Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

With Gingham and Gratitude

A few hours after I wrote that last post, my grandmother fell and struck her head and has since passed away, the last of my grandparents and the one who has always been too big for me to be able to write about.  Dear Grammy. 
Unresponsive after the fall, Grammy survived more than another week, while the rest of us waited and wondered if today would be The Day.  Yes, we were told, it will be today, then today would become tomorrow, and Grammy was still with us, but no, now they say certainly sometime tonight, but then a new day would dawn, and now they're sure it will be in the wee hours of the morning, but no, another night and day would pass.  'So touch-and-go, but I took quite a gamble and ordered a teddy bear one afternoon for next-day delivery to the hospital.  My uncle opened the box and quickly placed the bear into her arms, my family texted me, and my aunt rubbed its fur against Gram so she could feel how soft it was.  Grammy passed just a few hours later. 
Just as I felt when Sommer died and when my paternal grandfather died, I remain shocked that such a big personality could somehow no longer be here with us.  Surely, someone larger than life is larger than death too?  Some part of the heart will never understand.
I began writing what would become a eulogy on New Year's Eve--such were the holidays this year--and I was determined from the start to read it at her service, shyness be damned.  And last week, standing in front of everyone at the funeral home wearing a pink gingham skirt Grammy would have raced me across the store in her walker to beat me to, I did just that, my voice only breaking on the very last word.  I was nauseous with dread while waiting for the pastor, my uncle, and my aunt to finish speaking, but as soon as I began walking to the podium, I felt a calm come over me and I knew I'd be okay.  I'm prouder of the fact that I not only managed to do this, but also that I did it well--I received many compliments on both my writing and my delivery--than of anything else I've done so far in my life; it means that much to me and was that hard for me to do.  And Grammy would have understood that and would have been pumping her fists in the air for her quiet granddaughter with every finished sentence and section from me, I know.
This is what I said:

When someone close to me died years ago, Grammy told me, "Write!  Write!  It will help ease the pain of the loss."   I've been taking her advice the past couple weeks, and this is some of what I've written so far. 

My earliest memory is actually of Grammy.  She is in the kitchen with me asking me if I'm excited about turning four.  I've always loved that my first memory is of a grandparent--and of a grandparent asking if I'm excited about something. . .what a celebratory note to begin on, you know?  :)  And how apt that it was Grammy asking me if I was excited, because we all know that Grammy could make things exciting--for better or worse, right?!  :)  Excitement to me as a four-year-old with Grammy meant that when she helped Mom make my breakfast, she'd slice my toast on the diagonal and call it "party toast."  We both liked Nabisco Nilla Wafers and would eat them together.  She made a brown velvet coat and hat set for one of my dolls, and she made a beige shawl for one too.  I still have all the clothes.  

Well, I turned four in the spring of 1981, and as many of you here remember, those were the days of the big family badminton tournaments in my parents' yard.   Grammy loved to tell the story of how during one especially spirited game, she landed badly and broke her ankle, and as my dad and various relatives made a little "arm chair" and carried her off the court--"the court!"  :)--my Italian great-grandmother who lived next door to us at the time muttered as Gram was carried past, "Crazy woman!!"  :)  Grammy loved that story; she thought it was a hoot and told the story with pride.  "Crazy woman!"  :) 

