Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day and Rememberance

Sunday was a lovely day. Not the weather. The weather did it's best not to cooperate. It rained from 10 AM until 4 pm, putting a damper on the BBQ we had planned. Finally, it let up long enough for us to start the grill and throw on some steaks and kabobs.

I had my nephews Saturday night because this weekend was also my brother and sister in laws wedding anniversary and for the first time in five years, they went to celebrate; alone, without children. The boys were fairly well behaved (of course, I plied them with junk food and movies). They camped out in my living room since it was raining.

Sunday, we got up and I spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to put the tent back in the bag. Not having taken it out of the bag in the first place, I had no damned idea how to get it back in. I only hope I didn't break anything.

We went to the store to get some cards and some gifts. The boys wanted to buy "mom" something for mother's day. I put "mom" in quotation marks because Mer is really the boys' step mom but she's been their mom in every way for the last five, even if the first few years were rocky. It's a long story, but suffice it to say that their real mom is a piece of work. She hasn't seen them or called in over three months. That should tell you something. Anyway, that's not the important part of the story. Really, what's important is that sometime last year the boys went from calling her "Mer" to calling her "mom". I don't know how or when it happened. Just, one day I was at their house and the oldest called out "mom". I was looking around for their real "mom" since that's what they always called her. Nope. It was Mer they were talking to and she answered back.

Honestly, I never asked why, when or how. I just kept my mouth shut. I didn't want to cause any questions or ripples. The boys needed a "mom" that could be a real mom and not just the biological womb that carried them.

So, we went to the store and they each picked out something to give her. Not even by my suggestion. They just walked around the store until they saw something that caught their eye. The eldest picked out a fancy pink pen with a matching pink note pad that had pink butterflies and was tied together with a pink ribbon. The younger picked out a "banana muffin" giant candle. Then they picked out cards and pretty mother's day bags to put their gifts in. Right after that they insisted on getting my mom a card. If I hadn't rounded them up, they probably would have kept sorting through the cards. Too many choices are sometimes a pain.

I bought my mom a 20" 14kt gold chain to put her amythest birth stone on. Her last one had broken twice. All I can say is "wow" I haven't bought jewelry in a long time. No idea what the stuff was going for these days.

When we got to my bro's, we got to cooking. I actually handled the grill and didn't kill anyone's steak. That's a first on an open grill for me.

After eating, we sat around and chatted awhile with my cousin Lou and his wife while the kids played downstairs. We were laughing about things our parents told us. We laughed about the "sex education" we had compared to what kids get today. I was relaying a story about the nephews who are hitting puberty and are extremely fascinated by the event. The eldest had just explained to me this very morning that he was "hairy like daddy", but his brother wasn't. Being a naive and absent minded aunt, I naturally assumed he was talking about the mustache and beard, so I assured an offended younger nephew that he would grow up and be hairy like daddy, too.

Well, I was quickly dissuaded of which hair I thought they were talking about. The eldest also explained that he was this (fingers in appropriate spot) big and the younger one was only this (fingers shrinking a bit) big. Okay, that was enough of that conversation. The younger one had jumped up and was ready to defend his honor at that point. Now I see that the measurement thing starts early and has little to do with how men see themselves in context to sexual relations with women as opposed to some throw back genetics to the herd mentality: who was the best among the men. Women are apparently secondary concerns in this measurement contest.

Everyone laughed their butts off. Except bro who has noticed that the boy seems to be rather fond of announcing his impending puberty to the world. I think he was mumbling something about having another talk with him on keeping somethings private.

Then we laughed again about what our parents told us about sex. Bro said that dad simply told him, "boy, don't you dare get that girl pregnant". Lou said his dad told him to be careful whom he "dated" lest she "give him something he couldn't wash off with soap". I explained mine was something like, "men only one want thing, I know, 'cause I'm a man", that from my dad while I sat on the couch trying deperately to figure out how many paces it was to the front door and out to freedom.

Yeah, I know, repressed.

Somehow the subject turned to advice given upon marriage. Bro said that our grandmother had told him that he should remain faithful and treat Mer right. If he needed a change in pace, he should try taking care of it himself (ie, masturbate). We all laughed our asses off at that. My gram's had always been the proper one when we were growing up, insisting on manners, but when she got older, she was more intent on speaking plainly. She told me she was "old" and could get away with it.

