Today would have been grand’s 92nd birthday.
My kid, my mom, and my grand are all exactly four months apart birthday-wise, all on the same day. I find patterns fascinating, if you cannot tell.
I’ve spent a great deal of time trashing grand on some level almost every time I’ve referred to them. It’s warranted, but there were good points too. In a great many ways, grand was quite the tragic character. To them, love was a nonrenewable, fixed resource. In order to make room for something new, you had to take away from what was. With that kind of perspective, I guess its no wonder they withheld so much love and affection from the world if they were under the impression it would run out.
From what I gather from their siblings, grand was always a “glass is half-empty” type. I don’t remember them ever taking the initiative to be optimistic, but somehow, deep down I know they always seemed to maintain some element of hope in spite of everything.
Grand loved telling stories… of their past mostly. Over and over and over…and over. However, I had to come to learn through experience that any story in which grand was the martyr or victim was 99.9% complete horseshit. I tried to solidify the ones that were more positive, shift+del anything else.
Grand was tough as nails though. Grand lost their spouse and one of their parents within a month of one another, the wake for the spouse was held right before a snow storm in which they became trapped in their home with various well-wishers for a few days and somehow managed to keep things organized and comfortable.
Grand’s spouse had just started a fairly new business that was just breaking ground before they died, one with which my grand had 0 experience. They learned the business and took it over for the next 20+ years, closing shop only when they decided to retire. As the times changed, I watched as they, who hated technology, embraced their very first computer, of which I was not even allowed to look at cross-eyed lest it disintegrate under my very gaze. Grand was hesitant with it, but never once admitted defeat.
Grand navigated a lot on the barter system and understood exactly how to claim it on a tax return. They never danced in the grey area of the law and would snatch a knot in anyone who tried. Grand also took over ten years before they would ever increase the charges to their clientele, and fought it voraciously until they simply had no choice. Grand even took up a second job doing research to help supplement their income.
Grand taught me that there is a distinct difference between quality and quantity, and cheapest wasn’t always best, sometimes you get exactly what you pay for. Grand taught me that a good piece of furniture could last you a lifetime, so invest wisely. Also, don’t ever bring it home until its fully yours.
My entire childhood I had never had health insurance, but I was never lacking. I remember a great many conferences with orthodontists, doctors, etc held behind closed doors when it was decided I needed anything, like braces. As I got older and was given the opportunity to go abroad during the summer, grand never let on it was any kind of hardship to fund. Looking back, I’m fairly certain what grand pulled in was probably in the poverty level even then.
When it was time for me to go to college, grand again never let on there was any kind of strain. I found out in my second semester that they were using their retirement savings to fund my college education. I found out about and promptly filled out a PEL grant application, to which grand replied “I don’t take charity!” when I asked them to sign it. In turn, I promptly dropped my classes before my second year and joined the workforce instead.
Grand always seemed to have an additional mortgage or two on their home. I found out later that grand just couldn’t seem to say no when their kid’s asked for large sums of money. This pissed me off on more than occasion, especially considering one in particular hit up their retired parent living on social security for over 20k and then failed to make payments. I wanted to toss them off a cliff, but only if grand had life insurance on the bastard before I did… I could make it look like an accident.
The other side of that coin is that grand was probably suffering from dementia even before I was born. Children who had long paid their debts back to grand… this point would be forgotten. When that happened, they were generally ostracized and cussed out for being such ingrates and not paying back their debts (even when they did). I truly do not believe grand could retain the memory of one debt to the next. Their memories were getting chopped up and slowing ebbed away.
Grand’s spouse had a heart condition. They had not been given long to live when it was found and they decided not to tell their children, but they survived another thirteen years. Just before they died, my mom and her parent had a fight. My mom was a 17 year old kid at the time, and she was being exactly what a teenager does best… a pain in the ass. Spouse had a bad heart attack and passed away not long after. Thirty years later, my mom died with the still deep guilt of feeling like she killed the parent to whom she was closest. And grand… and grand made sure she was buried in the guilt, and blamed her too.
I came along a couple years later and I’m pretty sure I was taken away from my mom by grand as a punishment. Grand used an old diary of my mom’s as evidence of her being an unfit mother, enlisting my uncle to assist them. Grand’s spouse was a revered member of the community and had friendships with lawyers… and judges. My mom, still being a kid herself, just didn’t have a leg to stand on. The only time I would hear grand start to speak nicely of my mom would be about a year after she died. I’d never been so enraged, and made grand cry. I refused to listen to grand coo about my mom, while using the tragedy to yet again write themselves a martyr. I’m not sure if it was thick skin or a strange period of clarity but I made grand cry a lot that year. I call it penance.
