Saturday, February 16, 2008


My birthday was Valentine's Day. I spent the day with my daughter, who took me shopping. It was a great day, with my favorite companion and I both us finding jeans that fit and her not having any notable seizures, and both us our legs holding out much longer than usual. Because I spent the whole day with MD, I didn't get to spend any time with my parents until today. Mom was quite eager to give me a gift, but I didn't imagine it would be so wonderful.

First, she made sure I read the card: "Everytime I say or write [your name], I am reminded of my mother. Your grandmother loved you more than she could ever express and that is why I am giving you this gift. She would be most pleased and happy."

The gift is a necklace of crystals and silver that needs to be restrung. My grandmother wore it when her children were young, so my mom and her brothers slobbered all over it, tarnishing the silver. That makes it even better, I think.

I was named after my mom's mom, and miss her greatly though she died over 20 years ago. It was years before I stopped crying abruptly every day. Grandma was the pillar of our family.

Grandma wasn't always a pillar, of course. Her childhood and young adult years were hard and her choices not always the best. Her mother was an un-enrolled Cherokee; her father a teamster home long enough only to father another child. At twelve, Grandma was set out to work in the houses of better-off townsfolk. She became something of a groupie, leaving her hometown to be on the road with a vaudeville musician. She married her vaudevillian, but after 2 kids, he ran off, leaving her, a flapper and a stranger, in a small town. My grandfather was taken by her exotic looks and, an orphan himself, eager to step in as father to two small boys. My mom came along shortly after they were married.

Grandma kept her thoughts and feelings to herself. She didn't hug or kiss more than the expected hello and goodbye. But she was a never-ending fount of pies, cakes, home-made clothes, and wonderful summertime visits. I would spend a week with her and Grandpa, all by myself. I spent the time reading, daydreaming, and poking about. I'd help hang out the laundry on the line or ineffectually assist in her constant gardening. I'd try on every outfit in her closet--she never threw any of them out. She was order without rigor, standards without rejection. She traded plates of food with her neighbors at holidays, pumpkin pies and chocolate cakes in exchange for tamales. I am not sure that a day ever passed without dishes being returned or picked up--and no dish was ever sent or returned empty. Anyone who had any business with my grandparents came to the backdoor. Only strangers came to the front, and there weren't many of those.

Grandma had chronic health problems. Her doctors were way too eager to cut into her without really knowing what was wrong. In midlife, she lost both breasts and much of her back and chest muscle to a double radical mastectomy, but turned out not to have had cancer at all. Much of her bowel was resected, for reasons I never knew but that I suspect were due to prolapse and attempts to repair previous botched surgeries. She was prepared to die many times, but hung on, I felt and still feel, because we needed her so much. When she had been very poorly for many months, she asked when I would come see her. I made a point of going then, and she and I sat in chairs on her lawn. We talked a bit, but mostly shared time. I told her I loved her. Shortly after, her condition worsened. She refused any further surgeries and, having already said goodbye to her grandchildren, died. She was 85. Life came apart then, but I think that we've all put it back together pretty well.

There is no marker where her grave is. There is, instead, my mom. I'm nearly 50 now. Someday, it will be on me to be the marker she is. I hope I will be as good a neighbor, as nonjudgmental, as perservering, as wise, as my mom and my grandma.

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