Lou had to top that one and said that Gram's had told his wife that she should be "a lady on his arm and a whore in his bed". That had us rolling again. Unbelievable. You could tell we all had the same shocked reaction. Not OUR Grams. Of course, 37 years of marriage should make one able to expound on that subject.

Unfortunately, it had only been 37 years of marriage. My grandfather died almost 18 years ago at a relatively young age from enternal bleeding from an ulcer he had lived with since he had been young and foolish, drinking himself nearly to death in the early stages of marriage right after the war. Sometime around the time my dad was seven, the doctor told my grandpa that he would die shortly if he didn't stop drinking. So, he stopped. Cold turkey. My grams said it was the best years of her life after that.

We handed out the gifts after remenicsing. When they were all done, my bro handed me a bouquet of three pink roses from the kids; one for each nephew and one from the neice because they love aunt Kat and thought I should have something for all the time I spent with them. It was very sweet. One thing I can say, even on Valentine's Day, I'm never forgotten.

The only sad part of the day was in remembering that this weekend had more than one meaning for all of us. It was on May 6, 2004 that my Grams passed away. That was Mother's Day weekend, too. I could write about all the great things that my mom did for us growing up and even now. My mom is the ultra giver. She will do anything for anyone; sometimes even if they don't ask. But, I wanted to write something about this other woman who had a profound impact on my life and is still sorely missed even a year later.

She was irreplacable. She was the rock of our family and when she passed it seemed that everyone exploded, inlcuding me. She loved children. Most of the things that I can remember were the times we spent at her house, all eight of us grand kids, playing in their yard at the "white house". We always called it that because it was a low ranch home that my grandpa had built a round concrete porch on the front and made columns and trellises in the front. It always looked like the "white house" to us.

Every summer we would buy Grams tomatoe plants to put out back because she loved fried green tomatoes. At the end of every summer when the tomatoes were ripe, we'd sneak around back and pick a tomatoe for each of us, hiding under the porch enjoying our ill gotten snack. The one time we tried to send my middle bro in to get the salt, he got snagged and gave us up immediately. No one could withstand grandma's patient but never faltering eyes.

I could tell so many stories about growing up with the family. Grams always had a giant cast iron skillet that she swore was the only way to cook fried chicken right. She also had a huge roasting pan that was good for making army sized portions of hungarian goulash or home made hot cocoa in the winter.

When they moved down on the farm, we all went with them. That was another great and memorable time in my life. Not just mine, but all of us "grand kids" are always remeniscing about one time or another down there. More stories for a later date.

My grams had grown up poor, but she always said that being poor was no excuse for being slovenly or having bad manners and she passed that on to us. I don't know all the things she ever said to the rest of the "kids", but, for me, she was the one that always told me that I was smart and could be whatever I wanted. If I professed to want to be a lawyer, she told me I should go do it and I could. If I said I wanted to be a singer, she told me I could sing and I should do the best I could. I think if I'd said I wanted to be a hobo, she would have told me to go be the best hobo I could be. As long as I was happy, that's all that was important.

For some who've read this blog before, you might know that my parents' marriage was extremely rocky on occasion. Whenever they had trouble, my Grams would have us come stay with her and grandpa. She would listen to our cries and dry our tears, reminding us that we were loved and that, in this rough old world, there was someone we could count on.

Even when I got older I would talk to her about troubles at work or with family or boyfriends. She would always listen and most of the time she would just let me talk myself into whatever I thought was best and then would tell me that it was exactly what I should do. When she did give me advice, it was usually couched in terms that I could take or leave, but I always knew when I should listen.

Although, when it came to religion, politics and love, she would sometimes say things that made me reply, "Oh, grandma!" in that long drawn out tone that said I wanted to roll my eyes but knew better.

So, last year when she was very sick, I put things on hold and went down to help her straighten out her affairs. Not that there was much. At the end of her life, my grams had told me that "you can't take it with you" so she had pared her belongings down to a minimum and lived very simply. I had long talks with her and reminisced about the "old days". She told me some stories I didn't remember and a few I had, but I let her tell them again.

