Quiet Strength and Blunt Honesty

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I did not really get to know my grandmother (my mother’s mother), but when I was going though my teenage years she was always there for me and knew so much more about me than I did her. She had a quiet demeanor, and though she never really had much to say, just being with her made me feel better. As a teenager, you think that everything you are expieriencing with your parents is the worst thing ever.

My stepfather, Mike and I butted heads on a regular basis. In my diary, he was known as “dickhead” and “ass hole”. Now as an adult, those names couldn’t be further from the truth. Grandma Lois’ house was my refuge, especially during the summer time (cause you know, there was a pool).

Carl was my grandmother’s domestic partner, he would be called now, but I always called him my Grandma’s Boyfriend. He was a scruffy old man that most people, who didn’t know him would probably avoid, took care of the property and the house and took care of my grandma. Carl was pretty much my grandpa, I once asked him why they didn’t get married and he asked me why it mattered, it was just a piece of paper.

While Grandma was quiet and reserved; Carl was a funny boisterous beer drinking man, who I know had probably been into something bad in his youth but never knew what those things were. He grew up in New York and I’m not sure what took him to Oregon. He worked in a print shop that was owned by his brother, eventually made the wedding napkins for my wedding, printed the invitations and then Kaitlyn’s birth announcements.

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Carl liked beer, but his beer of choice was Hamm’s (certainly not the beer the connoisseurs, that our family has turned into today would drink). Carl’s beer drinking and smoking were spent outside in the pool house. My friends and I used to tell him with that all the beer he drank over the years had cost him too many brain cells and that he should take into consideration the few he had left.

We would always spend some time with Grandma & Carl, at holidays, summers of course, at the coast around Spring Break. As a family, Grandma & Carl, aunt D, aunt Cindy and cousins, Mom & Mike, my brother & myself and various others who would come with us; we would rent a condo, for many years it was at Driftwood Shores, in Florence Oregon. We would go shopping in “Old Town”, purchase fresh seafood from the fish market, and have a splendid seafood dinner, fly kites, find shells, and grandma would generally sit near the window and watch for whales.

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One year, I rode home with grandma for one reason or another and had been sleeping for a bit. Grandma drove a huge 1969 Crysler Station Wagon (purchased new), this thing was a Tank and was even an ugley green color with wood panels. Grandma was so comfortable driving this car, it was like riding in a boat. I woke up from my nap and was looking around and happed to look at the speedometer and exclaimed “Grandma!” She asked what and I told her to look at the speedometer. She was cruising down I-5 at 90 mph; and her only respond was “Oh my” in her quiet calm voice.

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With all the time spent with family, I didn’t get to know her very well, but I really started paying attention when I was 12. Grandma had cancer, from essentially too much smoking and drinking for most of her life. What happened at that point in time was that we were up in Portland at OHSU. The family was in the room with her and from my perspective, we were waiting FOREVER… Evenually a doctor came and, I’m not certain if he didn’t know there were children in the room or if he just didn’t care. He just started in talking about how he was going to have to break my grandmother’s jaw to go in to get the cancer. I know there was way more to it than that, but this is what I remember.

Not something any 12 year old, or 7 in my brothers case, really needed to hear. But from that point on, I was certainly paying attention. Grandma had the surgery and I remember when she came home for a very long time she had to be fed with a feeding tube. No one was allowed to smoke anywhere near the house (hence Carl banishing himself to the Pool House). She eventually got much better but she could never quite speak normally again. I’m certain there were other surgeries, but I only remember this one, probably because it was the one that had the most impact. This was the first brush that I had with cancer. Sadly, it has not been the last. This surgery gave my grandma an additional 8 years of lfe, 8 years that I’m more than thankful for as, my grandma became more than special to me.

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As previously mentioned, I was your typical pain in the ass, disrespectful 16 year old to my parents. Grandma’s house was my sanctuary, the place I could go to get away from my parents and chill. I would generally go over and spend the weekends with them. I would go out with my friends, but rather than going home, I would go to my other home.

Grandma would typically be sitting up watching classic movies on AMC or TCM, sitting on her love seat with her glass of wine, in her robe and slippers. She would have the airmatress set up on the floor in front of her big console tv for me or I would sleep on the couch. I would get into my jammies and climb into the air bed and lay there and watch classic movies with her. From this, I gained a love of classic movies that I and my husband have both passed down to our children.

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Although, there were many movies, there are two that stand out most in my mind, which I have purchased as an adult. Now, Voyager and The Egg & I . And to this day, they are still some of my favorites to watch.

Carl, on the other hand, was the person that I could vent my snotty teenage spleen to. He would listen, and drink, and offer words of advice in his blunt New York manner, but never judged. He was the person I could confess my teenage sins to, which thankfully were not many and certainly not too bad.

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Either way, these 2 opposites, were the man and woman who had the most influence in my life. When I went to college, Grandma would regulary send cards, written in her beatiful handwriting and would always end with Love, Grandma & Carl. She would just write about things like her garden and the sheep they would have once in a while. She would talk about her gladiolas and the butterfly feeder she had. Just normal every day things.

When I was in my early 20’s grandma started getting ill again, the cancer was coming back. She was in and out of hospitals and could have had another surgery that might have prolonged her life again. But had instead decided that she did not want to put the family and probably herself though all of that again.

I was not there when she died, some days I still regret not getting to say a proper good bye, but living in Arizona, having 1 year old and a job made it difficult to travel. My mother, I believe did not want me to see her suffering and to remember her the way she was. I blamed her for that for a number of years, but I know she was only doing what she thought was best. I have regrets for blaming her as well. Grandma died November 11, 1996, one year after my paternal grandfather.

Carl, did not deal well with her death, and while my mom and her sisters made sure he had a place to live, he got into drugs and had a hard time being around any of the family after that. And until he died in 2009, the only person he would really talk to was my brother.

Every once in a while, I find myself thinking maybe I will get a card from Grandma, and then I remember that she is no longer with us. She never got in between me and my parents, not that there were many confrontations, mostly the moody teenager going off to pout. She never butted in , she just listened and was there and that was all I needed.

There is so much more I want to say about her, I know she wasn’t perfect, but to me she was.

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One thought on “Quiet Strength and Blunt Honesty

  1. Pingback: She did what? | Odds and Ends

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