Sunday, January 17, 2010

Learning How to Say Goodbye

I've only once experienced the death of a loved one until now. The first was when I was only 12. It happened when I was in junior high. My uncle took his own life. He and my aunt were so good to me. I remember lots of trips to the beach, building sand castles, and playing with their ever lasting supply of poodles. When you're 12, death isn't real. It's not something that comes with great understanding. Frankly, I don't think age gives us that understanding either. My brother and I stayed at home that summer, while my parents flew back for the funeral. To this day, my grandmother still can't talk about it.

It's to my grandmother that I now must say goodbye. I selfishly want to be able for her to meet her future great grandchildren, for wanting her to be with our family for years to come. Instead, fate had other plans. So instead of saying goodbye, I'll say hello to all the wonderful things I remember about her --

All the times she took me to the club, where we had (and I still to this day think this) the world's best hamburgers. I remember eating a hamburger and having a root beer. I don't think I ever waiting a half hour before running back into the pool. She kept her membership for years after her body was willing to let her play golf just so us grandkids could go to the pool and have burgers during our summer breaks.

The one time, gosh I was so embarrassed, but laugh at something only a cantankerous grandmother can do, that she'd just picked me up from a cross-country flight and I was starving. We stopped at Burgerville (yum - I just avoid the "secret" sauce which I'm pretty sure isn't ketchup + thousand island dressing). We kept waiting and waiting at the drive through and to my horror, my grandmother yelled into the speaker "is this fast food or what?"

Or the time that we drove up the Gorge and she took me to tea The Gorge Hotel (back when it was still a grand old place). We stopped at Bonneville dam and told me all kinds of stories about working at BPA. It was a like a second family for her; she was a like a little den mother to all these reprobate line men who were getting a firm hand of guidance (and chocolate cookies from time to time). In return, she developed lasting friendships that she carried with her until she died.

She always remembered what us grandkids liked, and year after year made sure she got it for us. She helped us out when we needed it, giving me the present of paying off a small college loan when I graduated from undergraduate and giving us seed money for the 1st home ES and I purchased.

Even as I child I remember her having stuff, a lot of stuff. So much stuff that there was a path through the garage from her car to the door. So much stuff we just to joke about the Mickey Mouse doll she bought when I was 8 that was meant to be a Christmas present. It was never to be seen again. When we started going through her house, we found so many things that were never opened. Dishes and small appliances (although used) that made been meticulously put back in their original boxes and put back in the garage. I opened a closet and thought "if there's ever a wrapping paper famine, we'll not go uncovered." She had dozens of rolls for every conceivable occasion. Things to make bows, and ribbons.

Although the garage was choked full of stuff, she knew where everything was. If you'd ask her where the ziplock bags were, she'd tell you the 3rd cabinet past the baked beans, but before the creamed corn. Perhaps it was growing up when she did, as I think she was always afraid of running out of things, especially food. I think as she got older, it was more that the things became a substitute for having others around her. They gave her comfort and until she left the house, it remained relatively unchanged for years.

She was a great crafter. Evidence of this lies all over my parents house, mainly at Christmas. She made our Christmas stockings. We all still have ours, it's just that now we've integrated them into our own families. Tree skirts, Christmas decorations/hangups, bells, Christmas balls. She was very talented and looked arts and crafts. She only gave it up, when her arthritis got to be too much.

I remember that she was always taking me out - dinner, shopping, a drive. We had such fun together. I liked to give her a hard time and she gave it right back to me. Although I still remember the one time (I think I was 14 or 15), that I went into Nordstorms (just for a sec...turned into a lot longer than that) and she thought I had been kidnapped or something. This was days before cell phones and Amber alerts. She didn't take me shopping much after that for quite awhile. I think she was afraid on the next time in, I'd not come back.

She used to joke that I inherited her love of coats, purses, and shoes. Ask my husband, this is no joke.

She was working on a project for all the grandkids when she had her fall. She was sorting family photos (some way back to her childhood and before) for each of the grandkids. We stumbled upon the boxes in one of the bedrooms. We took out the boxes and started looking through photos. I'd ask my dad who this and that person was. Trouble is, without any writing, and lots of siblings on my grandmothers side (including twins with rhyming names - Merle and Earl) it was often difficult to tell. I found a few of my dad, including one where he and the neighborhood kids were making mud pies. Back before the toys did all your playing for you.

One memory that I wish I could have had was of her playing golf. She lived and breathed the sport. She was quite good in her day. And she had an amazing golf bag. Bright faux alligator skinned bag with professional clubs. Steel stafted. Today's clubs are graphite. These are a lot more friendly on the arms. Less reverb. They just have the panache however, of my grandma's clubs. She gave them to me when I moved out to NY and I have them to this day.

My mother and I went through boxes and boxes of my grandmother's jewelery. Most of the pieces were fancy costume pieces. She never pierced her ears, but she loved earrings. She also had dozens of broaches. Spangly and colorful. As we looked through her pieces, I think we saw the 40s to the 80s in her pieces - Bakelite, rhinestones, crystals, all the way to pure plastic. I only kept a few pieces, including a set of fake pearls that my grandfather gave her. Every time I wear them, it makes me feel a little closer to them both. In one of the jewelery boxes was a telegram. The words had been printed on a Telex (google this if you don't know what it is) and pasted to the Western Union telegram. It was interesting seeing a little piece of history. She still had all her old ID cards from the service, including those from when they were overseas. Her international driver's licence was paper with type (and handwritten) notations. Felt like I was in some sort of family historical museum. There was even my grandfather's dog tags. Four in all. One for each grandchild. We found some old receipts (including a Pan Am plane ticket) and papers and even a credit card (it was 1/3 of the size of today's cards).

Grandma D has not been doing well for the past year and a half. After she fell and broke her femur, she never did return home. Never did drive again (although this was good thing, as we thought she shouldn't be on the road anymore, irregardless). She always talked like she was going home. Didn't want things to change. Thought she be up and about in a matter of time. Her zestful spirit was a stubborn one, and when she refused to cooperate with the physical therapist and get out of bed, she started sinking further away from us. My parents found an adult care home (in a person's house - 5 residents total) less than a mile from their house. She began to slip into a different place from ours, thinking my father was still a boy or that they were living back on the farm in Minnesota. Every now and then though, she'd surprise you, and say something that let you glimpse the old grandma D.

So here's to my grandmother, who liked to "tell it like it is." Here's my way to tell it: Goodbye and safe travels on your journey to heaven. I know you'll give St. Peter a run for his money at the Gates. We will miss you. We love you.