My grandmother, the Queen of Bayonne

My grandmother, Gwendolyn Stock, passed away this morning at the age of 99 years and 9 months. She was the last of her generation: she outlived all of her 10 brothers and sisters by many years. She was married to my incredible grandfather Barney for over 60 years before he passed, and now they are finally together again, probably dancing up a storm.

Born in Montreal, Canada, she always considered herself one of the Queen’s subjects. I remember waking up at dawn in the summer of 1981 so we could watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding on TV. She also dressed like royalty. She once proudly showed me her new fox coat – “Isn’t it gorgeous?” she asked. I started to give her a cruelty to animals speech, and she quickly overruled me, saying, “Marc, you don’t understand. It’s GORGEOUS.” End of discussion.

Gwen started to paint in her 60s – her home was filled with her copies of Impressionist masterworks. She insisted on attaching a note to the back of each painting saying that it was painted by her, just so no one would try to pass one off as the real thing. When I was about 7, she tried her hand at sculpting and sculpted a bust of me out of clay. When I told her that it didn’t really look like me, she simply replied, “It will.” Sure enough, by the time I turned 13, it did.

Even at age 95, she would walk into a restaurant in Bayonne, New Jersey, where my grandfather had his clothing store that my Uncle Mel still runs, and the restaurant would go silent. I would hear people whisper in awe, “That’s Gwen Stock!” No matter where we went, she would wave her cane as if she owned the place, called everyone “dear” or “darling”, and people did whatever she asked.

Opinionated, elegant, impulsive, funny, and very stubborn, she was a true character. I quote her regularly – one of my favorites is, “Don’t ever eat off plastic plates. It doesn’t taste the same.” I have a lifetime of memories of her, and I am lucky to have had her in my life for as many years as I did.

This is one of the last pictures I have of us together. She was 92 years old, and the driver had gotten lost on the way to my cousin Joanne’s wedding.  When she arrived, she was quite annoyed.  I asked her how she was doing, and she exclaimed, “They should have buried me a year ago!”

Grandma, we miss you, we love you, and we will NEVER forget you.

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2 responses to “My grandmother, the Queen of Bayonne

  1. “Marc, you don’t understand. It’s GORGEOUS.” End of discussion.

    This made me literally laugh out loud and spit out my tea. What a character, and what a great grandma to have had! Your tribute is beautiful. XO

  2. Hi Marc,

    When one reaches a certain age, it becomes more of a celebration of life. That truly was the case with your grandmother, Mrs. Stock. My family and I live next door to her and I always wondered where she had been. I thought that the apartment was rented. I have many, many great memories of your grandmother (and yes, it was always appropriate to address her as “Mrs. Stock”). I played the Turkish Rondo on her piano, I critiqued many of her masterpieces, even remarking once that it resembled Matisse so clearly that it looked like something out of Janson’s. She quipped, “you are EVER the art historian.” Always quick with her wit, she never was afraid to approve of my wardrobe or my new shoes, equally correcting everything in French.
    As I write this, I still have the fabric bag with my initials that she gave me and held my piano books.

    Vive la Gwen!

    P.S. I have a quite a few more stories to share, perhaps you can email me?

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