Category Archives: grandmother

Memories of My Grandmother

My Grandmother died yesterday.  She was 98 years old.  I don’t think many people live to see ninety-eight these days.  The average life expectancy in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, is 77.9 years old.  But my grandmother passed 77 right on by.  I don’t think she gave it a second glance.  I wished, up until a few weeks ago, when it became apparent that her health was deteriorating rather rapidly, that she’d make it to 100.  We could send her picture in to Willard Scott, have him wish her a Happy Birthday on The Today Show.  Some things just aren’t meant to be, I guess.  It was finally her time.  

My grandmother was from Pennsylvania, and she could speak Slovak.  Still!  Even though she had nobody who knew how to speak it back to her for probably the past 50 years.  My dad, who doesn’t speak Slovak, learned a holiday song or two in that language when he was a child.  Sometimes when the family would gather at Christmas he’d sing it to her, and she’d smile.

I spent a fair amount of time with my grandmother when I was a kid.  These are my memories…

She liked to play Bingo. Actually, “like” is too weak a word for what she felt about bingo.  She LOVED Bingo.  That might be why she died.  All those little letters and numbers floating around her bloodstream, one of them just got caught, lodged in a way it couldn’t get loose again…

Actually, the truth is that she had congestive heart failure.  It outpaced her body’s ability and the doctor’s efforts to keep her healthy.  About a week before she died she became very weak, then mostly unresponsive.  She may have suffered a stroke.  If she did, I’d like to think it was a tiny clot in the shape of a Bingo number that got her. B98, maybe.

My grandmother went to the Bingo hall as often as she could; not forgoing a night even when she had company in town.  She’d invite the company to come along and play with her!  I went with her often over years, from the time I was a little kid until I was a teen.  At some point, the smoky hall began to bother me and I spent more time in the bathroom trying to breath than I did sitting there marking numbers on my card.  But my grandmother could play about 25 bingo cards at once, and still point out the numbers you’d failed to mark on your card, and that the people sitting on her other side and across the table from her had failed to mark.  Sometimes she’d win and give some of the money to me, or she’d take me shopping and buy me things with her winnings.

One time she bought me a doll that had a battery compartment in its butt,  The doll crawled and rolled over.  I think I still have that doll, shoved in a box somewhere.  I wonder, if I find her and dig her out, and shove new batteries in her butt, if she’d work again.  I might try that some day.  I could get back at the dog after she’s peed on my floor again.  She’d hate that.  Toys that move, seemingly of their own accord, scare her.  My grandmother liked animals though, and I think it would give her a laugh to see my dog barking like a fool at that doll.

Another time, my grandmother bought me a globe.  I’m not saying she’s responsible, but I did grow up to be a geographer…

She used to cut my bangs, which I hated.  She’d tape an IBM card to my forehead and use it as a guide to cut my bangs straight across.  Only she’d tape it too high, and so I’d come home from my visits with her practically devoid of hair, my forehead visible like a billboard.

She was always, even until she died, busy crocheting or sewing or quilting.  She especially liked to make afghans, usually of two colors and with a zigzag pattern.  I still have one that she made me when I was 4 or 5 years old.  It’s pink and white, just like the poncho she made me.  My son has an afgan that she made for him when he was born. It’s pale blue and white.  My son called her “Great Grandma” and has dubbed the afghan his “too nice blanket” because it’s too nice to mess up.

I wish I had asked my grandmother to teach me how to sew.  It’s a skill that would come in handy.  If I knew how to sew I could hem my son’s pants instead of rolling them up or letting him walk the bottoms off.  All of my grandmother’s neighbors, and half the town, would bring her items of clothing to mend and alter.  She’d replace buttons, hem pants, repair torn linings inside of jackets.  Bring her a pattern and she’d even make you an outfit.  She made my First Communion dress. And I remember one green jumpsuit in particular that she made me, and that I favored.  I think I wore it everyday of my entire 4th grade year.  I felt like a Girl Scout in it, or a jungle explorer.  And there then there was the pair of matching mother-daughter vests and skirts that she made, crochet overlaying another material, and which my mother and I wore back in the 1970s.

My grandmother had an old coffee can full of buttons that I used to play with when I visited her. It’s probably more appropriate to say I lusted after that can of buttons.  Hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful little buttons of plastic and wood!  The colors!  The shapes!  They were like miniature treasures.  I loved to dip my hand in that coffee can and let the buttons run through my fingers before pulling them out and inspecting them, one by one, searching for my favorites.  I don’t know whatever happened to that coffee can and all those buttons, it’s been gone for years now, but I would have loved to have had it. 

