Monday, February 26, 2007

Love and Loss

Yesterday my grandma died. She was, and will remain, one of the coolest people I have ever had the grace of knowing. And I'm not saying this just because she was my grandmother, but because she was. I could give you a million examples of just how incredible she was, but I don't know if I can find the words. She was, in no particular order, stubborn, loving, contrary, devout, funny, talented, opinionated, accepting, strong, moral, and the best damn cook.

She taught me many things about life, about living, about how to be, or how to try to be, a good person. I don't think she ever realized that she was teaching me these things, but she led by example. She had 4 children, her oldest is my mother and her only daughter. My mother and my grandmother remained close their entire lives, even when miles separated them. My grandmother taught my mother how to be a parent, a damn good one, and in turn, my mother taught me. I can only hope to do as well by my children as she did by hers. I can only hope to have the relationship with my children that she had with hers. I can only hope to have the respect that she had up to the end.

My brother and I used to love going to spend summers with my grandmother and grandfather. Fred and I loved traipsing off into the woods with her, looking for a freshwater spring so we could have the best water to make sun tea. We hated going to the fields to hoe, weed and plant the fruits and vegetables they grew, but we loved to eat the finished product. I loved watching her cook. A pinch of this, a cup of that, she had it down to a science and didn't need any recipes, yet she had recipes by the hundreds, if not thousands. Written down on the back of notecards, scraps of paper, cut from newspapers and magazines and held together with rubber bands, stuffed in every drawer in her house. I remember joking with her that when she was gone, I wanted her recipe collection.
The tradition of vacations in Alabama continued even when I was in college. When other classmates were taking off for booze and beaches, I booked a plane ticket to Alabama to spend my spring break hangin' with the grandparents. There was no place I would have rather gone. I could just sit and talk with her for hours (and many times did). If my mom and dad were there when I visited, my mom, grandma and I would sit up talking until one of us started to fall asleep sitting up (usually me) and then we would call it a night.
Up until the last year or so of her life, my grandmother remembered dates and names like no one else I have ever met. She knew everyone's birthday, who they married, who their children were, what their birthdays were, when they died, how they died. She was like a walking census for her corner of the world. She kept detailed journals. Some days she wrote nothing except who came to visit or called her and what the weather was like, but other times she wrote detailed entries about her life and what was happening. On the inside cover of each journal (front and back) she would write down every time someone she knew died. She lived so long that she was running out of people she knew.

When grandma was in her late 70s or early 80s (obviously I'm not as good at dates as she was) she changed her name. She had never had a birth certificate, so she went to get one. When she filled out the paperwork for her birth certificate, she changed her name. She made the name she had gone by her whole life (either Lorene or Lorraine, depending on who you ask and how they pronounce it) her middle name, and created a whole new first name for herself. Gelia. From that day on, I called her Gelia. I think I'm the only one. She used to joke that she always knew when I mailed her a letter without looking at the return address because I'm the only one who addressed envelopes to Gelia.

God, there is so much more I could say about this woman. About how important she was to me, about how much I loved her. About how incredibly sad I am. About how much I want to be there with my mom as she buries her mom. But I'm here. And I can't go. There is no way to get there from here in time. So I send my love and thoughts to all of my family gathered in Alabama who are paying their respects to my grandmother. To one of the coolest women I have ever known.

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