Grandmother Times Two

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Left:Grams, Middle:Me, Right:Bets

My grandmas were as diff’rent as night and day,
But both of them loved in their own special way.
I would have adored for them both just to stay,
But grandmas, I fear, must one day go away.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about both of my Grandmothers a lot lately. I think that this dive into the memory pool is due mostly in part to the fact that during a recent vacation to visit my parents, my dad and I reminisced a bit about my Grandma Betty. “Bets” as she was called by all who knew her, had many eccentricities. My dad would always say that she was somewhat of a cross between Phyllis Diller and Lucille Ball.

The whole reminiscence was brought about by hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs.

We were preparing a dinner of what was supposed to be hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and we realized after the hamburgers were finished cooking that we had forgotten to put the hot dogs on altogether. So, we just microwaved them instead. Bets would not have approved, for she liked her hot dogs hot off the grill, and burnt to a charcoal crisp. I mimicked her voice to my dad; that loud, gravelly voice filled with laughter that we would hear at every cook-out and function during the warmer months, calling to my dad as he stood over the grill. “Johnny, I want a black weenie,” she would say. We would all then burst into laughter at the sheer ridiculousness of that request.

We chuckled at the memory, my dad and I. Ah Bets, we sure do miss you.

So, I decided to dedicate today’s post to them; the Grandmothers that I loved, and ultimately lost.

When we’re children, we don’t stop to think about the fact that they won’t be there some day. Grandmothers just seem so eternal, as if they will always be permanent fixtures in our lives. We tend to take the quilts, cookies, and cuddles for granted until we wake up one day and realize that we aren’t young anymore, and neither are they. Then the inevitable happens; they leave us with nothing but memories of the love that they lavished upon us, and it’s too late to go back and savor every deliciously perfect moment that we were able to share with them.

My grandmothers were both very different, but they got along well. I can’t recall a Christmas, birthday, or any other major even in my life that they weren’t both there to celebrate with me; until they were gone. Then I noticed their absence even more than I noticed their presence at such events, because it left a gaping hole that had always been filled by their big happy hearts.

They both lived their lives at opposite ends of some stereotypical grandmother spectrum, but it’s hard to picture either of them any other way than how they simply just were.

Bets was a social butterfly, and after she was awake and dressed each day, she was off and running. My other grandmother, Grandma Groth, or “Grams”, was your typical grandmotherly type. She baked. She quilted. She knitted. My home is still graced by some of her lovingly crafted creations today.

Bets would start her day off with gin and juice and a morning smoke. Grams would start hers with a poached egg, toast, and coffee.

Grams gave the best hugs. Bets would cover your face in sloppy lipstick coated kisses.

If I wanted to find Bets, I knew to look at the American Legion. She would likely have beer in hand, and be perched upon the bar stool that she had claimed long ago and that had, by then, formed to fit the shape of her backside. If I wanted to find Grams, I knew that she’d either be at the local bowling alley, taking part in her senior’s league and staying young at heart, or in her own kitchen.

Grams loved to cook and bake, and her award winning confections were raved about by all that knew her. She made the most amazing chocolate chip cookies. She also made these things called “Butterhorns” that were to die for. They were basically croissants made from scratch with raspberry jam in the middle, covered with a thin layer of frosting and crushed walnuts. I can almost taste their soft, sweet deliciousness as I sit and call to mind the memory of them now. Bets, well…she could make a mean bowl of corn flakes. That was the extent of her culinary skill . She couldn’t be bothered spending her time tied to a kitchen.

Bets had this cackling, infectious laugh that you could hear from across the room. She also didn’t have much of a filter between her brain and her mouth. If she was thinking it, she said it, often to the point of embarrassment. “What are those red spots all over your face, Piggy-coo?” (Hated that name, I seriously did, especially since I struggled with my weight from about 8th grade on.) “They’re zits, Grandma. Thanks for pointing them out at my graduation party in front of all my friends.”

Grams had her “Grandma-isms”; all these silly little sayings that she’d use regularly that made no sense whatsoever.  “Kwitcherbelliachin”, which was coincidently displayed on a bright green plaque by her door, was what she would say if you were doing more than your fair share of complaining.  “Want an egg in your beer?” was given in response if you were just being too demanding. “Like poop through a tin horn.” (Okay poop wasn’t the exact word she used but you get the idea.) I think that one indicated swiftness. “Sugar jets!” was an exclamation of frustration. I’m sure that there were more, but those were the most prominent ones that come to mind.

I miss them both very much. Like all Grandmothers, though, their time on this earth was just way too brief.

Grandma Betty’s lifetime of drinking and smoking finally caught up with her, and she succumbed to her vices swollen and gasping for each shallow breath hooked up to a ventilator in the local hospital’s intensive care unit. When I was told that she had taken a turn for the worse, and would likely not last through the night, it took all the reserve I could muster to make the pilgrimage to visit her that one last time. I could hardly bear to see her like that, but I needed to say my good-byes. I knew that there would be regrets on my part if I didn’t.

She could do nothing more than move her eyes at that point, but as I held her swollen and limp hand in mine, she rolled her now kidney failure yellowed eyes  in my direction. I realized then that she was looking at me for the last time in this all too short and fragile life. As her eyes locked on mine, my tears started to flow. I read her goodbye written in those once vibrant eyes, and that brief goodbye gaze tore my heart out. I told her I loved her, kissed her clammy forehead, and made my departure. The woman that I had once thought to be immortal had fallen, and I could scarcely handle seeing her as less than the star of the one woman show that she had always been to all who knew her.

Grams went much more peacefully, and it was simply old age that finally got the better of the strong, independent, active woman that I had also thought would live on forever. It was in her sleep in the nursing home where she resided that she finally left us. I had already started my new life 1200 miles away by that time, and I received the phone call from my mother breaking the news to me.

I didn’t have the money for travel expenses, so I wasn’t able to make it to the funeral to pay my respects to Gram one last time. That fact devastated me almost as much as her passing, and I will always have pangs of regret because of it.

It was hard on me for a good long while to lose her, even though I only saw her toward the end during the 2 times a year that I made the trip home to visit. I would stop into the nursing home every time, and she would always recognize me, even though her moments of memory loss became more and more frequent with each passing year. I loved to walk into her room and hear her exclaim my name and watch her eyes light up with all the joy and wonder of one who has just spotted a celebrity in their presence. It always reminded me of just how much she genuinely loved me.

Even though I never got to truly say goodbye, I can rest assured that she knew I loved her, too.

If any of your grandmothers are still with you, appreciate them. They won’t always be there, so find the time to let them know you love them and enjoy each moment that you’re able to spend with them.

If you’re a grandmother yourself, just know that you’re loving presence is one of the greatest blessings that your grandchildren could ever receive, and they will one day realize it.

This little trip down memory lane has caused me to shed a few new tears, but they’re welcome tears. Tears of warmth. Tears of fondness. Tears of privilege at having had my grandmothers in my life.

I just looked up to see them both standing before me, smiles on their fading but not forgotten faces, and eyes filled with love.

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6 thoughts on “Grandmother Times Two

  1. Shawn that was great to read and I loved those butterhorns too! One of my grandma’s died this summer and I’m still sad over it although I haven’t seen her much the last 32 years. She had a HUGE impact the first 20 years of my life. My two grandma’s were also different as night and day, we are so fortunate to have learned from them aren’t we? Thanks for sharing,I did enjoy hearing about these women.

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