Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Things I learned at Mamaw's

My great-grandmother died today.  My dad called me this afternoon.  My uncle had called and told him--the rest of the family had been told not to call Mom until after Dad got home and could sit down with her.

I sat down on the couch and cried.  My husband came and held me and let me cry.  I instant messaged my best friend and asked her to look in on the kitties.  Instant messaged my brother to see if Dad had gotten hold of him.  Sent an email to my dissertation director to tell her my revised prospectus wouldn't be in Friday as planned.  Wondered how my uncle was going to get hold of my grandparents who are in Peru right now, miles away from any form of communication.  Even if we do get hold of them, they won't get back in time, I don't think. 

My husband took me out, to get me out of the house and distracted so the depression wouldn't set in.  We needed cat food.  He bought me dinner and let me have my head space.  I'm still not sure about the depression.

I've been sitting here thinking about Mamaw's house.  About stories I've been told.  I was her first great-grandchild, and my mother took me to Lexington every week to see her.  She would feed me onions and beer cheese together. 

She taught me the word 'shit' when I was five.

When my youngest brother was in the hospital for several days undergoing tests, my parents left me with Mamaw.  We stayed up late and watched game shows.  She fed me cantaloupe and pork rinds. I can't eat either without thinking about her. 

There were Tinkertoys in the closet and a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.  The marbles for Hungry Hungry Hippos were in a milk glass dish that sat in the hallway.  It sits on one of the bookshelves in my living room now, complete with marbles.

The attic was up a set of vertigo-inducing stairs, which were upholstered in that particular shade of green that was so popular in the seventies, and the stairs were often lined with jars of canned goods.  Upstairs was a haven of fabric and sewing machines.

Christmas meant everyone went over to Mamaw's.  The men played poker around the dining room table.  There was candy on the kitchen table that Mamaw had made.  Fudge.  Peanut Butter Ritz Cracker Sandwiches dipped in chocolate.  She brought those to Winchester to Pioneer Festival too, because she knew they were my favorite. 

She brought her quilts and her crafts to sell at craft fairs and did so for years until she couldn't see to quilt anymore.  She gave her quilting hoop to Mom, and having it is what spurred Mom and I to learn how to quilt.  Mom has Mamaw's old foot pedal Singer sewing machine.

We used to laugh about Bud telling stories about having to walk to school barefoot in the snow, ten miles, uphill both ways.  Mamaw scoffed when we told her.  She said, "It was more like two miles."  We quit teasing him.

She had a huge garden.  She could get anything to grow.  She had a cactus in the kitchen in a pot that looked like a pair of blue jean shorts.  When my youngest brother decided he wanted to be a cowboy, she gave it to him, since cowboys dealt with cactuses.

Downstairs a few weeks ago, I was going through the closet and found the baby blanket she made me.  It's yellow, with bunnies on it.  It's in marvelous condition for getting closer to 30 than I like to think about.  Someday it will be a baby blanket for a little girl.

She gave Mom a grandmother's garden quilt too.  My middle brother had it on his bed for years.  It's worn through in places.  I'm not sure how I could fix it.  My mom has a big yarn-tied quilt on her bad that Mamaw made.  It's all made from pieces of polyester and tied with yellow yarn and we all love it because it's warm and heavy.

She called me 'pissant.'

I called her Mamaw Ree.  Like some of my other great-grandmothers, I couldn't pronounce her entire name when I was little--Marie was a mouthful.  She was Mamaw Ree to all of us.

She cooked a huge breakfast every day.

The Christmas tree at Mamaw's had the best lights.  They were colored lights, with flowers that went around them.  No one knew what happened to them when they cleaned out her house after she went to the nursing home.

At her 90th birthday party, I leaned over and asked her if she could see what was on my finger.  She couldn't, so I told her it was an engagement ring and that I was getting married.  Her response was, "Well, shit."  Laughing, I told her that wasn't all of the news--my middle brother was getting married too.  She thought about it for a second, then said, "Well, shit."

When I went to the nursing home with my first quilt to show her, she tried to escape in her wheelchair out the door.  The alarm went off (I didn't know she wasn't allowed past the first set of doors), and the nurses came and got her and laughed.  Mamaw was kind of pissed.

When they emptied out Mamaw's house, my mother took the dining room table and chairs and Mamaw's china cabinet--the one that rattled every time you went by, with a sound that was unmistakable and unreproducible.  I thought she was silly at the time--my parents didn't have room for it, but I'm glad she has it now. They gave me the guest bed that had been my great-aunt's bed, so I could quit sleeping on a mattress on the floor.  It was the bed my husband and I slept in when we first got married.  Now it's the guest bed in our office. 

At one point, several years ago, she told me it was time I had a baby and that she didn't much care if I was married when I did.  Bud was horrified when I told him she'd said that.  Mostly, we think she just wanted to be a great-great-grandmother before her next door neighbor, Millie.  Millie died not long after, but with the arrival of my cousin's daughter last year, Mamaw did get her wish to be a great-great grandmother.

I'm going to go home tomorrow.  My mother is going to cry.  My aunts are going to cry.  I am going to cry.  My brothers will manfully hold it together for our sakes, and my dad will be right behind my mom, and my husband will be right behind me to catch us when we can't help it and fall apart.  People will laugh that pained laugh that you hear at funerals, the laugh from good memories tinged with the sorrow that you will not be making memories with that person any longer, a laughter laced with tears. 

The visitation is Friday.  The funeral is Saturday.  I will see all my relatives, hug them.  I saw them at my aunt's wedding in February, which was the first time I'd seen them since Mamaw's 90th birthday party, since we didn't do Christmas together after it got too hard on Mamaw.  I will see them now, and people will ask me how I am and how things are going.  They will tell me how proud Mamaw would be of me, how proud she always was of me.

And I will cry.  I will wish I had gone to see her more.  I hadn't seen her since her birthday party, though I had called.  She always confused me with Mom, though, even when I did go to see her, and so I just got updates from Gran and Bud on how she was doing, rather than confusing her.  When she thought it was Mom, she always asked how I was *really* doing.  When she knew it was me, she asked me how Mom was *really* doing, because she thought Mom was lying to her about how sick she was.  (Mom was, and I knew it, and I played along because I didn't want Mamaw to worry either.)

And finally, I will have to say goodbye and come to the realization that of all of my old people, I only have one left.  I was blessed with knowing all four of my great-grandmothers and two of my great-grandfathers.  But now, only Mamaw Retta is left.

For some reason, I think I thought Mamaw Ree would live forever.  Or it was that her passing never crossed my mind.  My worry is constantly whether my mother will leave us before her time.  In fact, I had the thought that my great-grandmother would outlive my mother. 

Tomorrow, I will go home.  And I will cry.  But then I will have to be strong.  I will have to hide it all in order to help my mother stay together.  And then later, I will fall apart where she can't see.  And I will think about the little white house on Meadowbrook, and remember the sound of the china cabinet and the smell of the kitchen, and I will curl up in the bed with my mother under Mamaw's quilt and remember that both of them love me.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. Your Mamaw sounds like she was an interesting, wonderful person. I'll be thinking of you and your family.