Saturday, October 21, 2006

In Celebration of My Grandma

I’m starting to write this in anticipation of my grandmother’s passing. She is 91 years old as of this past September, and her life looks to be nearing a close. But who really knows? She has fooled us several times before. But this time seems more real. I’m writing this before she passes, because I want it to be ready when the event does occur. I also know I’m not going to want or have time to write when it happens. I make no apologies for this being long or overly sentimental.

I’m glad I’m not in TN for these last few, trying months. That seems pretty selfish of me, but I wish to hold my current vision of my active, spry little grandma, not the lethargic, sickly woman I know she has become recently. I do wish I was there to talk with her and hold her hand and watch her eyes light up when I walk in the room, though she can’t quite verbalize who I am.

Most people hold a vision of what an ideal grandma should be like. The grandma of storybooks, who spoils her grandchildren mercilessly and is actively involved in their lives. My grandmother was one of these. You could always count on the bowl of M&Ms on the end table and her willingness to read from any of the Golden Books stacked up in the back bedroom. She’d let me put sugar in my cereal, something contraband at my own house. Even in her seventies, she was always up for a game of “Red light, green light” in the driveway. She taught me the ins-and-outs of solitaire and Old Maid. She had this drawer of tiny toys and dishes in the coffee table that never ceased to amaze me.

I remember her traveling a lot when I was really little. She seemed to go everywhere: Hawaii, the Bahamas, sometimes more than once. She’d always bring stuff back for her grandchildren, like the big shells you can hear the ocean in or a little brown shell with Hawaii and a little beach scene painted on it. I still have them.

Nothing in her house every changed. Ever. I’m pretty sure the house looked almost exactly the same from the sixties when they moved there to when she sold it to her grandson a couple of years ago. A coconut from some tropical place served as a doorstop for as long as I can remember. I’m glad no one ever cut it open. The same giant television, the same sunburst clock, the same furniture that seemed to be built for short people. The same map of TN on the fridge so she would see where the weather alerts were. The same Christmas decorations hidden in the back corner of the attic up the scary pull-down ladder.

She was pretty predicable as a person too, in some ways. She had a glass of buttermilk and a half a grapefruit with breakfast. She snored when she slept. If she was going to eat breakfast out, McDonald’s pancakes were her favorite. It was usually strawberry milkshakes from Snow White. If she was cooking, it was probably roast, with carrots and potatoes. How I tired of roast! She never was that great of a cook, but she did ok. She could make some killer sweet tea though, stored in reused glass Tropicana juice bottles. She loved to watch “her stories,” the cheesy soap operas she taped every weekday afternoon so she could go back and watch it if we kids distracted her. I was pretty into “Days of our Lives” for one summer thanks to her influence. Just one summer.

She taught me other things besides how to have a sweet tooth and how to play card games with the best of them. I remember the annual corn parties, where the women of the family would come together and shuck, boil, cool, and cream corn to be stored in a variety of zip-lock bag sizes. Sometimes it was at our house, sometimes at hers. It was an all-day event. We did the same thing with beans and peas. We would sit in front of the tv and shell peas till our hands were raw or stained purple from purple hull peas.

My grandmother was always a very active person. She awoke at 5:45 am every morning to go for a 3-mile walk with some ladies from her neighborhood. She was involved in MMM, LLL, and a few other three repetitive letter organizations. I never could keep straight what the letters stood for. I just knew she did a lot with them and would sometimes bring back good things to eat or homemade crafts from the meetings. She would go play in the rock garden with us grandkids, which is this area of large, limestone rocks at the back of her property. It was huge when we were kids! Now it seems so small. But many hours were spent hopping from one rock to other, avoiding the ground, or examining the countless crevices and interesting facets of the giant rocks.

My grandmother adored flowers and birds. She usually had this large row of tube roses on the edge of her garden that the strongest smell ever. She raised many different varieties of flowers, and she knew the name of each specie. She’d raise these big, impressive looking flowers and let me enter them in the county fair every year. Somehow I got credit for watering them once or twice. It was a major part of the day to water all the flowers because there were so many. She would work the rose exhibit at the county fair every year, saving these tiny little vases all year round to prepare for the big event. People expected her to be there. Even when her mind started to slip, she was still able to tell you the names of flowers long after she started forgetting people’s names.

My grandmother was a very impressive seamstress, and always had a project going on. She served as seamstress for Castle Heights Military Academy for years. She made quilts for each of her grandchildren. I’m her favorite, of course, so she made me two. The most beautiful one I think she ever made now decorates my bed and is one of my prized possessions.

She was always healthy up into her eighties. I don’t remember her ever being sick, but maybe it was overshadowed by my grandfather being really sick for so long before he passed. It all started with a scary incident where she “passed out” and fell while walking with some friends. Within a few days, my active, healthy grandmother went from being perfectly normal to being very strange. She couldn’t talk right, she dressed up in the most ridiculous outfits, and she didn’t know my name. I remember being in the back bedroom at her house that first time she didn’t know my name. I was stunned. Long story short, she had to have emergency brain surgery for a bleed on her brain. It didn’t look good.

I guess you could say I pulled my first night shift when she had that surgery. The hospital asked us to have a family member with her twenty-four hours a day. One night it was my turn, and I hardly remember a time when I have been more frustrated. She was up constantly, moving around, pulling on tubes, and unable to communicate. She had her head wrapped up like a mummy, and her speech was just moaning. I had not slept in preparation for the battle, and was delusional myself by the time the night was over.

She made a near-full recovery. She moved into a wonderful assisted living apartment. She made me laugh when she said she didn’t want to sit in the common room “with the old ladies who just watch people coming in and out and talk about people.” Things were good for a while, then the last few years have been a series of ups and downs.

Some things she does in her dementia are funny. One time at a family party we had chips and cheese dip as an appetizer. She took a big dollop of cheese and stirred it into her water glass. And drank it! She seemed to like it, but we just laughed at her and gave her a new glass. She pulled out her PICC line (a big IV that’s threaded through your arm to your heart) three times. I laughed. She tells me I’m her favorite grandchild, and whispers to me secretly not to tell the others. When we look through my scrapbooks, she point me out in pictures, saying “I know who that is!” but is unable to recall my name. She’d see my sister and just say “Ooo!” She knew us, she just didn’t know our names. Her speech is garbled now, but I can still make out “ I wub ooo!”

She has seen a lot: the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, two sons in the service, the loss of an adult daughter, the loss of her husband. Five children, ten grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and one on the way. She’s had a good life. She’s got a ton of friends, most with names like Mildred and Ida, many who have passed on. Nothing spectacular about her, and yet she’s been life-changing at the same time. I can’t imagine life without her, but she’s ready to go now. I’m ok with that because I know where her trust lies, but I’ll miss her. All four foot, nine inches of her.

I love you, Grandma!


Anonymous said...

reading this gave me the chills

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful, loving, funny tribute to your grandmother! I love you and you know that she loved you very much! Mamma

Amy said...

This brought tears to my eyes, Sarah. You did a beautiful job of expressing who your grandmother really was.

Nathan said...

That was beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Sarah this tribute is beautiful and so honoring to your grandmother. I love you. You know how to reach me if you need anything.


P.S. I honestly believe that was the smallest furniture I have ever sat on :)