Friday, April 4, 2008

Grandma Jo

I think about Grandma Jo a lot. It's been almost four months, and I think it's really starting to sink in that she's not around me anymore. It hurts... a lot.

I've gone back to her condo a few times with my mom. I love it there, and I hate it at the same time. It feels so wrong to make coffee without her being there. It feels weird to take one of her mugs off her wall and know she's not around to have any with us. I hate it.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a memory blog I wrote a few weeks after she died. It felt nice to right down all my thoughts and memories of her so everyone else could know what a great woman she was. So... here it is:


I can remember the first time I was old enough to "meet" my grandma. I must have been three or four, and we were driving to Omaha to visit with my Aunt Bette and her family and my Grandma Jo. We pulled up to my Aunt Bette's house, and my twin cousins, Tara and Amanda, were standing in front of the garage door, jumping up and down, yelling, "Grammie's here, Grammie's here!"

I thought these two girls seemed like a lot of fun, and I couldn't wait to play. I also couldn't wait to meet this "Grammie" character. I met my grandma that day. Strangely enough, my strongest memory is of her little condo (apartment?). She had Fruity Pebbles for us. We never got cereal like Fruity Pebbles. It was the greatest thing ever.

My Grandma Jo moved to Cicero (near Chicago) with us to help take care of her mom, my Oma. I lived in the house with my parents, brother and sister, and my Grandma and Oma lived in the basement "apartment" down below. I have many, many memories of living with Grandma. I'd hang out downstairs with my mom, listening as they talked with each other, sipped on coffee, and ate blueberry Newtons and grasshopper cookies. I remember Grandma bringing home groceries. I remember asking her lots of questions, like what was her favorite color (green) and why (it reminds her of spring). I thought green was an icky color; it reminded me of my brother's dinosaur toys. I told Grandma that, and she talked about the blooms on the trees.

One day in Cicero, we had a tornado warning. I don't remember much of it, except that Gramms gave me a Klondike bar and told me that the sky was green. It didn't look very green to me, but I started to get scared. She explained to me that tornados sound like freight trains, but I didn't know what a freight train was. I didn't ask.

Grandma Jo went with us on most of our family vacations. Our first, to Disney World, I remember fairly well (I was four). She took me on Space Mountain after telling me it was her favorite ride there. Now, I wonder, when had she been to Disney World before? She was also excited about Epcot, which wasn't built yet. I remember a few years later, she went back to Disney World to see it. She told me she went to China there, and I was so confused. I love how my grandma was never, ever afraid to do things by herself.

Right after I turned six, we left Cicero and moved to Chicago Ridge. Oma was very sick and sometimes got violent, so she went to a nursing home. Grandma bought a condo in Oak Lawn, one town over from us. Some of my most memorable Grandma Jo memories took place in her condo.

Grandma was there for all of our birthdays and all of the holidays. On New Year's, my mom and my grandma would buy poppers and funky hats and sparkling juice. We also ate a lot of easy cheese (from the can) on crackers. Of course, Grandma always had her "Grandma Jo crackers," which I later learned were Cheese-Its. I remember watching Michael Jackson performing on one New Year's on the TV. I didn't believe Grandma (or my brother) that it wasn't a girl dancing. We'd jump on the trampoline, and Grandma would let us be as loud as we wanted. Sometimes, her brother, my Uncle Henry, would be there. Sometimes, my Aunt Bridget (her aunt? Not her blood relative...), who also lived in those condos, would be there, too. It was a party every year. I spent almost every single New Year's ever with my grandma. I think I only spent two without her; one, in 2000, when my friends had a party, and another, last year, when Grandma was sick in the hospice. In later years, when we had Bailey and Homer, she would shoot the poppers in their direction. Grandma!

The other holiday that will always and forever remind me of my grandma is Easter. Grandma would put candy and money in plastic Easter eggs and hide them in the courtyard between all of the condo buildings. My brother, sister, and I would have so, so much fun running around, trying to get the most eggs. I can still see my grandma standing there, with her hands on her hips, watching us and pointing. I miss her so much. She'd get me excited about so many things, even the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and the Easter parade on TV. I remember her teaching me the song, "I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet..." Grandma dyed Easter eggs every year, by herself. She also decorated a tree every year, even though she lived by herself. It didn't matter that there wasn't someone there to see it all the time. She did it anyway. Grandma went on vacations by herself, too. Once, she went to the Bahamas and brought me back maracas. Another time, she went to Germany (with my aunt), and brought me back Gummi Baren and German chocolate, which was quite dark. I loved my maraca, and I was very upset when the handle broke off right before our move to Colorado.

I remember learning how to open a can of pop at Grandma's. She also taught me things about Germany. She'd discuss family traditions, like passing the boot along for all to drink from. I loved her impressions of her kids, "I fell in the crick (creek) again!" or "Mommy, get me organized!" She'd also sit and listen to me talk, and she'd usually answer with "Uh huh" or "That's neat." Haha.

Grandma Jo was my mom's mom, and they talked so much together. I think of our house in Cicero or my Grandma's condo in Oak Lawn, and I picture the two of them sitting together over coffee, talking. However, my dad always called her "Ma," and they got along famously. My favorite story he told me was of his honeymoon in Vegas with my mom. My grandma was there (she came for the ceremony at Circus, Circus), but she hung around throughout the wedding night in the hotel room, chit-chatting with my mom as my dad was trying to call it a night. Good stuff. My Grandma could be so wonderfully oblivious.

