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.

It seems that they approve of this message.

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The Bad Place

Daily Prompt: Smell You Later

Humans have very strong scent memory. Tell us about a smell that transports you.

Yesterday, I traveled 30 years back in time to a place that I had never really wanted to revisit…

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There’s nothing particularly special or unusual about what I do during the week. It’s just your average blue collar job giving painted facelifts to aging and abused apartments. It was just your average Thursday morning, and I was in my average lazy mood.

After a fifteen minute commute, I arrived at the run-down property that my husband manages. It’s not his fault that it’s in such disrepair; he does his best with what he has. The outside of place hasn’t been painted in over fifteen years, and though I offered to do the job for much less than any of the other commercial painters, the economy still won’t allow for any major renovations right now. The wooden privacy fence surrounding the property has either been pulled down in several places by the local class-cutting high school students looking for a place to hide out, or it has simply rotted away. The pool fence is being eaten away by rust. Most of the fenced in enclosures that house the air conditioning units have been destroyed by the local kids on their summer vacation. Many of the window screens have been torn up or ripped out. Several of the decorative shutters have fallen off. The parking lot needs to be resurfaced. The list goes on and on, but there’s just no money to have any of it repaired or replaced.  I tell my husband that he’s been demoted from property manager to slum lord, but he’s just too optimistic to accept it.

The insides of the places aren’t much better. I’ve come to realize that because of the deteriorating conditions outside, most of the residents aren’t motivated enough to take care of the inside, either. The apartment that I’m currently working in has a thick layer of nicotine on everything, torn up carpets with thick greasy stains all over them, and roaches as abundant as the stars.

I sat on the couch in my husband’s office for awhile, taking my sweet time nibbling at a microwaved breakfast sandwich, and trying to devise new ways to stall the inevitable. Eventually, though, I had to face the facts; 402 wasn’t going to paint itself, and I needed the money. So, I summoned up enough energy to haul my lazy rear end up of the sofa, grabbed my roller and brushes out of the refrigerator (that’s a nice little painter trick so that you don’t have to rinse them out at the end of every day), and toddled off to earn my dollar fifty and a small fry.

After fighting with the door for a moment because it’s one of those that you have to pull on in order for the key to properly turn in the lock, I finally managed to work it open and step inside. That same familiar nicotine smell ran to the threshold and greeted me, though it was admittedly not as strong as before due to the fresh coat of paint on several of the walls. I had already seen enough of this particular apartment to last a lifetime, though, so I decided to waste no more time getting started. I set my painting paraphernalia on the kitchen counter, grabbed my angled trim brush, popped open the 5 gallon bucket of white, and knelt down in a far corner of the living room to get started.

I had been avoiding that particular corner with good reason. I knew what those thick brown and yellow stains covering that matted patch of carpet were from. Sure enough, as I squatted down, my nasal passages were instantly assaulted by an all too familiar odor. Ooo, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell?

That memory smell. The one that sent a cold chill up my spine the second that my nostrils caught the first pungent whiff.

Animal urine…

I was instantly transported out of the ‘now’ to find myself gazing into the ‘way back when’.

Christmas time and a week or two of summer vacation in which I went with my parents to “The Cabin up North”, were really the only times of the year that I was made to visit my grandfather as a child. I couldn’t have been more thankful for that fact.

He was a crotchety old man. The kind that you see in the movies or on TV, waving a fist in the air on his front porch yelling “stay off my lawn!” at the neighborhood kids playing outside. I never saw him smile; at least, not in any of my childhood memories.

I was admittedly afraid of him, as would be any happy-go lucky, pig-tailed little girl whose attempts at fun were met with stern and foreboding glares and admonitions that little girls don’t behave in such a manner. Don’t run around the dogs. Don’t play around the dogs. Don’t raise your voice around the dogs. Don’t have fun around the dogs. Don’t be a child around the dogs…

The dogs.

My grandfather had 4 of them. Four Daschunds. These were NOT your average cute, cuddly little sausage dogs, either. No, these dogs were spawned directly out of the 10th pit of hell. They could not have been scarier had they had multiple heads and breathed fire. You could not make any sudden movements around these dogs, like running, or they’d tear into you faster than you could scream. You could not be loud around these dogs, for loud noises set them off and you could possibly lose a limb. There was one in particular, Schnapps, that was the meanest one of the bunch. You couldn’t even look at him, or he would growl and lunge at your face.

They behaved that way due mostly in part to the fact that they were spoiled rotten. They were the kings and queens of their castle. So much so, that they weren’t even made to go outside to go to the bathroom. There was a dog door in the kitchen that they NEVER used. They had corners of certain rooms that they had claimed as their toilets, and because of this, my grandfather’s house always smelled very strongly of animal urine. You really didn’t want to play in any of the rooms, either, unless you had to, because you’d have to dodge doggy land mines.

I remember the Christmas it happened. The Christmas that I first broke the rules. I was 8 years old. Perhaps even younger, but for some reason, my mind always reverts back to that particular age when I travel once again to the long ago and far away.

We were gathered at my grandfather’s house to exchange gifts and enjoy a holiday meal. I was “playing” in the guestroom, if you could even call it playing, with my grandfather’s wife’s grandson, Joey. In truth, it was more like we were sitting on the sofa watching TV and trying not to draw attention to ourselves.

We were kids, though, and boring TV quickly turned into some childish game that resulted in me running down the hallway. My feet had barely hit the cold, hard floor before Schnapps was hard on my heels and had his teeth sunk into the leg of my pants and the flesh within. He tore my corduroys, the ones that my beloved grandma had made for me. They were tan and had a monkey patch on the back pocket. The tears immediately started flowing, and to make matters worse, here came the grandwarden around the corner. He surveyed the scene. He didn’t really care whether or not I was hurt, he just started yelling at me because I had upset his precious dog.

He then wanted me to try to calm the vicious beast and make friends with it. “Just talk to him, just talk to him…” He’d say. I didn’t want to come within talking distance of that dog. I wanted nothing to do with Schnapps, or my grandfather, who seemingly cared nothing for me.

Every Christmas trip to grandpa’s house thereafter was just some nightmare that I had to live through. At least during the summer trips to the cabin I could hideout in the loft where my grandfather and his evil beasts wouldn’t venture, or I’d spend my time outside on the dock watching the ships roll through the channel, highlighting each new ship that I saw in my special book.

Gramps is long gone, and so is Schnapps. This still doesn’t change the fact that a filthy carpet ripe with animal urine takes me back. Back to a place that I’d never otherwise go.