Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Memories for the taking.......

This weekend I found myself spending more time at my Grandpa's house than I have in years. It feels really wrong saying that, but even more wrong knowing that it is true.

This past fall my grandpa fell which ultimately resulted in him recovering in the hospital and then transitioning him to the nursing home. I truly believed that he was in the nursing home only until he regained enough strength to return home and when the time seemed to drag on and on......I blamed him.
  • He wasn't trying hard enough.
  • He enjoyed the attention.
  • He wanted everyone to feel sorry for him.
  • He had given up.
These were all thoughts that entered my head, and writing them down doesn't soften their tone or implication.

I guess in my never ending attempts to stop time and the progression of it, I was turning a blind eye to the progression of age.....and with age a decline in health, mental well-being and in short...a decline in my grandpa.

Here I was too busy for him because I was spending my time fighting with reality. I guess it is not really fighting-reality was too busy doing its thing to fight back. It was just me....and time....which refused to stop. So, like a spoiled child with her fists clenched and and her foot stomping.....I realized what I had already known: Life (and reality) is rarely the way you pictured it or wanted it. Sometimes it is better, sometimes it is worse.

Just recently have I unclenched my fists long enough to "straighten up" and starting thinking about Grandpa-my Grandpa-and what his almost 90 years have led up to. What would be best for him? What does he want?

Sure, maybe at times he results to tactics simply because of the attention it brings him. Truly, who of us doesn't have the same tactics. Just displayed differently.

He wants sympathy, I want to be understood.
He wants acknowledgement, I want to be embraced.
He wants love.....I want love.

When we boil it down, we are the same. All of us. When I am pushing 90, I doubt that I will be as content as he is even in his discontentment. In a perfect world his answer about staying in the nursing home wasn't exactly what one would expect, or rather what I would expect, but our world isn't perfect. And neither are we. But who is the bigger person, the one who pushes for the perfection (me) or the one who accepts that it isn't (Grandpa)?

Grandma and Grandpa moved to town in 1987. They lived there together for nine years until Grandma went into the nursing home herself. Since then grandpa has lived there alone. Although this is the only house some of the grandkids have ever really known, to me it was never "Grandpa and Grandma's house". The town house never held the memories that my childhood had created in their "country home".

Actually their country home was anything but. It was actually located on the edge of town, but as a child it felt like you had the world. Room to run, trees, creeks, and of course, crawdads were all at our disposal. The house and the memories it helped create, but couldn't contain, will live forever in my heart and mind.

Since grandma's absence it seems as if subconsciously everyone shied away from Grandpa and his house. We still had family "get-togethers", and Grandpa still came, they were just relocated. They were fun and everyone enjoyed them. It was the same family and the same love, just a different location. Because even with Grandpa living there, his house always seemed empty. Grandma's absence was just too much to ignore.

I guess it is possible that instead of feeling empty, the feeling was actually loneliness....and I am certain Grandpa felt that too.

For this I will help shoulder the blame.

I will continue to remind myself that although we can not rewrite history we can redirect the future. It is for this that I will strive.....

Because after all a house is only a house and the feelings it generates most likely mirrors that of the inhabitants.

This weekend for the first time since my grandma's passing the house was filled again.

However, this time it was for a much different reason.

Since grandpa's decision about taking up residence at the nursing home, he and the kids decided to go ahead and clear out the house and rent it.
So -once again- we all gathered. And although by all accounts it should have been a very dark occasion, it wasn't.

As my sister and I, and all of our cousins, walked through the house, there were memories literally around every corner. My grandparents didn't have a lot of money, but they were very rich. There were priceless treasures everywhere.

The kids-my mom and her siblings-had already taken what had been designated for them as well as items that they had a personal connection to. The rest was for the grandkids to go through.

For the sake of fairness, we were each given post it notes. On the front of these notes we wrote our name, and on the back, where no one could see, we wrote our bid. There was no looking. Except for my cousin, Kelby, who wrote a couple of his bids on the front for everyone to see. First there was the million dollar bid on the old flag and $600.00 bid on the archaeic cell phone.......

Everyone was joyful and respectful. As we sifted through the items we recounted the good times we had.

* One of the items I "won" was this plate:

In fact this plate was the #1 item that I went for. It holds the highest spot on my mental list of sentimental items.

My cousins and I laughed and talked about the times at Grandma and Grandpas and the fights we had for the honor to dine off of this fine piece of dinnerware. In order to make it fair and just, Grandma would have us draw straws. And let me tell you, the winner always had bragging rights......

