Oh, I know you think this is going to be some sappy post about how much I love my sweet granny, and how there is just no one like her in the world.
Well, I guess that is half right. There really was no one like my Gram, but she would kick my ass if I ever got sappy when talking about her.
Gram was a tough lady, she had to be. She gave birth to 10 kids and managed to raise them all into successful men and women, keeping them in line and never tiring of all the work that comes with such a brood.
Of course, I didn’t meet her until a bit later…..
Now my first memories don’t give justice to the greatness of that woman. I used to stand in her bedroom doorway as a little kid, probably 3 or 4, and watch her snoring as she slept. I hid a piece of bologna in her yellow pages once when I didn’t want it, and the garbage somehow didn’t seem a viable option. I remember her always wearing a housedress, always being in the kitchen, always cooking. She was no nonsense, but never scary. Grandma cooked real food, rolling out noodles for chicken soup, tirelessly pressing down edges on pierogi’s, she always had something boiling on the stove.
My family moved a few cities away when I was about 5, so we saw her less often, but visits were all that much more exciting. Her house meant eating dry roasted peanuts and drinking Tang. It meant listening to her talking and laughing with my mom, and whoever else was there. Buckeye fights in the backyard, and country music always playing softly in the kitchen. It was always a place to look forward to.
In my teens, and especially after I could drive, I could visit grandma myself. Usually I went with a cousin who was like a sister to me. Gram loved having us visit, and we loved the attention from her. We could walk to her house from my cousins house, sometimes making up games on the way. “Ok, here’s the deal, you have to get in there and get a dryer sheet, a graham cracker, and get Grandma to say “hot pickle pants” before we leave. There was an unfortunate incident that resulted in breaking one of her glass jars as we dared each other to see if we could get parts of our body to fit into it, while we stood at the top of her concrete basement stairs…. One of the few times she actually got fed up with us, and may have threatened us with a broom in some way….
Grandma had a way of forcing you to take things from her. She’d come to me and grab my hand, shoving a five dollar bill into my palm. As I started to refuse, she’s just talk over me, somehow talking through her nose and her clenched teeth at the same time in this slurry, hurried, loud whisper “Kimmy, just take it, use it for gas money, don’t you give me that crap…” talking over me until I gave up, and gave her a hug, and thanked her. This is how she forced me to take $100 from her when I got my first job out of high school, she bought my first outfits for work.
As I got older, we talked more and more. She was never bossy, never pushy. She was never one of those “woe is me” ladies that might seem like a chore to visit. She would tell us stories of her growing up, good times and bad. One thing I always loved is that you could ask her anything, ANYTHING….and she would not be offended. When with my cousin, we would sometimes even try to shock her with questions, I am sure completely inappropriate. So many times she would just start laughing in her unique way, free and loud, inviting you to laugh with her. She’d just say “you girls are crazy!”
My grandma didn’t drive, and didn’t get out much with all those kids. Even after her own kids were mostly grown, she somehow ended up watching a lot of us grandkids. The woman never tired of us. Perhaps because she didn’t have much excitement in her life, on the rare occasion she did get out, she made sure to enjoy herself. This was usually at a family cookout, or reunion. Gram wasn’t a drinker, but she did like an occasional beer. It was a standing joke, if grandma has a beer, you don’t want to be the one standing next to her. Without a doubt, something will set her off laughing, and with the laugh would come a swinging arm punch to the closest person, just to punctuate her happiness.
Grandma spent some of her golden years living alone in an apartment, I think the first time she had ever been alone in her life. It was during this time she had her heart attack, and my aunt that normally spoke with her the most must have been out of town. I remember being at work, and grandma called me, or maybe my mom called me to tell me gram was having chest pain and refused to go to the hospital. That crazy lady sat at home during her heart attack and refused to call EMS. Finally, she agreed to let me take her to the hospital so I drove like a maniac all the way. Somehow she likes to think I saved her, I didn’t, but that began an even deeper love between us.
When I decided to go back to school for nursing, grandma was my biggest cheerleader. When I continued on to get my Masters, she rallied even harder. I can’t tell you what a high it is to know there is one person who truly believes you hang the moon….. and I didn’t deserve it at all, but I somehow earned a place of honor in my grandmas affections. I had a rocky relationship with some relatives, and as Gram got older, she took perverse pleasure in extolling my virtues to all those who least wanted to hear it. She would tell me with glee, “I don’t let ANYONE say anything bad about my Kimmy!!” She was incorrigible.
I would come visit her, and sometimes it would only be once or twice a month….. we’d decide on where to get lunch from and there were specific instructions I had to follow. I was NOT allowed to order food on the way, no no no, it would be soggy, or cold for sure. I had to wait til I got to the restaurant, and then wait. Of course I still ordered on the way, I had kids with me usually and sitting and waiting for 20 minutes with a newborn is never a smart idea. If Gram found out….oh, she was pissed. Grumble, grumble…somehow everything tasted wrong. This is something we laugh about now, trying to outsmart grandma, and never quite being able to do it.
She was just so thankful for anything you gave her, any time you spent with her. It made me feel so good to be with her, especially with her always telling me how special I was…and once I started working on my Masters, she would end our visit with a stern face, “Kimmy….you better finish!!” I would promise her, and the plan was for her to be around for that.
The one thing I didn’t ever want to face was losing her. Even as a child, I talked with her about this. I made her promise to come see me if she could after she died, but not to scare me. Just to let me know that everything is ok. I know as the years passed that it had to happen, but I would tell her later that she wasn’t allowed to die ever.
Well, Melanoma came around….with other ideas.
Let me just say that there has never been an easier patient. Every hospitalization brought her new friends and admirers. She loved making friends with the nurses, and teasing the doctors. She never wanted to be a burden on anyone, and she never was. Her melanoma started in a very unusual place, and she was asked if her case could be used for teaching purposes, complete with photos and everything. My grandma, that so refreshingly non-traditional old lady actually joked about posing for x-rated photos…..and how it took this long in life for someone to ask her. We laughed in the face of her stupid cancer.
Near the end, it was difficult. At the time of her passing, she had all of her children, and a few of us grandchildren around her. We spent days sitting next to her, many times all sharing her bed, wanting to be as close as possible.
Now something you should now about my grandma, she was never one to throw around the “I love you’s”…. she let you know how she felt in a million other ways, but to get her to say that was a rarity.
The last time she and I spoke, when she was ABLE to speak…… she said two things to me. She made me PROMISE to finish school. And she told me she loved me.
One year later, I did finish my Masters. Happiness marred only by not being able to see the smile on her face.
But she knows.
I talk to my grandma all the time. I like to think she can hear me, that she’s following along with my life. I know I have been blessed to have her in my life, although I selfishly wanted more time.
This Sunday will be the second Mothers Day without my Grandma. I just want her to know that it sucks without her, but I am carrying on, and thinking of her always makes me smile, and sometimes cry too. I miss her everyday, and still catch myself wanting to call her, or run over for a visit. Sometimes I really miss her advice.
I am so thankful I knew my Grandma so well. I hope anyone reading this takes a moment to think about their mom, grandmother, loved ones in general….. and realizes that there isn’t always tomorrow. Say your I love you’s today. Buy flowers, stop over for a visit, let the people in your life know you love them. And THANK them for loving you.