My grandmother’s attic floor was forever covered in bits of thread and scraps of material, small squares cut out for whatever quilt she was working on.  Sometimes she’d forget a straight pin or two that she’d inadvertently left in a quilt.  You’d cover yourself up only to get stuck by a pin hidden in a seam.  It’s funny how I remember the scraps of material, but I don’t remember seeing her sewing the quilts.  She probably put them away when she knew the grandchildren would be over, getting into everything.  But I still have the quilt she made for me when I was a child.  It too is pink and white on one side, but it has a fabulously ugly pattern of odd twisted shapes made up of pink and brown circles that I used to look at and see things in — animals, monsters, birds.  I can pick out shapes from the back of the quilt like you might pick shapes out of the clouds in the sky.  The quilt is warm and weighty, heavy enough to pin you to the mattress when you try and sleep under it.  It’s old now, and some stitches have popped, and so I’ve stored it away for safekeeping.  It’s one of those things that can’t be replaced.

My grandmother loved to listen to baseball games on the radio or watch them on TV.  She always rooted for the Pirates and she always watched The Price is Right.

She kept a pot holder I’d woven for her when I was a kid on her refrigerator for years.  I don’t think it was replaced until I was in my 20’s and another granddaughter, one of my younger cousins, had made her one.  I admit I was a little bit jealous to see that mine had been replaced.

Her kitchen was filled with delicious snacks.  In her cupboards she had cans of Pringles which we never had at home. She had the fun sugary cereals like Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and Applejacks, whereas at my house, we had only Kix and Cheerios.  Dishtowel covered loaves of Kolache filled her countertop, and plates of it, sliced, appeared at breakfast.  The kind with the apricot filling was, and still is, my favorite. 

Once in a while my grandmother would come to visit us.  She’d spend her days watching my brother and me, while my parents were at work.  She’d do some mending and cooking for us, cleaning, and ironing.  Once, she even saved me from what I envisioned was to be supreme wrath and certain punishment, if not death, for ruining my parents bathtub!  I was in 5th grade, and one of my chores was cleaning the bathrooms.  I hated that job to no end and so I’d often try to make it more entertaining by pretending that I was actually starring in a commercial for tub and tile cleaner.  On that particular day, I remember I’d been pouring everything I found under the bathroom sink into the tub and pretending I was comparing the ability of the various substances to clean the tub.  Only there must have been some type of chemical reaction that occurred, because the white porcelain of the tub turned a bright yellow of which my 5th grade elbow grease could not remove!  My grandmother found me crying in despair and without asking for explanation, she took the scrubby sponge from my hand, got down on her hands and knees, and scoured that yellow stain away.  I don’t think my parents ever knew about it. 

My grandmother was fond of playing cards and taught me how to play her favorite games: Gin Rummy and War.  I remember many, many, many late nights at her house, sitting at her kitchen table and playing War, willing my eyes not to close, my head not to smack the table as I fought off sleep at 1:00 a.m., trying to stay awake while wishing desperately for a game of war to end so I could crawl into bed.

Two weeks ago I took my son to visit my grandmother.  She was in an assisted living facility and she was hooked up to oxygen to help her breath better.  Something, most likely the oxygen, had energized her.  She was out of her wheelchair.  She was walking unassisted, her cane and walker shoved in a corner.  There wasn’t a whole lot to do there in her room so we pulled out her deck of playing cards.  She taught my son, her five year old great-grandson, how to play a card game called Piggy.  We played several rounds of the game with her.  When we tired of that we talked.  But since her hearing was poor, even with her hearing aid, I wrote her notes so I wouldn’t have to shout at her.  She read them and responded.  I told her we had been to Disney World.  When she remarked that she had never been there, my son decided that he would build Disney World in our back yard for her and she could come to our house to see it. Later, he insisted on telling her about a Starship he was building, how he would bring it back and show it to her one day.   She couldn’t really hear what he was saying, so I wrote the words “He’s building a Starship, like a space ship…” on my pad of paper.  I think I rolled my eyes a bit, to let her know “Hey, he’s a kid, it’s unlikely his Starship will even fly.”  But she shared his enthusiasm. “Ah! A Starship!” she said and she nodded at him, vigorously.  Like that was right up her alley.  As if she’d won one playing Bingo before, sewed one from a pattern, or crocheted one perhaps.  Her eyes twinkled and she smiled.   

