June 23, 1969 at 7:50 am, my grandma passes away at the hospital. I am five. It is my brother’s birthday. What a mingling of joy and sorrow!
When I envision the events, it appears as a macular vulnerability zone, the peripheral edges are cloudy, but I can focus in on a few snapshots. That morning, we are all at their house. I am sitting at the kitchen table as a flurry of activity swirls about. My aunt emerges from the bedroom somewhat hysterical repeatedly saying, “She’s throwing up black bile…” My brother and I are removed from the house, taken to my other grandmother’s home. I am told that when my grandma passed away, my father sat on the edge of her hospital bed holding her, rocking back and forth, crying. I have a vague glimpse of the funeral home. I am standing alone beside a chair way back from the coffin, watching guests filter through. My brother and I are not allowed to go to the graveside and are taken to my other grandmother’s home. My parents pick us up late afternoon and take us home. We do not talk about ‘it.’ We do not cry. My mother tells me years later that our lives changed forever that day. About one week later, I startle awake in the middle of the night, begin walking around; I am incoherent making blood curdling screams. My mother is shaking me violently demanding to know what is wrong. I am five. I have no idea. I stop and go back to sleep. The next day I overhear my mother tell someone that she thinks it was a reaction to my grandmother dying.
Even though I am only five, I love my grandma and I know she loves me! She hugs me, she sits really close to me, she spends time with me, she cares about my well-being and safety, and they are always happy to see me; I feel warmly welcomed into their home! I have a few cherished memories.
When I am six months old, they tell me I traveled all over out west on vacation with the entire family, visiting states such as Utah, Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Colorado, California, etc. On that trip, my grandma buys me a little doll made of pink seashells. That doll sits in my bedroom for years and years. One day the glue holding the shells together begins to crumble from age. The shell doll joints are compromised and collapses into a pile of pink shells. I put those pink shells in a brown paper bag, pack them away in a chest, and every now and again get them out in remembrance. Many years ago, my husband and I are looking through a tote of memento. He picks up the brown paper bag, opens it, and pours the contents onto the bed. Not knowing what they are, he busts laughing asking me why I keep a pile of old pink seashells in a brown paper bag. We are bursting with hilarity. With my stomach aching from laughter and a mixture of joyful sentimental tears in my eyes, I explain the contents of my package to him. He knows it is much more than a year’s worn brown paper bag of old pink seashells. My grandma breezes by that day and I would like to believe she was laughing right along with us!
My mother drops me off once or twice a week at my grandparents for them to babysit. Grandma is always busying herself about the house doing something. And, I tag behind wanting to help her with whatever she is doing. Of course, it is not about what she was doing, it is about being with her. She always cooks a noon meal. My grandfather comes home at noon from doing his carpentry work to eat. I love being with them; it feels safe. After lunch, she does the dishes. When I am there, she places a kitchen chair right next to her at the sink, gives me a dishtowel, and I stand on that chair drying the dishes as she washes. Now remember, she is blind from the diabetes, but she continues to manage all the household chores. My mother tells me she would get down on her hands and knees with a 2 x 4 to scrub the floors, moving the 2 x 4 as she scrubbed, using the edge of that 2 x 4 as the indicator of where she was going. My mother also tells me that my grandmother continued to do laundry and iron despite the imperfections. I think my grandmother is amazing!
Many afternoons, when the dishes are done, my grandma hauls out the crayons and coloring books. This is my favorite time! I sit really close nestled by her side at the kitchen table coloring pages together. She often remarks, “Mine sure doesn’t look very good. I’m sorry I cannot see to stay in the lines.” And, I say, “It’s OK grandma, yours looks pretty.” Truthfully, my coloring is rather pathetic! It was not really about coloring, it was about spending time with her. I never saw her as blind, I think because she lived life as though she could see, with a few amenities that I never noticed.
Sometimes my brother is there. My grandmother keeps two skateboards on the porch for us to ride up and down the front sidewalk. My brother heads out the front door with me in tow, my grandmother telling us to be careful and not let the metal wheels run over our little fingers. We never stand on the skateboards to ride; we sit on them, push off the pavement with our hands, then hold on to the base as we speed down the incline of the sidewalk. My brother is a daredevil, but if he is doing something, certainly I am, too! And, we never run over our little fingers with the wheels!
Once a week my mother washes and sets my grandmother’s hair. My grandmother always uses Prell Shampoo and Dippity Do! The smell of Prell Shampoo and Dippity Do are forever locked away in my olfactory glands. Several years ago, my husband and I are visiting some friends, and on their kitchen countertop sits a bottle of Prell Shampoo. I literally do a double take! I immediately pick it up, open the bottle, and inhale a huge whiff. My grandma breezes by just for a split second.