On a nicer side, grand is the reason I love road trips and why I can still navigate an atlas with ease. I tend to enjoy the journey more than the destination and this is in no small part attributed to grand’s allowances to my experimental navigational style. I was addicted to small roads that led off the main highway, and grand very much enjoyed this too. Looking back, I was not very old when I was given almost full control in deciding the route to our destination… perhaps even earlier than ten. These days, I find myself often instructing my kid on how to read mile markers, how to tell what direction a road heads based on the number, how to determine north from west, even at night.
Because of grand, I have had chicken soup in the Capital building and visited the Smithsonian. I met Strom Thurmond’s very young and spandexed wife (seriously, she looked like she was an extra on Xanadu). I’ve had a sip from the Fountain of Youth (fat lot of good that did), seen Native American rain dances, met the Amish, and a slew of other adventures both big and small.
Grand and I got one last great adventure when I migrated back from the west and I got to show them a gas station with a full casino in it in Reno, the best shoreline drive on highway 1 from San Francisco, the west coast, sand dollars that didn’t come from a gift shop, a petrified forest, real amounts of snow, sleeping in rest areas, buffalo, the majesty of the Redwoods, Mount Rushmore, taking a piss in the forest and having your picture taken by your pain in the ass grandchild while you’re doing it.
They loved every stinking minute of it. Whenever grand would have their negative moments, I would find the nearest vineyard and let them imbibe a glass or two of the alcoholic persuasion. Grand was at least a happy drunk. Considering I made them check their sugar often and regulated the food while together, grand was doing fine for a change. I remember on more than one occasion telling grand “look, you’re bitching is wearing on my nerves so either you get drunk or I do.”
I guess this is the point where I need to stop and explain something. Grand has always treated me like a small adult. I do the same thing with my kid. The difference though is grand was befuddled with me once I started having strong opinions, mostly especially when they didn’t agree with theirs 100%. The older I got, the more they lost interest or maybe they just didn’t know how to talk to me anymore. However, in spite of all of that, I was probably closer to grand than anyone else had ever been. I understood grand on some level, but there was a lot of the rest of it I just didn’t put up with and I didn’t hold back.
My grand was all about an Emily Post level of etiquette, ladies acting like ladies, gentlemen acting like gentlemen, and I was all about dying my hair purple and getting a new set of combat boots. Considering grand was of the generation that deemed “your mommy wears combat boots” as the ultimate of insults (no clue why), I must have seemed rather wild. We were such vast oceans of contrast, but still… as long as we didn’t have to live under the same roof (read: one owned by grand, they were a much better house guest), we could get along pretty well.
I was the Sex Pistols to their Andrews Sisters. It was an odd mix.
I suspect on some level though, grand envied my devil may care attitude. To this day, I have people who I have known from preschool on to current co-workers and bosses that are connected to me in various social media. They could easily sit down and trade notes about me with one another and what they would find… is that I’m pretty much the same across all areas. Outwardly, I may change faster than a speed dating session, but personality-wise, I refuse to mask who I am with different people. Grand had a million faces for as many people. That had to be exhausting. They even had one for each of their kids. I suspect I’m the only one who got to see the feisty, funny, adventuresome person of whimsy they could be.
I got to see all the negative shit too and we had more than one falling out that caused us to go radio silent for months, but I was their rock, their go to. I didn’t mind that. When grand had surgery, I was where they came when they were healing. When they were lonely, I was one of their first calls.
About a year or so after our one last hurrah, TAIWASAPD (The Devil Aunt) kind of rushed grand into an assisted living facility where they were held for the next few years. From what I understand, the state could have claimed anything grand owned had they been moved to a state facility before then…. because that’s important? I offered to take grand on the condition the aunt could have all of grand’s shit and leave us alone, but that didn’t fly. I was outvoted by the remaining kids, who up until this couldn’t have given a shit less. I am pretty sure they suspected I was after grand’s vast riches…yeah, I can barely get that line out without snorting.
