17 July 2011

a long, full life

my grandmother on my mother's side, Marion, passed away this morning. she'd just turned 90 on Thursday. she was the only grandparent I had left. my sister wrote a wonderful post about her on her blog. I considered letting that speak for the both of us, but I had a different experience, different memories, and a different reaction.

my memories of Grandma are, unfortunately, piecemeal. we lived in Michigan when I was born, while my grandma lived in Wisconsin. since it was about a five-hour drive, I didn't get to see her very often.

then in '87, we moved to the Chicago suburbs. with the drive pared down to two hours, I got to see a lot more of Grandma. I remember fussing over me when I was little, which I wasn't used to. mom and dad didn't act that way towards me. but a grandparent, who only had to stand me for a few hours at most, could hug and kiss and give me all the candy she wanted.

I remember her old house very well. I played with Lincoln Logs and old purses in the back room. sleeping in the spare bedroom was kinda creepy; the bed was way too high for me back then. the basement would get loud when lots of company forced the overflow down there. the men would watch sports and drink beer. I'd go back behind the dry bar, but not very often; I got the sense that it was an "adult" thing that I didn't quite get. there was a strange cabinet in the basement that must have been a broom closet or a coverup for pipes or something, a tall wooden thing with a gold mesh screen on top. my young mind imagined there was a killer robot that would come to life and destroy us all one day. a few years ago my sister found the house for sale on a website. now I'll never know for sure what was in that closet.

Grandma struck me as a no-nonsense type, at least according to the stories her children told me. raising four kids (two of them twins!) must have turned her into quite the ballbuster. by the time she got to me she had mellowed considerably, but I could still tell she wasn't to take any guff from my aunt and uncles (and mom, of course). not that there was really any guff to take. we weren't a family of drama, just one that got together from time to time and shot the shit, reminiscing about the old stories again and again.

Grandma moved down to St. Augustine in Florida in the early '90s, so I didn't get to spend that much time with her. I remember visiting a few times, dates unknown. I re-met my younger cousin Laura down there when she was 12; I must have been 15 or 16. even though I was an aloof teenager, she seemed pretty cool for her age. :) Grandma lived in a mobile home and seemed very satisfied with it. she wasn't the type of woman that we had to worry about, even when my grandpa had to be put in a home. she just carried on.

less than a year ago - I don't remember the timing, just that it was a ways from her 90th - I got word that Grandma was in the hospital. I held my breath that she would be all right, and she was, though compromised. due to a stroke, she couldn't take things on by herself anymore. after her 90th birthday party, she got very bad very fast, and passed away this morning.

I'm getting all this information secondhand because I...just don't talk to anyone outside the immediate family. if not for Facebook, I wouldn't have known Grandma was in the ER at all. such is the nature of a low-key family. we may not have knock-down, drag-out fights, but we're also barely connected to each other in some ways. Kim and I always talked about going down there to see her one last time, just to spend some time with her. my memories of her were always pleasant and I think I could have learned a lot from her. now...

I regret feeling uncomfortable talking to her. I held her in the untouchable reverence of the very young. that's what's upsetting me so right now: that I was the one that could have broken through. I knew there was more to find than just a doting memory; there was a woman with a long, full life of which I only saw glimpses.

I'm sorry I never got to know you better, Grandma. I hope you didn't suffer, and that you were surrounded by people who knew how to love you better than I. rest in peace.


gluggy said...

I love your writing! Is that your Profession? I felt what it was like to be little again....

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