* As the only female grandchild for almost eight years, I was surrounded and outnumbered by my male cousins. There were five of them and only one of me. As they were playing war in the basement, shooting guns and making forts, I was trying to teach them. I was the teacher.

This was my aid:

Oh, I had no strategy.

I tried to teach.......they saw war tactics..... I gave up and surrendered and shortly after I was shot. That is how it worked.

*Although I don't remember this particular doily, I think it is safe to say that I offer a safe haven of sorts for doilies in my house. This one here will fit in nicely.

* Although I don't remember my grandma being a tireless baker, I do remember this cookie jar. Grandma worked out of the home for my Grandpa's oil company. She was too busy being a wife, and mother and grandmother to bake incessantly. The cookies in "The Cracker Barrel" were generally store-bought and kind of stale, but they were there just the same. Its presence there in her kitchen was expected as was the tireless affection she showered on her grandkids.

Although she didn't have time to bake endlessly, she did bake. In fact, during family gatherings you could smell the hot rolls and cinnamon rolls far before it was time to eat. I remember being shoo-ed out of the kitchen on many occasions trying to sneak a roll or two prior to the meal. I would hurry and grab one and run off squealing. As much as everyone loved her rolls I am surprised that any of them ever made it to the table.

She made the best rolls ever!

I miss her and her rolls.
As the grandkids laughed and joked and shared stories they had to share, I felt like Grandpa's house was no longer lonely, if just for that day.

Grandpa didn't leave the nursing home this weekend and I wished that he could have been there as we retold different memories that we had, recounting how he and Grandma had shaped our lives.

However, as sure as I was of his absence, I was equally sure of Grandma's presence.

As we were sifting through items, my cousin Corban came out of a bedroom with a knitted hat on that our Grandma used to wear. I could feel the warmth spread through my body and I knew that Grandma liked what she saw. As I took my eyes off Corban and turned to look at my mom and aunt, there was both a sparkle and a sadness in their eyes. My aunt said "Wow" and my mom said, "mom would love seeing you in that".

Even as she said it, I know that she knew that Grandma already had.
As I came home Sunday night and was putting my treasures up, I thought a lot about my life and the people in it. I thought about how different each family member is and yet how perfectly they fit together.

Don't misinterpret this as meaning that any, or all, of them is perfect. No one is. It is just that despite hardships, despite differences and despite distances, each person adds a different dimension to the unit.

Some are conservative, some are liberal. Some are Baptist and some are Catholic. Some view things as completely black and others, completely white.

Yet despite of this, or maybe because of this, everyone blends together almost effortlessly. When everyone is together you can feel the love that each one has for the other and it is this that makes each of us more alike than we are different. When someone isn't there, there absence is palpable.

As I was turning off the lights and heading to bed I paused and looked at the Bible of Grandma's that I had placed in my living room. I opened it up to look again at the inscription inside. It had been given to my grandma by her brother and his wife, prior to her being married: "December 25, 1942"

In the quiet of the house I let myself have a moment to miss her completely. Without distraction. There are so many things I would like to ask, share and tell. All of which I am sure she already knows......

And although I am extremely thankful for the memories and the stories that were both created and shared this weekend, I am most thankful for the story that was shared in this book.

It is because of this book that I know that someday we will see her again and I just know that she will have some stories of her own to share.

Who knows, maybe she will even greet me with some of her homemade rolls.


Anonymous said...

As I am sitting her on my "throne" I am all kinds of choked up. You have made me relive what little memories I have of Grandma and all the many I have of Grandpa. Thank you.

~Sharn Jean (Your extremely emotional sister)

The Sour Kraut said...

What a lovely post.

Do you think your Grandma could meet me with those cinnamon rolls when it's my time? Tell her I'll be the one walking over the "rainbow bridge" with my white Labrador at my side.

Andrea said...

How sweet and sad! Thanks for making me cry in front of my computer like a big blubbering baby! I would call you and tell you I finally read it, but I can't talk right now with all of the crying! Thanks! I still think you missed your calling.

Joy said...

Now I know what happened to MY Ronald McDonald plate! It was THE one and only at my house too, but you know how it is with those spoiled only kids -- I never had to share it!

But seriously, great post. Your words are an echo of my feelings for my much-missed grandma too. She wore Merle Norman makeup, and to this day I still go in to one of their stores and sniff it sometimes just to smell her.