After grand went into this place, I never saw a person deteriorate so fast. It isn’t the person that is the problem, these places suck the very spirit out of the people forced to be there. When you have someone who is suffering from dementia, the last thing you do is put them somewhere that is unfamiliar and with a bunch of strangers. It killed me to watch as within a year grand packed on a ton of weight and was borderline delusional. In two, grand was in a diaper and had to use a walker to get around. Grand sat near the front door, waiting for someone they were convinced was coming to take them home. Every. Fucking. Day.
On the rare times I could make the drive up there to visit (it was several hours away and I had a rapidly dying vehicle), I spent hours while grand tried again and again to figure out who I was. I never failed to get them back every time, but it only lasted a little while, every time shorter than the last. I was told on more than one occasion by the director that even though said aunt lived less than five minutes away, I was the first time they’d seen anyone spend any real amount of time with grand.
When grand finally could not move at all on their own, TAIWASAPD moved them to a state facility. Grand’s skin came to look like a giant full-body blister. Every time they turned grand, they screamed from the pain of the bed sores covering their back and bottom. Grand was straw-fed these stupid shakes because they could no longer chew. It would be the last time I would see grand. I spent a long time taking a soft cloth and washing grand. I cleaned as much of their body as I could without causing pain, I washed their hair, and I brushed their teeth. I told them stories they had told me growing up. I started with the oldest first and working my way forward.
I reminded grand of the time when they and their sister had to ride in the rumble seat of their parents’ car out in the cold whilst their little brother and baby sister got to stay inside. The little brother of course was staring at the both of them and pulling faces, asserting his dominance being able to ride where it was warm. Grand is focusing on the words. I can tell when I look that they see pictures to this in their mind.
I remind grand that when their father was being a disciplinarian, he would say “I’m going to stomp you through the floor and leave a greasy spot” with a smile on his face because he thought this was terribly funny. Grand is smiling
I remind grand about how their mom was such a perfectionist, she would redo all the bedding when the kids attempted to make up their beds. Grand’s mom was the old school type who was dressed to the 9’s by the time grand’s father came home. Grand is kind of frowning slightly.
I remind grand of the time when the house they were renting when the kids were little caught fire and they didn’t have a phone, so grand took off barefoot in the middle of the night and leap over a six foot ditch to reach the neighboring house to call the fire department, starting a bucket brigade not too long after. I tell grand what a badass their kids thought they were when they did that. Grand’s eyes finally become more clear and they are trying to focus on me. Grand doesn’t care for this memory, but my assertion of being a badass garners interest. That’s not one of grand’s memories, it was what grand’s children have told me over the years.
I remind grand of playing the violin while their spouse played the piano and how they sang together at church in their hometown. I remind grand of the day when their bow fell apart because the humidity in the church that day was especially destructive and grand was rendered unable to play.
I remind them of making the first birthday cake their spouse ever received their entire life after they were married. I remind grand of contacting their mother-in-law and chewing their ass out for never having provided a birthday cake to their own child when they demanded one themselves. I remind grand of the tradition they held after that of always having for their spouse everything they provided for their kids each holiday since they’d been left out of Easter baskets as well. I hear a faint chuckle.
I remind grand of the crazy woman they had to stay with before moving to a permanent residence who woke up them up in the middle of the night convinced she was having a heart attack and demanded grand had to stab her heart pills with a stick pin before she could take them, only to cause grand to stab their fingers a dozen times before the woman released the most epic belch. I hear grand snort.
I remind grand of them having to tie their youngest son in a harness that was inside out and backwards and safety-pinned, staked in the yard while they did chores because he liked to escape more effectively than Houdini at the age of three, and go play in the six lane highway. Grand is smiling.
I remind grand about the person they dated in high school and about their 50th high school reunion (which I actually attended) and how they had not lost a single person then. I ask if grand would consider dating that person again. I get a look that says “are you freaking kidding me?”
I remind grand about the beach we went to every year until I was in high school. I remind them of cocoa and sunrises on cold mornings curled up on folding chairs. I remind grand of friends through the years we only knew there, some long passed, and the funny stories that went with them.
I remind grand of some of our road trips. I talk about the things we had seen and the places we’ve gone. I ask grand if they want me to sneak them in a margarita, or just to skip straight to the bottle and do some shots. Grand is giggling at this point.
Grand looks at me with full recognition and says softly, “hey sweetie, you’re here!,” beaming. We stare silently at one another for a few moments, just smiling and acknowledging this small hard won reunion, but its worn them out and grand soon dozes off.
Grand passed away not long after.