I'll always remember my grandma as a very active woman, too. Grandma was on my bowling team. My brother and my dad were on a team in a league, and so my mom, my sister, my grandma and I formed a team. We played every Sunday at Arena Lanes. Gramms also would take me and my siblings to Magic Waters, a water park. She'd even ride on the slides with us! I didn't realize when I was little how extraordinary that was, but I knew she was a fun lady. In later years, after we moved to Colorado, Grandma took tap dancing classes. I think that is so special, so neat, because she always talked about tap dancing. I remember her teaching me "shuffle, ball, change," in the kitchen of our home in Chicago Ridge. I would practice, practice, practice, even though I really didn't understand what I was doing, until my mom would get mad at me for leaving scuff marks all over the floor.

Grandma became my roommate for family trips when Aunt Jackie wasn't around. This was simply because I didn't mind her snoring. She shared my cabin with me in Yellowstone, and she shared the hotel room with me in many of our trips to Omaha, including the difficult time to attend my Aunt Bette's funeral. When I was younger, I didn't always appreciate staying with Grandma because I felt like I was missing out on time with my cousins. When I got a bit older, I loved it because Grandma was like me; she liked to do her own thing. That's certainly the trait I inherited from Gramms. I don't mind having people around, but in the end, I like being alone the best. I like doing my own thing and not always being around others and talking with others. Grandma and I would talk a bit, and then we'd read, or do puzzles, or whatever on our own. Once, Grandma took me on a trip to Omaha, just the two of us. I don't remember much of it, actually (all of our trips to Omaha kind of meld together), except for the car ride. Grandma always had lemon drops, and when we stopped at the gas station, I'd have to go see if they had more. She'd buy me Tootsie Rolls sometimes, too. I remember stopping at the Cracker Barrell with her. We had fun browsing the store, and she bought me a little puzzle to play with in the car.

Grandma once told me that she took a secretary test. She came in second in the entire country, and she thought her phone would be ringing off the hook with job opportunities. That didn't happen. In fact, it took a while for even one person to call. She realized it had to do with her age, and told me that would no longer be allowed in our times today. I think Grandma finally got a job doing secretarial work for Turtle Wax. I remember driving down Ridgeland Avenue with Grandma, and she pointed to the Turtle Wax building and said, "That's where I work!" For the longest time, I thought my grandma shined cars.

When I was about 12, Gramms told me that she always wanted to ride a donkey down the Grand Canyon. I didn't really know what the Grand Canyon even was. She explained to me that it's this big, beautiful crater in the earth, and it's so deep, you have to ride on a doneky to get to the bottom. I remember asking her, "Down the rocks?!" She said, "yes." I pictured riding on a donkey as it walked straight down the edge of a cliff. I didn't realize there were paths. This fascinated me. "Gramms, don't they fall?" And she said no, they're very sure footed. I ran to my mom and told her about this, and explained that Grandma really wanted to go. I pushed and pushed until my mom and dad planned a very incredible trip to the Grand Canyon. Gramms did everything with us that trip; she went white water rafting with us, and she rode on a donkey down the canyon with us. Hilarious!

Grandma Jo would stay with us on the rare occasion that my parents went somewhere together. I remember lots of "Murder, She Wrote" and "Matlock." I still like those shows (I'm probably the only twenty-something who does!).

To be honest, I have so many wonderful memories and fragmented memories of my Grandma, from the time I was very little, through only a few weeks ago. I really, really loved my Grandma. I feel so fortunate, so thankful, that I got to have her as my grandma. Gramms, who loved IHOP but got mad at the lady who was ignoring her, so she left her only a nickel for a tip. Gramms, who bought her Saturn to drive all around the country by herself to visit each of her nine kids. Gramms, who loved taco salads from Taco Bell but couldn't eat them after the doctor said her sodium and cholesterol levels were too high. Gramms, who supported me when I got my tattoo, and said she'd get one, too, if she was just a few years younger. Gramms, who always said, "Oh, hell..." or "I'll be damned." Gramms, who has always hated shopping, but one Halloween went out and bought me a glow-in-the-dark witch coffee mug. Gramms, who always wore her crossword puzzle T-Shirt. Gramms, who always called Bailey "pin head." Gramms, who would come over to our house when no one was home, would let the dogs out and make a pot of coffee, and leave after we got home. Gramms, who exclaimed at Yellowstone, that she's no longer turning her head to see anymore of those "damn mule deer." Gramms, who decided to take a cruise to Alaska all by herself. Gramms, who I once asked why she doesn't get married to have someone to be with, told me, "I'd much rather live alone." Gramms, who took us to see "Camp Nowhere" and "Don't Tell Mom the Baby-sitter's Dead."

I miss her so, so much. It hurts a lot because my Grandma has always been here. She's just always been here. Gramma has been there for all my Christmases, birthdays, New Years, Easters. I just don't see how things will be without her there to be in them. I feel like an important piece of the family is missing. I can't comprehend what life is going to be like without her.

*sigh*

1 comment:

Phuong said...

Becky...I'm sorry that things have been so hard for you. It does hit you off and on, huh? It has always helped me to pray at night and talk to her. When I do that, it feels like she's still around.

I understand what you mean about feeling guilty to be in her condo and making coffee. Memories can be so strong sometimes... but that's also good. She will be so happy to know you think of her so much.

When I house-sat at your house, your mom has a plaque on the floor in the living room that said something along the lines of, "when I die, grief if you may, but then please let me go..." It says a lot more but this is all I can remember. The meaning was to say that Grandma Jo will be happy that you miss her so, but she probably wants you to know that she's also having fun (like parties) where she's at!! With lots of hot young guys!! hehe..

Don't hesitate to call me, whatever time of the day. I'll come right over!! I love you!!!