ones, and filled with smiles, laughter and fun. She continues to live out her remaining years in the company of her daughter and her family, which includes five grandchildren and (as of this writing) ten great-grandchildren.