Their house actually has two separate front doors. One door leads out to the porch where my grandfather can be found in the late afternoon or evenings quietly watching time pass. I want to go out there to sit with him, but there is a scary barrier between me and the front porch – a little black polka-dotted ceramic pug dog! Sometimes I forget about the little black polka-dotted ceramic pug dog and head that way because I want to sit with my grandpa on the porch. But, every time I see it sitting in the corner by the door, that dog utterly terrifies me into an immobile phobia. Funniest thing, no one knows of my phobia over this non-living tangible object. Somehow, I have personified this little dog; I fear he will attack me. When I come to my senses, I scurry out of that room, go out the other door, and make my way to the front porch where my grandfather welcomes me. I wonder what happened to that dog.
Here is where I think the root of my phobia lies. My grandparents live next door to a younger couple who have a little boy named Todd. He is about one year younger than me. On rare occasion, we play together. Now my mother has built a relationship with the mom because of course she is toting her Avon wares. My mother learns about the mean, ferocious German shepherd named Bullet that resides in their back yard. Apparently, Mr. Bullet has severely attacked a number of people and the officials have a close watch, as his life will be exterminated if one more person is attacked. They keep him secluded in the back yard behind a solid six-foot wooden fence that no eye can see through. I am forbidden to step foot in the back yard, and further prohibited to get anywhere near the fence. For some reason, I think that applies to Todd as well. Now I have never laid eyes on this beast. One day, Todd and I are playing on the front sidewalk. Todd’s dad is mowing the back yard. He comes out of the gate telling Todd that he wants him to come in the back yard and help him pick up lawn clippings. Todd enters the forbidden zone! The gate remains open and I watch him walk across the back lawn. Nothing is happening. Perhaps I could help pick up grass clippings as well. There is no dog attacking Todd. There is no dog barking. Maybe Bullet does not really exist. I peek into the forbidden zone from the open gate. I see no dog anywhere. I begin to walk gently across the grass into the forbidden zone with keen vigilance. I get about ten steps in when out of this doghouse shoots a Bullet in pursuit of none other than me. I let out a blood-curdling piercing scream, turn, and take off running about the speed of light. I am inches from the open gate when Bullet chomps down twice on my right butt cheek! I am bitten and bleeding through my shorts. It is a miracle that savage brute did not eat me alive! Now I have zero memory until I recall laying on my stomach under the brilliant lights on a table in the ER, not crying a drop, getting my butt stitched up, and asking over and over again, “Where’s my dad?” For days, I am afraid to sit down, have a bowel movement, run, or do any activity that might rip my butt open. I have cynophobia for many years. Bullet was not exterminated due to my injuries, but months later, he got loose and literally tore the stomach out of a man walking down the street. Bullet’s life ended that day. My grandmother carried much guilt over this incident because she heard me scream, but was unable to get to me because of her vision. It is all good grandma; I did not follow the rules!
At Christmas, when I am four, I get a tiny pretty wrapped box. Everyone is watching me open this gift. I remove the lid and see cotton squares. I confiscate the cotton from the box and squealed with delight, “Oooo, just what I wanted, cotton for my baby” being very thankful for my grandmother’s thoughtfulness. Everyone starts laughing, but I do not understand. My aunt takes the box and shows me that inside is a silver heart necklace with tiny different colored rhinestones around the edge. I have a picture of me wearing that necklace. And guess what? I still have the necklace 51 years later stored away in a little cedar box in my closet in mint condition along with her wristwatch. I take it out every now and again. My grandma breezes by for a split second.
A couple years ago, I am visiting with my aunt, asking her all kinds of questions about the family line. We talk about my grandma for just a bit. My aunt says to me, “You are just like her! You have her same spirit!” For me, it was a huge honor to consider that I carry a piece of my grandma forward in this world. Now I do not have diabetes and I am not blind, but these are matters of the heart. I think she breezed by that day and smiled. I walk out of my aunt’s house on a little cloud.
You see one day, the heavens will part and be rolled back as a scroll, and although Jesus will be waiting to welcome me home, I’d like to believe that grandma will be standing there waiting to welcome me into her new home. In eternity, when time shall be no more, I want to hug her, sit really close to her, hold her hands, and tell her how much I love her. On occasion, I think about her and wonder what my life could have been with her alive; maybe my life would not have changed forever that day.
Love you, mean it!