Thursday, October 9, 2008

Regrets and Memories

I was thinking about my grandmother.

If there had to be a downside to my age at the time of this wedding, it would be that none of my grandparents are still alive.

At one time, I was incredibly close to my maternal grandmother. And I wish like hell that she could have been here for my wedding. That part of my family lives far, far away from me, in Maine. When I was little, I, along with my baby brother and my mom, would fly People's Choice Airlines to Maine for the whole summer (People's Choice being the cheapest airline at the time, and there's a very good reason why they're no longer in business...). While my poor father toiled away in Florida, the three of us stayed with my mother's parents, who lived in the middle of nowhere - there's a lot of that in Maine. Did I mention that my mother doesn't drive? Needless to say, I spent vast amounts of time with my mom and my grandmother, going wherever my grandmother wanted to go.

Those were formative years. I learned a lot from her. She wasn't some old fuddy-dud; she still worked as a legal secretary, wore an ear cuff (remember those?) with a silver feather dangling from it. She loved dolls - she gave me two of my mother's childhood dolls, that I try to discreetly display, much to the consternation of my fiance - and she loved Roger Whittaker and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

She would try to sneak grapes into desserts just to torture my lovely, patient grandfather, who for some reason, really hated grapes. She loved the tinny sound of her Japanese car's horn, and would honk at cows just for the hell of it.

I don't know why - I'm sure money was involved - but we stopped going to Maine altogether around the time I was in grade school. And we didn't go back for over ten years. Of course, my grandmother still wrote me and I her, but we lost of lot of time. I lost of lot of time with her - oh, to be so young and foolish; to not realize that the clock doesn't tick forever for those older than you.

When I got my first "professional" job and had a little money, the first thing I did was fly me and my mom up to Maine for my grandparents' 50th anniversary. I think it was shocking to both of us - how grown up I was to my grandmother and how much older she looked to me. A lot had changed. She had stopped dying her hair, she had gotten religious and was teaching Sunday school (!!!). She had spent years raising one of my uncle's two boys during turbulent times.

It was such a blessing that we went on that trip, because a few months later, she had a stroke. And it demolished her. There was a body that still needed to be fed and bathed, but it was not my grandmother. I cannot tell you the relief I felt when she passed away, free from that prison at last. At the funeral, I was a stranger. No one knew who this woman was. "Oh, that's the granddaughter from Florida?" My cousins, two wonderful young men that she had help raise, were the "children" everyone comforted.

People got up and spoke, lovingly and respectfully; I just sobbed. And they were selfish tears. All that time. Gone. All those years I could have had with her, learned from her - missed. I was mad at all these people for not knowing how important I was to her at one time. I was (irrationally) jealous of my cousins for having those years. (Never mind that they would probably have rather had their parents together and happy instead.)

I know I sound like your mother, or some old auntie, but I can't help myself from writing it: if you still have your grandparents, or other older relatives, be glad. Be thankful that they love you and are there. We have no idea how important these moments are to them, seeing their grandchildren become adults, marry, have children or publish a book, start a business. I wish my grandparents could share this time with me.

A rather self-indulgent post, I know. But I expressed similar sentiments in a wedding forum, and the reactions were positive, and incredibly touching - so many women had stories of grandparents loved, never known, lost. Reading over this, I have to say, it's bittersweet; at least I had time with these wonderful, loving people. I can't imagine the hole that might exist for those who never knew their grandparents, or had cold, unloving grandparents.

1 comment:

Kim said...

A self-indulgent post? Hardly. It touched me pretty deeply.

I've had similar realizations about my own grandparents. I made a pact to write letters at least monthly to the two that remain. I feel like the only real gifts I can give them at this point in their lives is to let them know how much I love them and how much they have meant to me -- and always will.