That’s the last time I saw my Grandmother. But I think, perhaps, it’s my best memory of her.  A 98 year old woman teaching a five year old how to play cards, and smiling about his plans to construct Disney World and a Starship in his own backyard.    

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Filed under death, grandmother, life, memories, tribute

Notes From a Wedding

So I attended a wedding last weekend.  The one I mentioned here.  I ended up being both too busy and too lazy to go shopping for a new outfit, so I wore the little black dress I already had hanging in my closet.  I did, however, buy a new pair of shoes to go with it.  At least, they looked like shoes; black strappy HIGH heels with shiny, fake rhinestones on them.  In actuality, I am pretty sure they were just medieval torture devices. They felt fine in the shoe store, but after ½ an hour at the wedding, it was more than clear:  those shoes were made for sitting.  They were NOT made for walking.  Or dancing.  At one point, when a cousin commented that she liked my shoes, I offered to give them to her, right there, on the spot. Because I liked her shoes, and I think we could have made a good trade.  Only too bad for us: I was wearing a size 8 and her shoes, which would have looked equally nice with my dress, were only a 7.  I figured if I was going to torture my feet I might as well do it in the correct size, least I make matters worse.

The wedding was beautiful.  The reception was fantastic in a fabulous setting, with great food and great fun.  I think, if you had been there, you would have had a good time.  I did, even if my feet didn’t.

Still, a couple of things happened at the wedding that I thought worth mentioning.  In doing so, I hope to help anyone who is reading this and planning a wedding themselves, or planning to attend a wedding.  You might want to be prepared for such…. situations, should they arise.

In the wedding party, there were TWO women named Emily and TWO men named Keith.  I wondered if it got confusing during all the hairstyling, and dressing, and tying of ties.  Did they have to use the first of initial of their last names like they do in my son’s preschool class?  Because Snags will come home from school and tell me something astonishing and I’ll say “Bradley Phillips did THAT?” and he’ll say “No, mom, not Bradley P.  Bradley V.”  Like I’m an idiot.  Clearly.

So I wondered if at some point as the wedding party was getting ready if someone, maybe the bride, asked, “Have you seen Emily?  And another bridesmaid said “She’s standing right next to you!” and the bride had to say, “No, not Emily P.  Emily V. !  She has my earrings…”  Or maybe as the men were getting ready the two Keith’s got their tuxedo’s mixed up and panicked for a split second – “This jacket’s too tight!  These pants are too long!  What are we going to do?  The wedding starts in an hour!”  But then they sighed in relief and laughed a bit when they realized that Keith M. had been given Keith N’s tuxedo by mistake.  And once they switched them, all was well.  Anyway, I’m not sure if this was a problem at all, but I imagine it could be, so there you go, something to think about.

At the church, right before the wedding ceremony started, I looked over my shoulder and saw, out of the corner of my eye, the sleeve of a dress on one of the groom’s aunts.  I thought, “Heyyyy… that sleeve looks mighty familiar…” and I looked down at MY sleeve, (which was easy to do because my head was already turned) and I said to myself, “Yes!  HER sleeve looks like MY sleeve! I hope we don’t have the same dress on…”  Only, it turned out we DID.  The groom’s aunt and I WERE. WEARING. THE. SAME. DRESS!  Lucky for us, this was a wedding and not a prom.  I mean, nobody really cared what we were wearing, right? 

We joked about it.  She asked if I’d gotten my dress on sale.  And I said, “I don’t remember.  This dress has been hanging in my closet for 2 years.”  But she had just bought hers.  And that was a relief because:

1) it meant I’d bought my dress FIRST, and
2) I was still in style, baby!

I mean, hey, if they are selling the exact same dress 2 years later, it must be a classic don’t you think?  So we made a pact to wear the same dress AGAIN when my other cousin gets married.  He’s still in college though, so I imagine it’s going to be a while.  But you can bet I’ll be wearing different shoes to his wedding.

Anyway, as embarrassing as that was, to have the same dress as one other wedding guest, I started thinking (ahem… after several glasses of wine) how the wait staff at the reception must have felt. Like me, they were dressed in black too.  Black shirts, black pants.  All of them.  The same!  And THEN, there were five women wearing the same floor length sea foam gowns!  And for some reason, they actually stood near each other all night long! 

