Maxine Puhalski



April 15th 1926. A personal legend was born and my middle namesake. This beautiful woman has graced this earth with her spitfire presence for 90 years come Friday. Betty White ain’t got nothing on this broad.

She is the oldest of four siblings, a mother of five, and a grandmother to…I lost count. Anyway, this woman, is my ultimate idol and one of the best storytellers I know. When she was young, probably no more than eleven she would grocery shop for neighbors to earn money. She dropped off the groceries, opened the refrigerator, and put away what she had to. Spying hot dogs, her favorite food…ever, she grabbed one and rushed from the house all the way back home. Back then her family was very poor, and all she wanted was “one stinky little hotdog” as she calls it. Boy, did she ever get in trouble. For the rest of her life she remembered the incident, and so did her siblings – she set an example without ever meaning to.

Her rebellious streak didn’t stop there. This is perhaps my favorite story of her ever. Back then, she was a dancer. And drop dead gorgeous. She wanted everything out of life -another trait I inherited- and one day she wanted to go horseback riding. Her mother told her no, and although despite the previous story  she usually did listen, but  this time she really wanted to go. So she did.

Fate got the best of her. And she fell of the horse. Back then priests visited the house for everything, and this was no different. This time however, the priest brought a young man who was shadowing him. And that young man, was handsome, sweet…and turned out to be my grandpa. She knew. She knew the whole time how much she loved him. In fact when I ask her about it, she now tells me the truth of a lot of their fairytales I’d heard growing up. That she threw her engagement ring out the car window when he proposed, not because she didn’t want to, but because she thought the ring was ‘too damn small’.  How she woke her brother up in the middle of the night to look for that ring because she knew he was the one. And it wasn’t this magical over the moon feeling, he was her partner. Any battle that came their way, he was the equal she wanted to fight the world with. When I asked how out of every man lshe’d ever dated, how I would know, she said, “you will know”. That’s it, no scientific explanation, no grandeur magical fairies.

The lesson I understand though, I wake up everyday even if it sucks, and know I’m where I’m meant to be. I know the friends I’ve met are supposed to be there for a reason. Some of them I know in my core will be there forever. I have never felt this way about a man I’ve dated. I’ve known  we’re not done – and shocker, we weren’t. And I’ve known we were done long before we went our separate ways.

My grandfather’s death was one of the most shocking moments of my life, growing up they were both immortal to me. It was 4:13 am when we arrived at the hospital and the doors were still locked. I was the only one small enough to get through and ask for someone to unlock them for the rest of my family. Standing in the doorway to his room, my body stopped, because the strongest woman I have ever known looked devastated for the first time in my life. The minute she saw me, she swallowed, and pulled all her strength back together. In this moment, I admired her and loved her more than ever because she was truly human. She is so much more than a wife, and a mother. When her partner fell, she picked up the world even higher. She loved him more than I have ever seen anyone love another.

And she loves herself. She is so exuberantly true to herself it drives me bonkers-in the best way possible. She puts my generation to shame, having a kid with her at work, while she slugged through working full time at a candy factory and still having dinner on the table when her husband got home. She’s read every book ever made, sacrificed her own high school degree to help her family, and is still the smartest woman I know. She mixes logic and heart so they meet in the middle and form the best decision possible. She is absolutely perfect. 

To the outside world, she is this average woman in middle America, but to me and who ever reads this, hopefully… she is a superhero in all senses.

Happy 90th Birthday, Grandma! 

Love you – XOXO

-Lexcee Riley