I once showed her a Peanuts cartoon I had clipped from the newspaper.  It depicted Charlie Brown in bed with thought balloons all around him, and the thought balloons were a repeated image of the little red-haired girl--his long-time crush, you know--asking HIM to dance.  The word balloon above Charlie Brown's head read, "Sometimes it's nice just to lie in bed at night and remember something good that's happened to you."  Grammy loved that.  "Oh, VAL!  Isn't that WONDERFUL!"  She loved it.  I think of Grammy and all my grandparents as some of the "something goods" in my own life, but Grammy was one of a kind.  I remember telling my best friend in high school that I couldn't really describe Grammy--She'd just have to meet her.  Grammy was too big to put into words, really, but here are a few I've come up with so far, just bullet points of things about her that make me happy or that instantly say "Grammy" to me:
  •  hats, overalls, scarves, denim, and the colors beige, tan, pink, gray, and olive green
  • pink legal pad paper
  • pink Geraniums
  • gifts wrapped in white tissue paper--I never saw Grammy use wrapping paper; It was always white tissue, and her gifts were beautiful.
  • her spindly handwriting
  • raspberry squares
  • chocolate brownies with black walnuts
  • baked beans at family picnics
  • the smell of strong coffee
  • Rod Stewart's song "Forever Young"--because Grammy told me once that a friend of hers once told her that every time he heard it, he thought of her.  Every time I've heard it since she told me that, I've thought of her too.
  • the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"--because Mom's always said it was one of Grammy's favorite songs
  • Grammy liked pretty things, and especially pretty pink things:  Pink lemonade, pink hard candy, and even pink salad dressing.  I remember one visit as a kid. . .seeing a glass jar on her counter with pale pink watermelon candy in it and thinking, "Wow!  How great to be an adult!  You even get to have pink CANDY!"  It was enchanting to me.  And then I found raspberry vinaigrette dressing in her fridge, pale pink dressing in a bottle, and asked her, "Do you even LIKE all these flavors, or do you just like having pink groceries?!"  :)  (Gram assured me she really liked them all.)  :)  
  • She liked Winnie the Pooh.  And like Pooh, when she got hungry, she was known to say, "'Time to get a little smackerel of somethin.'"  
  • And finally, in a story I almost can't believe I'm going to share in front of the Reverend. . .Jim Palmer, the hunky baseball player from the 70s and 80s--He used to do ads for Jockey underwear.  As he got older, he did endorsements for mortgages and home equity blah-blah--drier things, right--and one day when one of the more boring Jim Palmer commercials came on TV, Grammy shocked my teenage self by saying, "I like ya a lot, Jim Palmer.  But I like ya a lot better when you're in your underwear!"  :)  She was one of a kind.
My best friend in high school didn't get to meet Grammy.  She died a few months before our high school graduation.   Grammy sent me a card a few days after she learned of Sommer's death--and many of you know how perfect Grammy's cards always were.  She had the knack of finding the PERFECT card with the PERFECT illustration and the PERFECT verse, and this one was no different.  The outside showed a dark-haired girl in a dress, tights, and black Mary Jane shoes with her head bowed, and it read:  "Endure.  Keep yourself for days of happiness."  I'm actually going to wrap up what I want to say here today by sharing with you what Grammy wrote to me inside the card.  I thought of it over New Year's and dug it out, knowing it would be as perfect now as it was back then.  In Grammy's words, then:

"Dear, dear Val--

How I ache for you today, I can think of little else.  Looked so forward to meeting Sommer.  Life is so hard and it's okay to yell, 'It's not fair.'

You know, Val, Nana used to say, 'Just be happy for that part of your life and what this person brought into your life--and you into hers.'  I understand you can't handle the memories now.  Guess I've never understood how a loving God could cause so much heartache and I personally have questioned him many times!

Just remember that every person in the world is a dream of God.  Life is a gift, day in and day out.  There is a quote I like from Golda Meir:  'Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either.'  

Remember that I love you beyond all reason.

A fellow granddaughter sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" a cappella to conclude Grammy's funeral.  Unbeknownst to me, she had told her mom the week before that she was going to sing it, and sometime soon after she did, I texted her mom to ask if my cousin would be willing and able to sing, and I suggested "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  My aunt loved that her daughter had came up with it on her own.  My cousin sang beautifully.  She is a local theater director, so her talent and composure were not surprising, but I think we all were remembering as we watched her how she used to put on pretend concerts on Grammy's front porch as a six-year-old, with Grammy's honey dipper as a microphone.  Just as I had held it together until my voice broke on my last word, she got through the song perfectly but then collapsed into sobs in her mom's arms as soon as she stepped away from the podium.  But we did it.  She and I were also the only ones who decided to wear pink gingham to the service--Grammy also loved pink gingham--so when we first saw each other's outfits, we laughed in surprise and delight.  'So wondrous how these little things align.  "Mom would be so proud of her gingham girls," my mom told us before we left the funeral home.  And she truly would.  I'm sure she IS.   
Aunt Laurie and I were roommates at the hotel last week, and before we went to bed the night of the funeral, I sat at the desk writing in my journal while she finished packing her luggage for the return trip home.  One of the things that crossed my mind was that I hadn't seen a heart that day.  I had really thought I would.  I'd found a heart on the floor at work the week before,
had found one reflected in a stack of clean dishes I had put away before heading home for the funeral trip, 
and I had spotted another--a breadcrumb heart--on my plate at the family supper just the evening before,
but none of them were really the best heart, you know, and I was just surprised there hadn't been a more obvious one that day.  I didn't say anything about it, it was just one of a million things on my mind, and soon, I too was getting ready to climb into bed.  As Aunt Laurie folded up her coat to place it on the top of her now-tidy stack of luggage, she pulled something out of one of its pockets and laughed.  "I never know what I'll find in my pockets," she said and walked over to me holding out the whatever-it-was.  "I have no idea where this came from, but you can have it, Valerie."  And into my hand--chills!--she slipped a folded white paper heart.  
I went to bed having been given my heart after all, then--!--and hours later was in the car again heading home--with my pink gingham skirt packed away and Grammy's new bear now tucked in beside me. 
"When you finally fly away," Rod Stewart sings, "I'll be hoping that I served you well."  And Grammy has, and I think I did.   And I am, indeed, grateful for it all.  

