My last surviving grandparent is no more. She lived for 96 years.
A strong, active, productive person, a farmer’s wife for many years, who kept children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren supplied with beautiful quilts and knitted outerwear.
My favorite scarf, great for braving northern chill, is large and long and warm and knitted by Grandma. We are all kept warm in the winter by her quilts and afghans.
My ex-friend Richard, when he stayed with us, I gave him one of Grandma’s quilts to keep him warm as he slept on the couch. He took it with him when he and his family moved into their own place, so I finally had to get it back from him again. He protested because it was large enough to cover him and his wife, and was very warm.
“But my grandmother made that quilt!” I said.
“Have her make another quilt,” he said.
But he finally gave it back.
We visited Grandma every holiday, or she came to visit us, bringing her little white dog.
Some of the Michigan roads near her house were still dirt; when I was little, she put me in her bike basket and pedaled me over those roads and the gravel shoulders of the paved roads. When I got older, she put her little dog in the basket instead.
The roads to her house were full of hills that made your stomach jump up as the car dipped down. Because of this, the road signs constantly switched from “Do Not Pass” to “Pass With Care.”
When I was a toddler, they put me on a tractor in the open barn door. I felt high above the ground, scary and exhilarating at once. My parents still have the picture. This was no small tractor.
In 1984, she cut her hair like Mondale’s running mate, the first woman to run for Vice-President, Geraldine Ferraro. She and Grandpa had always been Democrats, which annoyed my Republican dad.
She joined a Nazarene church before I was born, and went there until she moved to Texas. She loved church, and whenever I visited, she took me there. I had friends in the Sunday School, and one year I went to Vacation Bible School there. A church bus picked me up along with other country kids.
She loved garage sales; many of my toys were sale finds, or she would make old doll torsos into air fresheners with knit dresses. She knitted clothes for my dolls as well.
She put on quite a spread, such as egg nog and candy popcorn balls for Christmas and lots of candy to stuff yourself with for Easter.
I remember visiting her every summer for one or two weeks, staying in her 100-year-old house with the large red barn in back and fields which she could no longer work.
My uncle worked the fields now. But she kept a kitchen garden, where she brought me along to pick and shuck peas for that night’s dinner.
I ate fudge bars while reading books, went to the big walk-in attic to play with old toys, a chalkboard, and books that once belonged to my father and uncles, wrote my own newspaper with comic strips such as Perdita the ant, and imagined the trees in the whispering leaves of the oak tree were people with their own stories.
I had my first experience of deja-vu there, looking up at the ceiling from a chair which she had only just moved, and realizing I had dreamed of this before knowing she moved it.
Grandpa’s Woods out back were beautiful, but I was scared to go there because the adults warned me of deer flies.
Sometimes I slept in one of the bedrooms upstairs, imagining them populated with various monsters and ghosties, whom I could identify individually. Once, I heard caterwauling from my window.
Some of my mental stims began one summer while I slept in the big upstairs bedroom.
Sometimes I slept on the porch, with air coming through the many screened windows, while a mosquito buzzed in my ear, cars whizzed speeding by on the road (it was customary to speed down that road), and I realized that the number 8 and its various multiples were my favorite numbers.
In the dining room I would juggle the little white poodle mix’s toy balls, and realize that country silence was a deafening roar.
There were many glass shelves covered in neat knick-knacks, antiques, probably from the 30s, 40s and 50s, one a lady’s head probably from the 30s, another a tractor.
One year, she put a brand-new bathroom in the attic, since she often worked upstairs on her quilts, there was plenty of room, and the stairs were high and steep. Finally, there were two bathrooms, and nobody had to wait for other people anymore. But the water still tasted the same upstairs as down, that strange well-water taste.
She took me with her to visit Grandpa’s grave, where she tended flowers. I once found an anniversary card in which she wrote to Grandpa that she hoped to reach 50 years together. Unfortunately, he died right before they made it to 50.
There were dragonflies and damselflies; I learned to ride a bike on her large, round gravel driveway; trash was burned in a barrel out back.
The motorhome was out there, too, a small and old Winnebago, which smelled like old apples and broke down any time we traveled with it. Grandma and my mom cooked in it, even though they had to use a stove so ancient that you had to light the gas with a long match.
The first year we took it to Texas, which I think was 1983 when I was 10 (my grandpa had died on my birthday that year), we could barely go 20mph on the Interstate.
My dad looked at the inner workings underneath the floor, and discovered that Grandpa had turned the battery over–on purpose, we believed–so the motorhome would not go faster. (He had a thing against speed.)
Dad turned it over, and we finally stopped getting passed by every single vehicle on the Interstate. We were still slow, but not nearly so slow.
The heating system was one big pipe coming out of the front section blowing engine heat; this totally sucked because we were traveling in winter and it took forever to get out of the northern states while going 20mph on a good day.
That motorhome was so notorious that the story was told at her funeral, along with her memoirs for the family history. And yet she kept it all those years, traveling in it, and sleeping in it sometimes during the summer.
Unfortunately, the last memory I have of her is from 2007, the last time I saw her, because she moved to Texas and my husband and I did not have the means to go visit. She also was too old to go back up to visit us once she had moved.
We expected she would not last much longer, because she was very old and her mind was going. My mom says it was Alzheimer’s/dementia.
My once-strong, independent grandma, who would get up at the crack of dawn and work work work all day, could barely take care of herself.
She had lived next to one of my uncles nearly all her life, but he and his wife (always a difficult woman) were now estranged from her. She moved to the warm near one of my other uncles until she died.
The ashes, delivered a day late, were not ready to put in an urn in time for the funeral. The preacher read from her memoirs, but there was no body.
Later that day, I discovered the package with the ashes, waiting to be properly dealt with, at my parents’ house.
My grandmother, once a tall, strong, independent woman, full of talent and skill and opinion, was now in one small box. My parents say it must weigh about 25 pounds, even though it’s so small.
That’s when it hit me. Her spirit is not there; this is just her body, not “her.” But that was once her. And now it’s all in just a small box……