On Sunday night Ed was restless and unable to fall asleep. He's been worried about his grandparents who are slowly wasting away. It's sad, really. His gran is lost and doesn't have a grasp anymore, and his pop has to watch her fade. All the while they're being caretaken by a reluctant and weary daughter.
As I was listening I thought of my own Grammie, out of the blue. My mind hadn't landed on her for some time. For years she had been sequestered by an unstable daughter, and was in and out of a nursing home when she wasn't well enough to be kept. But for some reason my thoughts landed on her. “I should really go see Grammie . . .” I trailed.
You really should, said mom on Monday. She was dying.
Grammie, for me, is the embodiment of acceptance and unconditional love. The more I went through the motions of these past few days, the more I realized I was completely accepted by the Shantz family, no questions asked. Cousins embraced, Grammie embraced . . . I fit seemlessly into a world that, although I hadn't been born into, I had been brought into. And I loved it. I loved the farm, the animals, and even the somewhat kept house of the woman who I now regret to say has passed.
Grammie and Grampie always watched Oprah in the kitchen in the evening. Newspapers were strewn on the couch under the window. There was always the smell of home cooking emanating from that kitchen. I remember the kitchen table, too: it had a faux-marble-esque finish on top, but upraised so that if you wanted to write something, you had better put a book or pad underneath it. I can almost feel the texture of it if I concentrate. Grampie's chair was between the door and the cupboard, and he would never have to fight me for it in his shit clothes. I swear almost every time I entered I was greeted with a “Ho ho ho, look what the wind blew in,” or some other boisterous saying. He had a guffaw for a laugh and a questionable temperament, but he was a permanent fixture in that chair, or snoring in the living room, or yelling “Marion!” for some reason or another. Grampie used to mix all the food on his plate together, and when I cringed and asked him why, he would tell me it's all going to the same place.
My absolute favourite meal was the pancakes in the morning after a sleepover with the girls. At the time I had no idea what she did to those pancakes, but they were heaven on a platter. It wasn't so mysterious once I figured out it was olive oil that made them so divine, but at the time I was mystified. I couldn't understand how there was so much difference between Aunt Jemima and Bisquik. I've fondly imitated her method ever since.
From the side of the wash room was the bathroom, and above that the “dining room” with the wood stove. The floor always had bits of splinters and wood on it; I remember being careful when I was barefoot. It was an unused room, mostly, but it served our sledding clothes well when we needed to dry them. From that room and the kitchen was the hallway, complete with a rotary phone. But the living room was where most of the activity I remember took place.
The living room was the center of so many memories: sick days off of school, with Three's Company for company, along with All in the Family and the rest of the daytime line up. When my throat was sore, Grammie would mash up ice for me to chew and suck on. Sometimes she would make me hot chocolate, but I don't think I ever made it through a glass after I realized it was made with fresh cow milk. Oh yes. We're talking straight from the utter, into the fridge. I didn't have to try that twice. And I'd know if it was made with that because of the gross film that would form at the top of my drink. Blegh. I remember cinnamon toast, that was also a favourite. There was a black clock on the mantle, which never had the right time; the bust of the deer on the wall, which now dons at the new house. I remember their Christmas tree, complete with tacky bulbs and ornaments, and the big-bodied lights you can't find anymore. I think that was my favourite part. I remember all the cousins and aunts and uncles gathering for the gifts of money in a card and slippers, or tacky clothes. I would wear them in a heartbeat today.
In the last few hours of the formalities and visits of yesterday I remembered that old piano in the living room. Off-key, worse than my own, but a wonderful piece nonetheless. And I wonder, if it isn't ruined, if it could be restored. I remember practicing down at the farm, whatever assignments I had for my next lesson. I really hope it's a salvageable. If not for me, which is entirely presumptuous, for someone to enjoy. A piano is a beautiful thing to waste.
