Friday, February 17, 2012

Losing Grandma, part 4

Last night I was not a good granddaughter.  I'm not perfect.  There was a flash mob at a local bar for my high school class and I went. I was only going to stay an hour and I didn't get home until midnight.  A lot of people knew about my grandma from Facebook and gave condolences.  I was still sick too.  But I missed the formal reunion in 2007 when my dad died; I didn't want to miss an informal one because of my grandmother.  Staying home wouldn't have made my grandma alive again.
I did write the eulogy before I left.  It was hard to sleep when I got home, I was keyed up from drinking a lot of ginger ale (sugar--I usually drink diet Pepsi) and from seeing so many old friends.  When I got up this morning I went to print the eulogy and my desktop computer had crashed and my laptop (where I wrote it) isn't connected to the printer.  It's still crashed; I had to print from my husband's desktop.  Another thing to deal with.
My husband has caught my illness and I feel really bad about that.  So he was home sick in bed while I was out with my old friends.  This morning he was dragging and had to deal with dressing up and driving me and my mom to the funeral home at 9 a.m.
Grandma looked great in the casket.  The funeral director had plumped out her cheeks a little and she actually had a smile on her face, like it was a big joke that instead of celebrating her birth we were celebrating her death.  I think she looked so nice because she didn't suffer.  She was basically dead at my mom's house and they just kept her body alive for another day.
The visitation/service was very nice.  A lot of people came, probably close to 50.  Only one of my friends, but I didn't expect anyone to take time off from work.  My mom's work friends and walking friends and best friend.  My mother in  law and my husband's sister and her fiance.  My mom's cousins and some of their kids.  A few of my grandma's surviving friends. One of my cousins is now a hair dresser and is going to do my hair--it's freaky because she was born when I was in high school or college, I could be her mom.  I think she's the youngest of our generation.
And one surprise.  My grandpa had one sibling left, his sister Elsie.  I wanted to find her.  I did find her online in North Branford but I don't have a North Branford phone book and my mom said not to pursue it because she wouldn't come.  My grandma had sent her a letter and never gotten a response.  I felt really bad about not calling her; I thought she'd want to know her sister-in-law had died.  Then toward the end of the viewing in walks this tiny ancient lady with a cane, being held up by her son, and my mom almost fell out of her chair.  It was Aunt Elsie.  I hadn't seen her in probably 20 years, if not longer.  Obviously she saw the obituary in the paper.
The priest knew my grandma and I was really expecting something great from him, but he read basically the exact same thing as the chaplain did on Tuesday--my father's house has many mansions and the new version of the 23d Psalm which hasn't got the resonance of the King James version. Nothing personal. We invited him for lunch but he declined.  I read my eulogy (below) and then her brother spoke extemporaneously, from the heart, about what a hard worker my grandma was, how his earliest memories are of her going off to work at a shirt factory where she was paid piecework to pin and iron shirts, standing up all day, to help support the family during the Depression.  He talked about special foods she used to make--icebox cake and fruitcake--and how he looked forward to eating both, as they both had to mature before being eaten.  He did choke up a few times but ultimately he was okay, as we all are.
The service at the grave site was very short, basically just a prayer of farewell.  She's with my grandpa again, body and soul.  There's one spot left in the plot for my mom (and my dad's ashes).
The food at the restaurant was very good, we had about 20 people at 4 tables and everyone enjoyed everything.  We stayed there about 2 hours.
Now I've got to bring my cats to the vet, and my mom's going to come along, and we're going to make a side trip back to the cemetery to take some of the roses.
Rest in peace, Grandma.  I love you.  Say hi to my dad and Grandpa and Aunt Bert and everyone.  Hug and kiss all the animals.  

The last time I talked with my grandma was Sunday night.  She seemed to be in a good mood.  We were playing a word game, and when my mom took the letter she wanted, my grandma sassed her, saying “Oh, why don’t you just go home!” and laughing.
We made plans for her 94th birthday next week.  She didn’t care that she was going to be 94—“It’s just another day” she said.  I asked her where she wanted to go eat on Friday—today—and she waved her hands and said “I’m happy to go anywhere” and we decided on Red Lobster because she likes the shrimp.  But then I guess she made other plans without telling me, and she’s having lunch somewhere else today, without us. 
My grandma was a generous woman.  She worked a Mike-Rowe-worthy dirty job at a cigar factory for almost 30 years (and because of my exposure to that cigar factory, I will always love the smell of raw tobacco) and never complained even when her hands turned yellow from handling the giant bales of leaves.  At night, with those same tired discolored hands, she would knit, crochet, sew, and tat the most incredible lace.  When she retired, she donated the skill of her hands to the North Haven Senior Center.  They would give her material and yarn and patterns and she’d make quilts and lap robes and bags and funny little dolls for them to give away or sell.  Some of the material and yarn was ugly and yet she put the same care into the finished product as she did with the prettier goods.  My hands look just like hers, but I was never able to pick up even rudimentary knitting skills, unfortunately. 
My grandma taught me not to be afraid of ghosts.  That sounds weird, I know.  But when I was little, my grandparents moved into a haunted house.  It was not an old creaky spooky mansion, just a regular ranch house where the previous owner had died, but not moved on.  Her name was Mrs. Winters.   Mrs. Winters would walk up and down the cellar stairs and rattle door knobs and that was about as menacing as she ever got.  In fact I believe she was a kindly ghost, because when I slept there, she would cover me up.  I was never afraid of her because my grandparents were so matter-of-fact about her presence. I suppose I thought everyone’s grandparents lived in a haunted house.  I believe that when my grandpa died there, he took Mrs. Winters with him, because I never felt or heard her again.
My grandma was quirky and generous.  When I was a teenager, she sat me down and said if I ever wanted to try a cigarette or to drink alcohol, she would buy it for me and share it with me.  She didn’t want me sneaking around and getting in trouble.  I think that’s exactly why I never did—because of her offer.  It might not have been “cool” to smoke or drink with Grandma, but I never felt the urge to sneak booze with friends either.
I had a bad cough every winter for most of my life, and she made me a bottle of homemade cough medicine.  She drew a label that looked like a pharmacy sticker, with infinite refills and the ingredients.  She liked everything to be hand-made when possible.  When my friend had a baby a few years ago, my grandmother crocheted a receiving blanket as a gift.  My friend entered it into the Durham Fair, and it won a prize, which she gave to my grandma, who was shocked that anyone would think her simple blanket was worth any honors.
If you know me well, you know I inherited something else from my grandma besides her hands.  She was stubborn.  When I was little, she had a fancy red coat.  When something happened that made her angry, she spoke up. She’d put on that coat and go to whatever place she was upset with, and speak her mind.  When we said Grandma was “putting on her red coat” we meant “going on the warpath.”  I don’t have a red coat, but I’ve been known to venture down that warpath a time or two!  My grandma’s red coat is long gone, but she never stopped speaking her mind or being stubborn.  When her doctors told her to take her blood pressure medicine or she would have a stroke, she said she didn’t care.  She made her choice.   She was ready to go.
She lived almost 94 years.  She had slowed down a bit toward the end, but she was still mentally agile—when I took her to the bank recently, her checkbook was only off by less than a dollar—and she didn’t need help with anything.  Only her very last day on Earth wasn’t a good one, and trust me, it was only a bad day for her body.  Her soul was already gone.  She had 34,324 good days and who can ask for more than that?

Lena Gresto Nana
February 23, 1918
February 15, 2012

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