Monday, October 16, 2006

Goodnight Granny

Well, it would seem that the old adage rings true this week. When it rains, it truly does pour, buckets and buckets and rain barrels too. This weekend my last remaining grandparent died.

Grandma Margaret almost lived to be 95 yrs old, she was less than one month away. Like my grandfather who missed his 90th birthday by a nose, Maggie had to do things her way, even at the end.

I haven't seen grandma in more than 2 years but there was a time when I made it my business to call her every week and visit yearly. Our conversations consisted of me yelling very loud questions and her rambling from memory to memory.

In her later years, time began to bleed together and she referred to her dead parents and husband in the present tense. She told me about her mother's 200 varieties of violets, her trips through the snow in her father's sleigh, the tricks she played on visitors as a girl, her various farming chores and her long walks in the cold, winter months through the desolate Iowan countryside to her one room schoolhouse (see video here).

And through all her tales were the charmingly negative comments which I like to refer to as Grandma Speak (see video here):

"Well, we did the best that we could and that's all we could do."

"Well, that's the way it goes, ain't nothing you could do about it."

"Oh well, that's the way the world works."

But despite her amazing capacity to find the wrong in all that was right (which I must admit to finding very amusing), she was a happy person in her later years. She spent her last days in the dementia ward of the local nursing home. She smiled, giggled and was generally pleasant to everyone.

The last time I saw grandmother, we had a nice visit, or so I thought. I made a special detour just to see her while driving across the country from California to Vermont to relocate. After being sweet as pie to me during our short time together, I overheard her complaining to one of the other residents about me: "I don't know who that girl is or what she is doing here! She's taking lots of pictures!" Indeed! How could you not love your dear ol' backstabbing, slightly demented granny?!

In an earlier blog post, I talked about her photographic artistic leanings which, as they were for many women of her generation, channeled into all the traditional female arts like pie making, cleaning, clothes making, gardening and cooking. It's nice to imagine what her life would have been if she had other options. In a way, I feel like my weird modern life, strange though it may be, is an expression of what could have been, for her.

I have notebooks upon notebooks filled with her carefully transcribed recipes for pies, pot roasts and jello surprises and detailed instructions for handmade clothes for her husband and only son. These books are like diaries for me and I often scour them for clues about what she was thinking or feeling while she was recording the way to make the perfect rasberry jam.

The only paying job that grandma ever had was as a seamstress when she was a young girl, before she met her husband. I have some of her delicate hankerchiefs from this time and her stitches are smaller than a flea, so delicate and perfect and uniformly sewn - as though a machine was holding the needle. Her quilts are colorful and imaginative - bright, modern patterns that must have seemed jarring when compared to the average young girl's quilts. These meager remnants are my road map to my grandmother: closed-off, bumpy and clouded in mystery but well worth the trip.

If I can swing it, I'll be heading out to Iowa this weekend for her funeral. It will be nice to sit with her old friends, providing they are mobile enough to attend, and talk about the good old days. Perhaps I can take a drive out to her childhood home which is not much more than a shell these days. And maybe, if I am lucky, I'll catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye, herding the cows and stearing clear of that pesky rooster that made her life so much more fun.

Love you grandma, this montage is for you, cause baby, it is a wild world, I know how much you knew that to be true:


the le duo said...

sorry to hear about you granny, eva- 95 years old- thats one hell of a life!


casey said...

Sad to hear about your Grandmother. lost my last grandparent last year. Even if you haven't seen them in a while they remind you of your connection to a mysterious past that's not entirely your own, but feels strangely familiar.

Eva the Deadbeat said...

thanks. it is true, even if we weren't as close as i would have liked (not sure if she was ever really close to anyone though so...), it is sad that the window to the past is so definitively shut now. my dead grandparents lives are shrouded in mystery...wish i could have learned more about their lives and experiences while they were still here to tell me about them...

but i am glad for the time we did have together and the stories granny told me that i will remember. i guess the end will come knocking for all of us one day or another and all you can do is try to "do the best that you can," at least, that is what my grandmother would advise...

Tmoore said...

that's good advice - This past week hasn't been any good for you, and i'm sorry. Wish i could make you feel better...