From the living room you could go upstairs; there was a banister that somehow became more wobbly as time went on. I would never admit to mischief on those stairs, be it sliding down the banister or “sledding” down the steps. Dad's room was on the right, messy, full of memorabilia. Through his room was the upstairs bathroom, and then the sewing room. To the left was the platform to the attic, then Dawn and Suzanne's room, and then the master bedroom. If you could make it up the stairs to the attic, oh the treasures you could find.
But the farm was much more than the house. It was everything that happened there. The embodiment of my childhood. Countless sleepovers with the cousins, Grammie yelling down for us to go to sleep. Games, giggles; even Robbie joined in once he was old enough. Every day after school I was greeted by the sights and sounds that only a farm could provide. The sound of the milker, the calling of the cows from pasture to barn, the cats, rubbing legs or skittering away. I spent endless days exploring the barn, making up games as children do. There were bodies-high bales of hay in the top; itchy and climbable. There were the holes in the floor where the bales were tossed down to the main floor. I think I may have been brave enough to make the jump down once or twice. There was the basketball net, where we played Around The World . . . if we could find an inflated basketball.
Grammie had a bunch of bikes in the garage, which we could all ride about on. The hills around the garage made the perfect track for us to race . . .
It's so hard to focus; to try to pull everything from my mind and make an attempt to tribute them in words. The farm was my childhood. It was everything. And I think that's what makes her death so monumental and heart wrenching. Not only am I mourning the loss of a person, but also that of an era: the loss of my childhood.
Monday afternoon I drove out with Dad and Tyler to see Grammie, lying in her bed on hospice. She still looked so good, and was more responsive than I thought. She reacted so warmly to Holly, Tammy, and Tracy before the medication drew her back to sleep. I rubbed her arm and held her hand, but it couldn't erase the guilt I felt in not seeing her for years. There were so many reasons I had to avoid seeing her, but none of them felt consequential anymore. Not while I was sitting there, holding her hand. Dad told her who I was, and about the endless sleepovers of my youth – just hearing him say it touched me deeply. He had to know how much those nights meant to recall them. I think she may have knew who I was.
After the girls left, Dad asked me if I wanted to hold her hand. As soon as I did, I just burst. Not a full-out cry, I didn't want to disturb her or have Dad or Tyler hear, but just tears streaming, blurring my vision. But I guess I knew it would be the last time I saw her alive. At one point while she was sleeping she coughed a bit and said something to the affect of, “Are the screens down?”, in reference to a storm coming, I suppose. I found it amusing. She was always so functional, but deep and caring as well. She knew what I was going through in high school, and was there for me in her own way.
As we were leaving I rubbed her arm one last time, and kissed her head. I said softly, “Bye Grammie.”
She died on Wednesday afternoon.
I think not knowing when the services would be was the worst part. What's happening? What's going on? These were all pressing questions in my mind, and no one had the answers because of the family strife. I went home a few hours early on Thursday. I just reached my limit of not crying and breaking down. I took off Friday and Saturday at Bernie and Ed's recommendation.
Sunday was the viewing. And I guess I would rather the closure of seeing her there, peaceful, gone, but it always . . . creeps me. They don't look right, they're propped up and filled up with whatever nonsense preserves them for us. It hardly matters to her, but I'd rather her be intact in her smelly, decaying glory. I'd rather see what she really is than what we perceive her to be.
I was overwhelmed with the amount of people who were there, but happy to see the ones I was once so close to. Aunt Shirley made the most touching gesture of all: she had gotten matches cross necklaces for all of us girls. I found beauty and calm in her thoughtfulness. I'm still wearing it now, and it is wonderful that I'm able to keep both them and Grammie close to me in this way.
But it took too long, and I was too uncomfortable, and when standing in her presence, I fell. I broke. It's just so hard to stand there and be face to face with her finality. Even after the service when final respects were given, I just cried. Who knows what to say when you're permanently in between religious philosophies, anyway? Hope you're in heaven, if it exists? Here's an empty prayer I know? I might not see you if that asshole pastor is right? I said what I knew how.
I said “Bye Grammie.”