My dad's mother died five years ago today. Walking home from work the other day, I got tears in my eyes as I thought about her and what she meant to me. Which was strange, because I don't remember crying when she died.
Other than the anniversary of her death, it was this year's political atmosphere that made me think of Grandmommy the other day. If she was here, Grandmommy would be one of those grey-haired old ladies out supporting her candidate with all of her might.
Grandmommy was one of the smartest women I've ever known. Had her life taken a different path, I could easily see her as a college professor or civil activist. As it was, she grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father in Baltimore, MD, and got married at age 16 to my grandfather who was nine years her senior. She never went to college, nor do I think she even graduated from high school Her first child, my aunt, was born when Grandmommy was 20; my father arrived four years later. She worked for my grandfather's engineering company, was very active in her church, loved knitting, played a mean game of bridge, and was an avid crossword puzzler. She always lectured us that there was no such thing as a "healthy tan" (words I wish I'd listened to). An avid supporter of women's rights in general, she needled my conservative father each year by sending a contribution to NOW in his honor. She was a voracious reader (late in life she limited herself only to female authors) and encouraged all five of her grandchildren in our academic endeavours.
Grandmommy wasn't the coddling/spoiling/cookie baking type of grandmother. She had a temper and could be moody. And Grandmommy always spoke her mind. After dinner when the kitchen was cleaned up, she would announce that the kitchen was closed. Too bad if you wanted a snack. Another of her favorite sayings was "no roughousing in the living room." She had no patience for petulance and one infamous time told my younger sister than children should be seen and not heard (my sister was in college at the time).
All of that being said, there was never a doubt in my mind that Grandmommy loved all of us unconditionally. If she had a favorite among us, she never showed it. She always made time for us, and there were dozens of things both big and small that she did to make us feel special. We visited my grandparents for a few weeks each summer and there were so many things we looked forward to that, looking back, were all Grandmommy's doing. She always had popsicles and dill pickles (my favorite) when we came to visit. She baked - and later taught me to bake - rhubarb crisp. She and my grandfather bravely took my sister and me on a cross-country trip to see my aunt's family when we were just in elementary school. When I was accepted to college, she sent me a dozen long stem roses in honor of the achievement.
Our relationship really grew once I was out of high school. At that point, she and I connected as adults, which was much more her speed. I visited her a number of times by myself in these early adult years, and our conversations really helped me figure out who I was as a person. She didn't like my college boyfriend because he didn't call his mother when he was at school (and she was right). She adored my husband from the moment she met him (and she was absolutely right, though I didn't need her to tell me). She was one of the happiest people at our wedding.
After supporting her ailing mother through many years in a nursing home - an excruciatingly slow deterioration of mental and physical abilities - and caring for my grandfather as his health declined over many years due to poorly managed diabetes, Grandmommy resolved to not leave the world in similar fashion. She was a supporter of Dr. Kevorkian's methods and always thought it was strange that people think it is humane to put animals to sleep to ease their suffering but don't feel the same about other human beings.
Ultimately, Grandmommy didn't have to resort to any drastic measures. After suffering excruciating back pain for a number of months, she consented to an MRI (she was claustrophobic and had avoided this test). It turned out that the cause of the pain was metastases from advanced lung cancer. She asked for only palliative care and died three days later. I think she had a deal with the man - or as she would claim, the woman - upstairs.
I miss her.