The last time I saw her

 

She was a guiding light in my life for many years. I’m talking about Grandmother.  Recently, I was reminded of her during a photoshoot in Santa Barbara when I saw this classic truck that I knew she would love so today I’m sharing a memoir I wrote about the last time I saw her. Outfit details below.


Perry Mason cross-examined a witness so loud that I wondered how she could possibly sleep through it. Her icy gray hair rested on the davenport and a small throw blanket covered her arms, legs and feet.

I didn’t want to wake her, but I hated the idea that she would sleep the rest of the night with her neck in such a funny position. “Grandmother,” I said quietly. Nothing.

A few minutes passed, and I sat down across from her. She looked peaceful. She had changed since I last saw her. Her hair was dark red the last time we sat here and she had lost a little weight. Minutes passed and as I admired the memories from my childhood that loomed in these walls, I was happy to share in the silence.

A phone call just wasn’t this. When we talked, we talked about everything. If she had a rough exchange with a stranger, a family member had been rude or she bought a new sweater, we had talked about it. But it wouldn’t be long before they would take all of that away from me.

She woke abrutly with a smile – “Well hello! Give me a squeeze!” she said and I rushed over. It was as if I was a kid again and I couldn’t get to her fast enough. I told her that I didn’t want to wake her but hoped that she would go to bed because it was late. She asked how my flight was and she seemed so happy to see me.

“I’m fine Grandmother,” I told her. This is wonderful, I told myself as she
reluctantly went into her bedroom, turned off the lights and slipped into bed.
As I lugged my bags into the upstairs guest bedroom, I remembered the last time I had seen my grandfather in this house, and in this room. This room was the keeper of memories. Grandfather took his last breaths
here, and every member of our extended family had probably slept in this bed, at one time or another.

A ladybug sat perched in the corner of the room on the ceiling, and the
blanket I remembered my grandfather wearing during his cancer treatments lay folded in the closet, just out of reach. The closet was like every other closet in this midwestern bi-level home: full of gorgeous hardly worn clothing fit for the lady of the house. The furniture was dated but for just a moment, it looked new to me because I hadn’t seen it in such a long time.

Grandmother left a little lamp plugged in on the dresser and as I looked down at the bed, I noticed the pillows were neatly arranged: two of them decorative which sat sweetly on
top the weathered blanket. One was covered in lace and the other bore a forgettable embroidered flower. I sat down on the bed and looked into the mirror on the adjacent dresser. I’ve changed, I thought.
Last time I sat here I was 25 and that time I had traveled with a painting I had planned to give her.

“You’re my favorite Grandma you know.” I had told her as I handed her my best painting
yet.

“This is beautiful – you’re so talented and you will do well at anything you try.” She said as she smiled and gave me a squeeze.

I wasn’t 25 any more but I would never forget how Grandmother made me feel when I gave her that painting. Back then, she was the one person in my life that valued me. It was as if she saw me not for a sum of my mistakes but a sum of the wonderful things I was and would be.

Later that day I asked her if she had any regrets. She said she had a few but overall, she was content.

Grandmother believed in me and that meant a lot because she understood what it meant to endure and to succeed.

Grandmother was born in a small town in the Midwest to two struggling Norwegian immigrants. One day, when she was in her early twenties, she met the man she would love, hate, love again and later bury.

Grandfather was short. He had dark eyes, a square jaw and a fiesty personality. He taught me the value of being a bit deviant for a laugh. He didn’t ask her for her hand in marriage – no he told her they were getting married. He was college educated so she had gone along with it or so she said.

Soon they had children and their incomes were not enough. They purchased a farm from his mother and that’s when the work really began. Grandfather had lost his arm at the elbow playing with a gun when he was a teenager, so farming was not a job he could do all on his own.

Grandmother was a housewife and a farmer. She woke for chores at 4am and took care of her children, cooked and cleaned and still managed a flawed existence, in Grandfather’s eyes.

“I knew better than to ask for things,” she said.

When the kids needed new clothes, Grandfather had insisted they didn’t have money. By the time my mother was in grade school, they had been farming for more than 10 years and had not seen much profit, or so she thought. One day, as Grandmother was cleaning Grandfather’s desk, she came upon a couple of bank registers. When she saw that each balance exceeded her imagination, she calmly placed the registers in her coat pocket and went to the bank.

“I’m sorry ma’am, your name is not on these accounts.” The teller explained.

“I am the Mrs. and you will hand me $1200.” She retorted with conviction. Just 5 minutes later, with her head held high, my Grandmother walked out of the bank with cash in hand. She spent the entire sum on things she needed for the house: drapes and clothes for the kids. When Grandfather returned from afternoon chores, he looked around in shock and barked,

“Where did all of this come from?”

“I found your registers.” She said with a coy smile – and that was the end of it.

Grandmother was my person. She was often the first one I called when I needed advice. I always felt like our spirits were akin – and at times, I felt closer to her than anyone else.  She taught me so much about the value of hard work and what it means to endure.


So today I share this to celebrate those memories. I’m grateful for the time I was able to spend with her. Instead of dwelling on what was taken from me, I choose to relish in the good memories. To remember all of the wonderful stories she was kind enough to tell me over and over throughout the years so that I could enjoy the benefit of the lessons she learned.

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