One day she asked me to get out my guitar and play her the song I'd written for her and grandpa a long time ago. I couldn't remember all the words, but she didn't care, she just wanted to hear it. The old cassette I'd recorded it on had been worn out a long time ago. She laid down on her bed and said she was going to rest while I played "Grandma's Kitchen Table". Funny how now I can remember the words.

I can still remember
When I was just a kid
Sitting at my grandma's kitchen table
Watching everyhing she did
And, I could see my grandpa
Out in the side yard
Fixing that ol' pickup truck
So he wouldn't have to buy a new car

Whenever I had trouble
I'd ask grandma for advice
She'd give me a glass of iced tea
And put the chicken on to fry
Sometimes grandpa he'd come in
And join us at the table
She'd say, tell us what your troubles are hon'
We'll help you if we're able

When I got done telling everything
grandpa put his coffee up on the table
He'd say,
I've learned somethings in this life
So put this in your stable

Stand up tall and walk real proud
Whenever you feel down
Smile when you feel the tears
don't let'em see ya' frown
Put your last dollar in a poor man's cup
And when Jesus comes around
Your cup will over flow
When He wears the golden crown

It's been a long, long time
Many years have come and gone
Grandma she's still here
but grandpa has passed on
I try to make it home
As often as I'm able
So I can sip iced tea sittin'
at my grandma's kitchen table

And she'd say...

Stand up tall and walk real proud
Whenever you feel down
Smile when you feel the tears
don't let'em see ya' frown
Put your last dollar in a poor man's cup
And when Jesus comes around
your cup will over flow
When He wears the golden crown.

That's how I remember them. So many times in the last year I would have given anything to pick up the phone and call her, or sit at the table sipping iced tea and just talked about anything.

My grandpa was the dreamer. He was always chasing one dream or the other. He could build incredible things out of scrap wood, draw things and then build them, all without being a trained draftsman. He would go from being a wealthy business owner to doing side jobs to get by. Grandma was the rock, the patient one, the steady hand on the family. She always figured out how to make things stretch and keep it all together. Something she learned after 37 years of marriage to a dreamer.

Today was a beautiful day, even with the rain. But it's been a tough day trying to chase away the thought that I should have been buying one more card and gift like I did every year. I know she didn't just touch my life, but many others. My father and his siblings, my brothers and cousins and many of my second cousins who have told stories about growing up and going to spend time at "Aunt Mary's". Not to mention some of the "elders" who are still around and tell stories about parties at "Tennessee's and Leroy's" house with home made bathtub gin and rock-a-billy on the stereo.

Last year on this date, I was driving home from southern Missouri, coming back after making all the arrangements and preparing for the funeral the next day here in Kansas City. It was raining hard that day, too, so I had to drive very slow on the back roads to the highway. I passed a church on the highway and the sign simply said, "sorrowful, yet rejoicing". It was almost providential. For the next two hours I drove along thinking about that sign and what I would say as the opening and closing of the graveside eulogy.

The next day, after the pastor gave an opening prayer, I said a few words and then let everyone have their moment. Most of them told little stories about "Mom", "Grandma" and "Aunt Mary". My cousin Mikey read the words of a poem Gram's had asked to be read. He almost couldn't finish it, he was so choked up. Grams had practically raised him and his sister. His sister and I stepped up on either side of him, putting our arms under his because he looked like he might pass out. I straightened out the wind blown paper and began to read where he left off, pointing to the words until he could read again.

Then, I gave the closing. Sorrowful, yet rejoicing.

Rejoicing because we had such a great lady for so long.
Rejoicing because she was with grandpa where she'd longed to be for almost 20 years.
Rejoicing because we knew we'd see her and grandpa again.

Yes, we were sad that day, but there was joy in remembering.

Happy Mother's Day, Grams. We miss you.

Love Always,


Scott from Oregon said...

On Mother's Day, my mother's greatest thrill was taking a crap in a real toilet. I'm not kidding.

Kat said...

Was your mom travelling or has she been ill and using a commode?

alix said...

i don't know whether to hug you, or slap the crap out of you for choking me up. ;)

your grandmother sounds like a national treasure. thanks for documenting your was a pleasure to read and share.

Kat said...

Alix...I live to make people laugh and make them choke up, all in the same post. ;)

Kender said...

Kat...I am with Alix on this one....hug or slap hug or slap....