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Mom and Dad's Christmas Lantern

Last month, brilliant Monique shared another of her beautiful creations, a decorated Ikea lantern scene, and I was so charmed by it, I was soon emailing her to tell her I was copying the idea for my parents for Christmas.    I found the same lantern online, began ordering tree, lights, and blue gingham dollhouse furniture for it, and then was flummoxed when the lantern arrived in pieces-needing-to-be-assembled and emailed Monique again to ask how she'd put hers together, sigh.  :)  Eventually, I got it together--the story of my life, ha ha--and I finished it the day before taking it home for an early Christmas with my family.  :)  It's such a sweet idea, and it's not one I'd have ever thought of, filling the inside of a lantern like this.  More thanks to Monique for sharing, as she always does.   
I began mine with what became the living room carpet, :) an old hand-towel in Mom  and Dad's shade of gray-blue.  A small snowflake doily-ornament came off my tree to become a miniature tree skirt.  After I'd gotten the decorating done, Mike figured out the lights. 
A heart appeared while we worked on it.   
I had bought a miniature Beagle for Dad, as he's aching to have another one but Mom's not keen on the idea.  I crafted a mini newspaper out of folded-up/glued-together newspaper snippets and made a mini country decorating magazine for Mom.  I'm not happy with the collar-and-red-heart-tag that ended up looking like a bandana--Dad would never have a bandana-wearing dog--but I'd already hot-glued it into place before I realized how oversized it was. 
Part of a stained blue holiday towel that we no longer used but that I hadn't wanted to throw out found a new life as an afghan for the back of the couch.  I unraveled more of its yarn loops to make tiny  ornaments,  and I made a few little wrapped gift-bundles for under the tree.
A snowflake-patterned scrap of the same towel became a pillow, although the snowflake design isn't obvious.  The basket and shiny bow-wrapped gift beside it were little bits I'd saved from other projects over the years--and I'm glad I did.  :) 
I ordered a miniature Swedish tea ring from an online artisan, since that's what Mom always bakes for Christmas morning's breakfast.    I cut out paper napkins to go with that and the tea cups. 
The tree has its own built-in string of lights, and I draped the other strand around the couch for a little more glow on that side of the "room."   
When it was all put together and lit up, it looked full enough--and very much like Mom and Dad's actual living room at Christmas, which is what I was going for, of course.    (Again, how fun is this idea!  I want to make them for baby showers and birthdays and garden parties and weddings and kids' rooms and other holidays and! and! and. . . !)  :) 
I took a final picture in full sunshine right before wrapping it--
--and Mike and I gave it to Mom and Dad on the 21st.  Mom was as delighted as expected, and Dad was just happy to see a Beagle in his living room finally.  ;)  Here's to the fun and love of Christmas, and here's to the sharing of sweet ideas.   

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Then One Foggy Christmas Eve

Julietta's first Christmastime.  Darling girl.    While family eats and watches a Christmas movie together back home, Mike, Stuffed, and I are cozy in our little apartment, our cards all taped to the door, our favorite movies playing one after the other, and Stuffed napping here, there, and everywhere around us.  'A strangely foggy Christmas Eve here too, so much so that we can hardly see our neighbors' apartment next door, and the fog after a day with temperatures in the forties and our windows open most of the day while holiday baking was in full-swing. 
'My favorite day of the year, this. 
It's been an easy-peasy day here, and this entire season's been the most-organized of every holiday season so far for me.  We have been washing dishes as we go all day, so we're even caught up in the kitchen, and unlike every past year, I have the cinnamon rolls baked and waiting to be frosted and it's earlier than midnight!  ;)
Yay for progress!  
Mom reminded me this past weekend that Mike and I did Sloppy Joes for Christmas Eve a few years back, and yes, that sounded good this time too, so after baking sugar cookies and cinnamon rolls today, supper was an easy affair.  
Mom, of course, with big meals for more than ten both tonight and tomorrow, has been much busier, and it's been sweet to be able to cheer each other on today.
Happy holidays to you all.  Tonight and all the days ahead, may you find sweetness, love, and wonder.  

Monday, December 23, 2019

Bianca Painted Stuffed!

And as with her gift last year, I could not be more charmed.  She handed it to me Saturday night covered in crushed and crumpled wrapping paper, and my brother explained, "She's had this made and wrapped since ohhhhhhhh, October maybe!?"  :)  Sweet Bee.    I will treasure her and her artwork all my days.