Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


The Last Grandma

My mom just returned from Arizona. The word on my grandma is that she is "doing well considering her age, etc. They've determined that she had congestive heart failure." My mom is talking as if she "had" congestive heart failure, as if that's something that just goes away. A small amount of Googling brings up this dire prognosis:

Survival following diagnosis of congestive heart failure is worse in men than women, but even in women, only about 20 percent survive much longer than 8 to 12 years. The outlook is not much better than for most forms of cancer. The fatality rate for CHF is high, with one in five persons dying within 1 year. Sudden death is common in these patients, occurring at a rate of six to nine times that of the general population.

This is my last grandma. My paternal grandma died in 2003 after a long bout with Alzheimers disease. Grandma Phyllis and I have a complicated relationship that goes back to my earliest childhood memories.

When I was little, she was my favorite grandma. A spry, lively woman, she was young for a grandma and never cranky. She would turn cartwheels in the back yard with me, or come home from a garage sale shopping spree, giggling with her girlfriends over the "deals" they got on some horrific plaster statue or box of doilies. She smoked cigarettes that she kept in a cigarette pouch that also held her lighter and snapped closed like a coin purse. She quit smoking in the 70s and never looked back. She had a full set of false teeth and would crack me up by wiggling them at me. After any bath at her house, she would produce a fancy box of scented powder and dramatically set about poofing me with the powder puff "like a lady" before wrapping me in a warm towel and slipping me into a handmade robe and slippers. She played the accordion for me, set me up at the table to paint watercolor masterpieces, read aloud to me stories she'd typed up to submit to magazines. She would let me pick from a wide variety of canned vegetables in her pantry, and would praise me heavily whenever I chose and ate beets or spinach (which she would spike with a little vinegar). She would make me pancakes with rabbit ears. She taught me how to play solitaire, King in the Corner, and Farkle. She was the first in our family to discover this new game called Uno, and played so many games of Tri-ominos with me she finally got me my own copy. She taught me how to crochet, and made sure I memorized the King James version of the 23rd Psalm. I lived with her and her fourth husband, Don, in the tiny town of Babbitt, Minnesota for the first four months of Second Grade when my mom was newly divorced and trying to find work and a house for us in Minneapolis, and again over the summer of 1979 in Moses Lake, Washington where they'd moved to be closer to my grandma's brother Leonard (a Farkle shark who had a black Pomeranian named Tiger) before we settled in Oregon.

Only when I became a little older did I come face to face with the complexities of my grandmother. She's the woman who famously burst out with the line, "Mexicans I can handle, but no Negroes!" when I showed her a photo of my friend and pen pal from band camp. (Yes, I went to band camp.) When, at the age of 13, I asked her for a stamp (presumably for a letter to this same pen pal) she lectured me on how "the Bible says not to mix races" and "The children will never be accepted by either side." She none too subtly inquired about Chris's heritage as well, commenting that he seemed "a little dark". Having been a bit of a wild woman in her youth, quitting nursing school to elope with her first husband and eventually having two children with two different men, she's never been one to judge me for any perceived loose morals, though she did ask me not to tell my grandpa when I moved in with my first live-in boyfriend because "it would kill him." As she's aged and her health problems have increased she has become more and more overtly religious in ways that make me uncomfortable enough that I've increasingly kept my distance. After Don died, she remarried again and she and husband #5 have been happy together, living in Arizona and perpetually remodeling their house. She's asked us several times to come visit, but I'm afraid to. I'm afraid I'll be forced to see the uglier things about her, the prejudices and beliefs that make me feel sad or ashamed. I want to hold onto those happier memories, all the sweet and innocent, loving interactions we shared. I don't want to be tempted to make excuses for behavior from her that I would not tolerate from anyone else. I admit my cowardice.

She is my last grandma, a product of her times, more complicated than I know and as human as humans get.


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Anonymous Anonymous Says:

I loved this post, and I can't believe no one has commented on it. Huh.

The sites you can stumble onto just following link after link often amaze me. This one, pleasantly. :)

Anyone who misses Vancouver can't be all bad. I hope where you are is almost as good.


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