I commented on the odds of all of this to my husband as we drove home that evening.  The coincidences were too great.  With odds like that, it seemed we should buy some lottery tickets.  But he only rolled his eyes in exasperation.  He reminded me that the bridesmaids were supposed to be dressed alike. As were the caterers.  And so the only coincidence, after all, appeared to be in my wearing the same dress as someone else.

“Ah!  Okay, you might have a point there.  Maybe I had a little too much wine.”  I remarked.  “But it’s not my fault. My feet hurt.”

About 2 hours into the reception someone said that my 98 year old grandmother had lost her hearing aid.  This wasn’t the first time that had happened and so I asked a relative how many times she was allowed to lose it before they stopped replacing it.  She is 98, after all.  It’s not like it was a retainer and if you threw it away AGAIN at lunch and your parents were pissed off and didn’t replace it… Well, at 98, her teeth aren’t even HER teeth.  They won’t go all crooked on her again unless her Polident slips, right?  And if they don’t replace the hearing aid, everyone could just shout at her, or write her notes.  Her eyes are still okay, so she could read the notes, as long as she doesn’t lose her glasses…

Dear Grandma,
We warned you, didn’t we?  We told you if you lost your hearing aid just one more time we would not be buying you a new one.  And now you’ve gone and done it, haven’t you?  So here you go.  We will write you notes on this pad of paper from now on.  And please don’t turn up the volume on the TV beyond a level 35 when you watch The Price is Right.  Any higher will blow out the speakers and we won’t buy you a new TV if you break this one…

One time, years ago, after she thought she’d lost her hearing aid while playing bingo at the local fire hall, one of my aunts spent hours upon hours combing through bags and bags of the fire hall’s garbage to find it.  She felt her way through several large stinky Hefty bags full of half eaten plates of macaroni salad without any luck.  But later my grandmother found her hearing aid — at the bottom of her purse. 

My aunt, the one who combed through all that rotting macaroni salad swore she wasn’t doing that again, and since none of the rest of us wanted to either, many of the relatives and all of the wait staff were dragged into playing FIND THE MISSING HEARING AID as a reception game.  We looked under tables, in purses, in the rest room, in the parking lot, along the pier.  No dice.  Maybe we thought, she was sitting on it. We made my grandmother stand up so we could check the seat of her wheelchair.  Still, nothing. I suggested we check the ears of some of the other elderly guests, just in case one of them had stolen it borrowed it. But nobody thought that was a very good idea.  And as I said before, my shoes were torture, so I wasn’t going to walk around and do it myself!

The hearing aid scavenger hunt went on and on.  And just when things started to look tragically hopeless, my grandmother found her hearing aid.  In her ear.  This was not unlike the way an amateur magician can pull a quarter from behind a child’s ear. And my aunt smiled smugly and mumbled to herself, “Ha!  Now you all know how I felt!”  Actually, I don’t really know if my aunt mumbled that to herself.  I wasn’t standing near her when the hearing aid materialized.  But if I was in her shoes, that’s what I would have said.  Only really loudly.  Because I’d been drinking.  And her shoes were probably more comfortable than mine, so if I’d been wearing them, I could have been even smugger.

Did I mention how pretty the reception location was?  It was held at a restaurant next to a pier on a river.  Each table was covered in white cloth and candles.  There were hundreds of candles, maybe thousands, lighting the rooms.  It was very pretty and very romantic;  absolutely perfect for a wedding reception.  Or, um…at least it was until somebody set their napkin down on top of one of the candles.  All I can say is that the fire was extinguished quickly, after a brief flare when someone tried to help by pouring the dregs of their mixed drink upon it.  But nobody was harmed. The only thing burnt was the napkin, and part of the tablecloth. After that the candles were even more romantic considering they had that added mystique of FIRE HAZARD.  If you are planning your own wedding with lots of candles you might consider adding small bottles of flame retardant and miniature fire extinguishers to your table decorations, along extra pairs of comfortable shoes (size 8 please), and spare hearing aids.

In all seriousness though, I wish a lifetime of happiness for the bride and groom.  You guys are an AWESOME couple!

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Filed under candles, fire hazard, grandmother, hearing aid, little black dress, shoes, wedding, wine