Before the ringer on the avocado wall phone rang, I felt my father’s presence. On the other end, his shaky voice crackled and choked with words, rehearsed. Finally, he simply said, “Grandma’s, gone.”
What could I say to lessen his pain? “I’m so sorry, Dad.” My father was my Grandmother’s only son, the sixth of seven children. Although I did not say it then, I remember thinking she chose that particular day to meet God in heaven. It happened to be Good Friday of that year, the perfect time for her to go. I believe she knew it so.
My earliest memories of Grandma are visiting her in a spotless abode. It was a considered a ‘salt-box’ house https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saltbox, set in a quiet neighborhood on a clean and cozy city block. I remember the bedroom of Grandma’s house as being kind of sanctuary where fancy bottles of rose-water sat on a mirrored tray atop her vanity table. It was to be respected, and never entered without permission. An unspoken rule. My father was born in that very room on Christmas Day in 1933.
Clean and smooth cement sidewalks ran in front of a shiny black railing at Grandma’s house. Like monkeys, I remember my brother and I dangling from it to get a better view of the neighbors next door. Children rode fancy bicycles or skipped hand-in-hand on those sidewalks. Early on, I remember Grandma’s beloved house being covered in old black and gray speckles all the way around. Soon the sides were replaced with asphalt shingles, the color of mint-chocolate-chip ice-cream. It stayed that way for years and years….long after she was gone.
My grandmother was a proud Swedish, Lutheran. She went to church every Sunday in a crisp cotton dress and wore a hat to match upon her gray curled head. In the winter, she wore a long felt coat of camel or royal blue with a mesmerizing pin made of fancy colored stones glued into birds on branches. Now and then, she wore a double heart or a half-moon over the sun.
When I was a little girl wearing ruffled dresses with hair to my waist, Grandma dabbed a tiny dip of fluffy Avon cream to each of my wrists. Soon, I smelled like the flowers that grew in her kaleidoscope garden. Sometimes, I’d pest her until she let me try on her shiny black shoes, the ones with tiny heels and long laces… just for fun. On Sundays, if I sat quietly next to her in church she taught me to sing, “Lu-Lu” when the music played. I was still too young to read the words.
My Grandmother never learned to drive a car. My father drove her to church each and every Sunday, usually scooping her up from the curb a bit late. Our phone rang three or four times before my father together with five children rushed through our waiting back door. Racing to pick her up, Grandma will forever be in my mind, standing at the curb in front of her saltbox home. Even now, I see her there in later years, looking tiny, rocking impatiently to and fro. She’s holding a smooth black pocketbook. She closes the shiny golden clasp, making a clicking sound. Barely stopping by the curb, my dad swings open the door, as if we are driving a getaway car. There’s not a second to spare before my Grandma’s beloved church sermon begins.
Afterward, we’d take Grandma home, where the tradition was to go inside for a dollop of chunky applesauce served in dainty china bowls. On the side were freshly baked molasses cookies set on matching flowered plates. She’d wait on us hand and foot, only sitting to rest after pouring a few cold glasses of milk. Then, she’d excitedly tell us of her daily plans. Gardening, baking or writing personal letters on perfumed stationery, perhaps?
After I grew up and went to college, my grandmother began to forget things. Her old-fashioned stove of white was left burning too long or important house keys became lost in a sugar bowl without the lid. Soon, it was too dangerous to let Grandma live alone. Doctors didn’t have an exact diagnosis many years ago, but today I have no doubt that Grandma lived with Alzheimer’s disease, a Chronic Condition stealing the brain of memory and more. Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive disease. There is no cure, but today help is available that wasn’t an option for my grandmother. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp
Two weeks after I gave birth to my first son, I took him to meet his great-grandmother in the sparkling snow of Michigan. For a moment, Grandma had a bit of recognition. Cradling my newborn, I knelt to introduce her to my child. “Would you like to hold him?” Her dull, blue eyes suddenly lit with excitement. Placing him carefully in her arms, she stared at him with love renewed. “Oooohhh, look at his beautiful eyes,” she said, over and over and over again. I snapped a few pictures then. They are the only photographs that I have of my son with his great-grandmother. She was happy in those brief moments, and I’ll cherish them forever. Two weeks later she passed away.
On her chosen day….