Saturday, August 15, 2009

You only live twice

This last week, Mama's Grammy--3B's Great Grammy--died.

Because Mama was 38, now 39, weeks pregnant, we couldn't go to the funeral. It was heartbreaking not to be there, but Mama's mom told Mama that she shouldn't even think about coming, which settled it.

It was hard in different ways for Mama and me. Mama was quite close to her Grammy, having taken full advantage of her ability to visit Grammy throughout her life, even during college and all of her travels after that.

I lost my second Grandmother when I was in college, and I made a decision then that still makes me cringe so hard my toes curl until my feet cramp. I decided not to go to her funeral. I had my reasons then, I suppose, but in hindsight, they were worth the air they were spoken into. Mom, to her credit, tried to convince me to go, but left the decision to me, not resorting to any emotional pleas or ploys.

It wasn't that I didn't love my Grandmother--I adored her. Perhaps that's just because she served us a selection of mango, guava, apricot or orange juice along with sausage links and Sara Lee treats at breakfast. Or because she had a bucket of Lincoln Logs that she let us strew around her living room as we did battle with each other and exploded many forts with precariously arranged watchtowers. Or because she had a pool in her back yard--with a diving board. Or maybe it was the jars of candies along the back of her kitchen counter that we could snack from as we watched TV with a remote control--you know the pressed the button on it--kachunk!--and the knob on the console TV actually turned to the next station.

I could go on, but it wasn't any of that, of course. It was Grandmother's unrestrained love, her mirth and her delight in life that created my love of her.

As funerals do, Grandmother's gathered a wide-ranging family together in a long moment of kinship that can never be repeated. After I realized what I had done wrong and missed out on, I swore to never miss another family funeral. If we're not there for each other even in death, what is the thickness of this blood we share?

Having a family of my own has caused me to add some footnotes to that vow, and I've had to add another one now. See, even though Mama's Grammy wasn't my Grammy by birth, she became my Grammy well before she died.

The first time I went to the farm with Mama, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I quickly learned, however, that Grammy's house was a place full of laughs, good food and nice long couches to nap on. Even Barky made himself right at home when he first arrived by barfing up a whole bowl of food right at Grammy's feet--after which, he curled up on a couch for a nap.

Here's hoping I made a better first impression than that.

And when I asked Grammy what I should call her, she replied, "Everyone else calls me Grammy, you might as well too." And then she gave me one of those bright grins and laughed her delightful laugh.

Just like that, I had another Grammy.

She was like the moon and the stars--I couldn't always see Grammy, but I knew she was always there. I went with Mama every 4th of July and Christmas, and Mama frequently went on her own in between those trips.

I fell in love with the land Grammy raised all of her children on, although I can't say that I've traveled over more than a fraction of it, and loved to hear Grammy's stories about what had happened there. I loved that she let me think I knew what I was talking about, but every once in awhile called me on it, just to let me know she was on to me. I love it that she laughed loud and often and that she always had a hug and a kiss for all of us when we walked through her door--even Barfy.

Then we had 3B, and Grammy--his Great Grammy--held him, sang to him, read to him, and found delight in everything he did. She loved his endless raucous concerts in her living room and in the months before she died, she called regularly to play a-ha! with him.

The rules are simple: one person says, "A-ha!" followed by the next person saying, "A-ha!" which is followed by hearty laughter. Repeat this until everyone playing and watching is too tired from laughing to continue. Of course, our little chatterbox wouldn't stop at "A-ha!" He would tell her what he was doing and what he had done, and even though he couldn't see her, he knew she was there. He knew she was listening.

He knew it like he knows the moon and stars are shining in the night sky for him to wonder at and perhaps someday fly to. And should 3B ever slip the surly bonds of earth into the high untrespassed sanctity of space, I'm fairly sure that it will be not just to reach the stars, but to reach that star, and that if he reaches his hand out, it will be to once more touch her face, feel her kiss and her embrace.

And in the roaring silence of space, floating in silvered gossamer skin, I'd hope that he'd hear the music of the stars, and in it recognize the lilting notes of her laughter.

Subscribe to the Bradstein feed--Vorsprung durch Technik!


  1. First of all, I'm really really sorry to hear about Grammy. The short times I spent at the house in the country struck me much the way you describe: a hearth steeped in family history, tinged with the satisfaction of hard work and well-earned celebrations, a living farm grown out of the farm of years past. Grammy held a lot in her arm's reach.

    Second, don't bust yourself up too bad about missing one trip to Wyoming, when you were along for another trip where we had just as much family conviviality and adventure. We were lucky to have you the second time, when you could add your local knowledge and expertise to a lot of what we did and where we went.

    Third, if you go with the theory that there's a reason for everything, maybe now there's some sense in when Barky died, a reason nobody could have known at the time. For you the experience was no fun, but for 3B, it was a chance to learn something about when someone he loves goes away and isn't coming back, a trial run for bigger goodbyes that were on their way.

    The joy of sharing the love of an extended family is intertwined with the sorrow of having that many more people to say goodbye to. I'm glad you--and 3B--got to bask so often in Grammy's glow before she went on to shine it from a more distant place.

    Give my love to Mama and tell her we're all rooting for her from out here.

  2. I'm glad that we've been able to share both of these places, even if not as frequently as we would like to. It was especially nice after that first, blazing hot 4th of July to drift down to NYC with you through the lands that our ancestors lived on hundreds of years ago. That made me understand again how close the many factions of my family are to one another, no matter how distant they may seem.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your family's loss! Beautifully written post.

  4. Thanks, LB. I'm ready for a win to offset all these losses.

  5. It is sad to hear about Grammy, but I am glad that you had the chance to know and love her.

    I remember a family reunion of sorts that everyone told me to miss almost 12 years ago. The good times are right around the corner, and you get to keep the party favor.

  6. I'm so sorry about Grammy...

  7. CAGirl: That trip was mostly downhill anyway. The rest of it was a washout and an uphill struggle. Better you stayed at home.

    L-P: Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. My thoughts to you and yours. I just lost my grandmother this summer. It isn't easy.

  9. Thanks, Whit. It's not easy, but it gets easier over time--over a long time.