In memory of my grandmother, who died a little more than a year ago, I'm reposting this. It appeared on a previous blog of mine, posted on March 4, 2005. I've been thinking about family quite a bit lately, so I figured this deserved a re-airing.
I recently completed a trip. I drove over 1400 miles and traveled more than thirty years back in time.
I was born in Scottsbluff, a small town in far western Nebraska. I don't remember when I was last there, but I know I wasn't driving yet so it's been more than thirty years.
My grandmother is moving into an assisted living facility so she contacted a number of us to go through her belongings and see if we wanted anything. She already lives at the facility but she's moving from the 'independent' section to the 'assisted' section. She's 88 ("snowmen" if you play poker) and due to the vagaries of insurance it's hard to get immediate care if you need it in the independent apartments. In the assisted living section assistance is a button push away. So she sends out the call and I finagle some time off of work and off we go a la Herbert George Wells.
Teresa and I board the cats on Saturday in anticipation of getting an early start on Sunday. Oops. I was hoping to get out no earlier than 8:00, but we weren't on the road until 10:00. Mapquest said it would take us about 12 hours but, knowing how I drive, I mentally add a couple of hours to that estimate.
The weather, at least, was cooperative. We had a little drizzle in Kansas but otherwise Mother Nature was at her best. I remember building snow forts when I was a kid that would last for weeks, and seeing frequent drifts that were taller than I was, so an extended forecast of mid-50s to low-60s kind of astounded me. I later found out it astounded the locals as well.
We made it to Sidney, NE that first day, 9:00 Central time, but somewhere along the way we had meandered into Mountain time so everyone else thought it was 8:00. Sidney is only about two hours from Scottsbluff but my eyes were starting to play tricks on me so it was time to stop. (I love to drive and Teresa hates to drive, so I did all the driving all the way there and all the way back. But hey, that's nuthin'. We traveled about 4000 miles on our honeymoon and I drove all but 200 miles of it.)
I wasn't sure what to expect when we got there. We have a small apartment, already crammed full - me with my magic, Teresa with quilting, and both of us with books - so I knew we couldn't take much, and certainly nothing big. But hey, it may be my last chance to see grandma.
It's really strange watching someone go through the accumulations of their life, deciding what is important and what is expendable as they figure things will end soon. Some of the choices were obvious and others were less so. Grandma has buried a husband and two children, one of them my mother, and she saved memories from each.
I remember when my uncle died when I was very young. We lived in Omaha then. Uncle Joel's number had come up in the draft. The way I heard the story, my grandparents were upstairs and they heard a pop. Apparently it didn't sound like a gun. They went to investigate and found him on the basement floor, one of my grandfather's rifles still in his hands. We drove to the funeral, but my brothers and I didn't attend. I remember lots of strangers offering condolences, but I was really too young to understand. He was my favorite uncle. Grandma saved some clippings from the memorial service, but not much else.
My mom, her daughter, died just before Thanksgiving in 2003. (I hate November/December. I've had more friends and family die in those two months than in all the others combined. I'm certain that when I go it will be in November.) Again, there were some items from a memorial service but not much else. She decided to pitch a bunch of old photos.
She kept a number of things from her husband, who died several years ago. He painted, so she kept some of his paintings. She also kept a number of photographs. She reminisced a lot about him. I had to bite my tongue - he severely abused my mother, a cycle she perpetuated with her children. I understand how these cycles get carried on, and it's the reason I don't have any children despite Teresa and I having just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary.
88 years old and everything she owns now fits in half of a very small room. She seemed remarkable unsentimental in getting rid of the rest. She would speak lovingly of a copper tea set she and her husband picked up on a cruise to Acapulco, then beg us to take it off her hands. Wedding pictures (hers, her childrens', her grandchildrens') - pitched. Most of her clothes - gone. Ditto with furniture, jewelry, knick-knacks, kitchen utensils and a whole lot of other stuff you really don't realize you accumulate until you need to get rid of it.
I ended up with a microwave, a few photos (including a picture of me in my hippie days - young, hair past my shoulders, and [sigh] thin), and some new thoughts to process.
I look around as I type this and I'm surrounded by stuff. Way more stuff than I need. Certainly more stuff than our 850 square foot apartment can comfortably accommodate. And to what end? When I'm 88 (assuming I haven't expired some November prior to that), I'll just have to call someone - and I won't even have grandkids... not having children does that - and unsentimentally have them cart most of it away.
I think I'll start early. I've already quit buying new magic. I think I'll be giving some of the old stuff away. Not all of it, mind you, but right now I have way more than I need to keep me busy to the end of my days, even if I make it way past 88.
The trip also reaffirmed my love for magic. Teresa and I ate in the care center's communal dining room Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I performed those final two days. On Tuesday people were at first hesitant, but after they saw what I could do they warmed up. On Wednesday I hadn't planned on performing at all but several tables requested me so hey, what can you do when your public beckons? One lady kept following me around, acting as my announcer/ PR person/#1 fan.
I mentioned a Zen saying in a post several months ago - the one that says you can't step in the same river twice. I think my river just radically changed course.
...and grandma? As little as Teresa and I did, grandma just kept thanking us for how much we helped. We showed up, we met her friends, we shared memories, we made sure she was ok. I'm pretty sure these meant more to her than any of the stuff she has ever accumulated.