Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writers Workshop

From Mama Kat’s Writers Workshop…

Describe in 1000 words or less a time when something happened and you knew that life would never be the same.

I grew up feeling ever so close to my maternal grandparents, despite the fact that we lived in various states and countries in my early years. Thanks to my grandfather Grampa working for United Airlines, they could travel to be with us almost anytime, anywhere.

In the last 10 years of his life, my Grampa had serious heart problems, brought on by both a bout of scarlet fever at a young age and an untreated heart attack in his later years. These two things damaged his heart for life, and he spent his mid 50’s to mid 60’s trying to keep that heart ticking.

All the while he was in and out of hospitals, trying different medications (one of which turned his face blue), he was also the best Grampa there ever was. He laid out a concrete sidewalk on their property and let us kids put our hands and names in it, which is still there to this day. He let us play with wood and chisels in his amazing workshop, making funny sentimental signs for our parents. He would always let us “get something” when we rode with him to the market. And he always had little treats in his truck for us – candy orange slices, Wrigley gum or even Clove gum. Despite the fact that I adored my Gramma as well, when we called them up on the phone, she would inevitably hear, “Hi Gramma…is Grampa there?”

Fast forward to October of 1988. I was an 8th grader, almost 13 years old.

One morning I got up to enjoy some cereal before school. As I sat at our dining room table, I realized, somewhat distantly, that my mom was crying in the bar/alcove around the corner. I knew she was on the phone, but for whatever reason that I’ll never understand, it never occurred to me that I should be concerned. I heard her say, “Mama,” at some point, so I gathered she was talking to her mother, but this still didn’t seem to alarm me.

When she finally did hang up and came into the dining room, she had the red nosed, cried out look of someone whose heart had just been broken beyond repair. Mid-spoonful of cereal, she told me that my beloved Grampa had died this morning.

I’ll never forget the first words out my mouth.

“I don’t want to go to school.”

Really? That’s all I had? Surely I said some words of concern or comfort shortly after, but that’s what I do remember. I also remember Mom telling me I was going anyway.

I remember that day at school vividly, and I know the reason I wanted to stay home. I knew that I would be pretty useless, and I couldn’t see going about my normal routine when something so tragic had just occurred. But go about it I did, and wouldn’t you know that this was the day that we created family trees in English? I don’t know how I survived it. I found out later that my brother had gone home sick sad from his high school, but I managed to finish out the day.

We all packed our bags that afternoon and left for the north country where my grandparents had retired. My brother and I loved it up there, but this particular trip was different. I was too young to really grasp what my mother must have been going through, but it must have been one of the worst days of her life. The one thing that brought us all comfort in the midst of tragedy was knowing that my Grampa hadn’t suffered at the end. He wasn’t in the hospital or in pain or having paddles used on him, yet again. He had been at home…asleep…and his heart had just stopped. My Gramma told me later that he had such a peaceful look on his face that it took a while to realize he was gone.

That night we had a full house of aunts, uncles and grandkids, so I was delegated to sleep on one of the couches in the family room. My Gramma slept on another of the three couches every night because she had a bad back and needed lots of random pillows to be comfortable. When we finally put out the lights, with only the orange glow of the fireplace illuminating the big room, I started to go to sleep.

And then I heard something.

Across the room, my grandmother was quietly weeping.

I had never heard my grandmother cry like this before. I didn’t know what to do. What could a 12 year old girl possibly say to comfort someone who had just lost their partner of nearly 50 years? Their high school sweetheart? Instead, I got down from the couch, crawled across the floor and put my hand on her shoulder. I think I told her I loved her. She did most of the comforting, telling me she was alright…she just missed him so much it hurt. I crawled back to my couch and eventually we slept.

My grandmother survived this loss, somehow. She kept putting one foot in front of the other every day, and she did so for another thirteen years. She saw me grow up, get married and have my first child. She was there at the hospital the night that Charlie was born, getting to hold him when he was less than an hour old. She may not have driven an old blue truck filled with candy orange slices or Clove gum, but she was amazing in her own way, and thanks to all of the stories we heard, she kept Grampa alive for us every day.


Lourie said...

What a truly sweet and beautiful post to your Grandpa. I think all of your 12 year old reactions were just as they should have been.

Respectfully Yours said...

Just popped by for a read. What a lovely post. You write beautifully. Your grandparents have given you such loving and wonderful memories. I look forward to following your posts and reading more. Thanks.

Stop by for a visit to my page if you get a chance.