Monday, June 21, 2010

Pinochle, Fireflies and 7-up

I learned only a few months ago why my father moved to my mother's home town when he was in high school: my grandmother had gone back to college and gotten a master's degree in speech therapy, so when she graduated, they moved to a town with a school that would hire my grandfather, an ag (industrial tech, these days) teacher, and my grandmother, a speech therapist, both. I was really touched by that, it really speaks to their regard for the other. It doesn't matter if it was a primarily financial decision or not, it was the early 60s and women's lib wasn't very far advanced. In fact, Grandma mentioned that their first date was on the sly because teachers weren't supposed to date.

That Friday the 13th date turned out to be an auspicious one for the family. Grandma and Grandpa fell in love, got married, had a boy (my dad), a girl (stillborn), a boy (my uncle) and another girl (my aunt). Being a teacher, she worked with all kids of crazily named kids so they went with Bob, John, and Mary. They also both enjoyed teaching for at least 20 years, taking much pride in their work and even volunteering to chaperone some students on an international trip. Grandpa liked to fish. We all spent hours playing pinochle. They bought our family a tow-behind camper that we used for many years. Grandpa bought all 4 households our first microwave ovens when he thought they'd catch on, so he wouldn't have to learn to use different ones when he visited, and ours lasted over 20 years. Our knives were always sharpened because grandpa sharpened them with every visit.

By being somewhat frugal and having a rental income, they were able to retire comfortably and spend winters down in Texas in their airstream until the year my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer of too many things, but the liver was most put out about it and didn't let things end well. Grandma took a while to get over that loss. (Everyone did, but obviously she took it the worst.) When cleaning out her house to move her into a condo, my aunt found modern pantry goods in the front, then a gap of 7 years in the expiration dates on the goods (bads?) in the back.

She found a nice man to date for a while. Lest you think giving the family names away earlier makes this entry too specific to me, her date had kids named Rob, John, and Mary. Family stories involved a lot of surnames for a while. We'd play cards and joke about her "quivering" the cards instead of shuffling them, and she'd win regardless (unless my other grandma got involved. Card sharps both.) But her date was older and diabetic and started declining. He sold her his condo and moved to assisted living. Eventually, grandma moved to assisted living too.

More recently she's been in the neighboring long term care facility. They do a good job of making sure residents come out to the dinner area to be with other people at meals, but she stopped playing cards or seeing if she could still speech-read if the TV volume was too low. Her meal companions died off. She stopped trying to be interested in much but her body held on into her late 80s. It was not [fruitful?, satisfying?, helpful?] to talk on the phone anymore so I tried to send letters and cards to keep at least one-way contact. When she did talk, her most common topic of conversation was wanting to be with my grandfather, her husband. And as of this morning, she got her wish.

She had a good life and was pretty much healthy until last week when her body finally caught up with her heart and mind and slowed way down. I think I did most of my mourning when she stopped playing cards, but this entry has proved I'm not entirely done. My brother and I have made it a point to stop by and visit the grandmas as often as we can manage, as have my cousins. While my dad and his sister have done what they could to assist from afar, my uncle and his wife, my other aunt, have done the lion's share of taking care of grandma's basic needs, managing her finances, and generally making her comfortable since she became unable to care for herself, and it is a blessing to the family that they were able and willing to take on this stewardship. Being the closest didn't make the drive less far. They also kept us updated so my dad and his brother and sister were all able to see her during this last week. But I like to remember that her favorite color was pink and there was a collection of bells in the hallway next to the bookshelf that held the master work, "The Three Billy Goats Gruff". I remember how we used to catch fireflies in their back yard on summer evenings, which were cooled and hydrated by the endless stash of 7-up stored by the garage door, before retiring to the card table where grandma would quiver the pinochle cards.


Up My Mind said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, CO. Hugs.

MarciaBC said...

It's been a month around here with these kinds of losses. You have my deepest sympathies.