Franzi’s Blog: Monica Benefiel Pylant, 1916-2016
She was known to all of us as “Grand Mama”. She was Kathy and my next door neighbor for over 40 years, and our kids had the rare privilege of sharing her and their Grand Daddy Chester until his death in 1984.
Next door neighbors and in-laws can often be vexing when in close proximity. Having Grand Mama nearby was a total delight, from the books we exchanged to the meals we shared daily (unlike Kathy, I had someone to share really spicy stuff with) to being my opera and symphony companion. She is deeply missed.
She graduated from Miami University with a BA in the 1930’s when few women went to anything besides teacher’s colleges. Having spent many hours going through her large library, it is clear that she was broadly educated. Beyond several hundred mystery novels now being distributed to some folks who share a love of that genre (as I believe she would’ve wanted as I would want to be done with my westerns), there are large pockets of biographies, history, religion, grammars and dictionaries, art, and several feet of solid classic literature.
Her filing system at first seemed chaotic until I grasped that it was done by SIZE. She adapted to a shelving system that wasn’t adjustable accordingly, which is why I found Kipling in five different places! (Unfortunately, we don’t find him in many others today. A friend has a daughter with a degree from Oxford in English Lit. She knew nothing of old Rudyard – he is now ignored or worse.)
Monica’s shelving system illustrates her adaptability, no doubt stemming from over a decade of being a navy wife who had to adapt to many moves until the Pylants – Chester, Monica, Andrea, Kathy and Charlotte – came to Tucson in 1959.
She was a delight to have as a partner for the TSO concerts and Arizona Opera. She liked to reminisce about going to the MET as a child and noting operas she saw then like CARMEN and FAUST. She even remembered the conductor Walter Damrosch from the 1920’s. TSO Music Director George Hanson’s jaw dropped when I told him that one.
One anecdote from 2011 and a performance of Puccini’s TURANDOT. She noted that she didn’t recall seeing it as a child. I responded with “well, Monica it hadn’t been written yet.” She smiled coyly and noted “ oh, you’re right.”
I also recall her tenure as a state CPS employee until her retirement in 1981. She was housed in the H & W Building as was I working for Pima County Physical Plant. She told me (with a straight face) that she let her colleagues know that her son-in-law had a very important job – “he’s who you call when there’s no toilet paper.”
We moved through many generations of cats and dogs, particularly when three kids plus a couple of fosters named Coleen and Demetria where always finding some animal waif to bring aboard. In 2001 her last dog, a golden from daughter Andrea’s kennel delivered from Spokane, finally passéd. I spotted a beautiful Australian shepherd named Max at the Humane Society section at PetsMart and adopted him for her. Told her he was clearly a wandering bum and couldn’t be trusted to stay home, so he’d need walking twice a day. She did that until 2013 when she left to stay with Andrea in Green Valley “for a while”. Worked well for both her and Max.
Max was a year old when Grand Mama Monica was 85. Figured we’d probably end up with him. She outlived him by a year.
After all those years as a navy gypsy, Chester, Monica, and us settled at our current location in the Tortolitas in 1973. Monica spent 40+ years in the same house. After Chester’s death, she spent many years traveling all over the world from Europe and the British Isles to Australia and Pacific islands like Tahiti. She brought back pics of a balloon ride she took in the Outback.
The kids had a standing joke about her many travels – that she was really a super CIA spook who was so low key nobody would suspect her. They validated that every time she went somewhere close to a newsworthy event! When she told us about her next trip – Egypt, New Zealand, wherever – the kids would say they’d be checking the news for some important happening because they KNEW the spooks were sending her.
She was fascinated by lighthouses and the large map in the guest bedroom on the wall that contains those in the USA will be left as a reminder to those who stay there later after the house is reconditioned. She was also interested in items depicting both buffalos (bison type) and moose (mooses?) Much of the art hung on her walls were from paintings from the very able artist that was her mom.
She moved to GV at the end of 2013 while I was recovering from cancer surgery, I believe planning to ultimately return. She never did and the dementia grew but she had a pretty clear handle on things well into her 90’s.
Noting many females and a few males who lived into their 90’s and a even a few centenarians in both her and my family history, the life expectancy for Carroll, Monica, Rebecca and Julia should stretch well into the 21st Century, as should Andrea’s daughter Christina and her daughter Sarah.
Grand Mama was a unique person. May we all remember her in our own ways. I know we all miss her.
Emil Franiz is the Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Quit accusing him of using his high school picture in his columns. Because he is!