My Grama turned 90 years old on March 22. Last week she fell and broke her arm and refused to let her caregiver take her to the doctor. Two days later, my dad showed up at Grama's house, saw the arm and took her to Urgent Care to have it set. She never went home again.
She is burning up mad crazy about it, too. Her plans have always been to die in her home where she has lived for the last 60 years. It's a two-story farmstead with gingerbread trim around the front porch. From three directions looking out the windows you can see the river. Today when I stood outside in the tall grass of the back yard and looked to the left--Grama's empty kitchen window--and to the right, the river, I knew that river had already said goodbye to my grandma. It's like she is dead.
I saw my Dad for the first time in two years and we never once looked each other in the face for the two hours we worked at Grama's house. He's gutting Grama's home and family has come from three states to take her stuff. He had me come out to her place today to "get whatever you want." Next, he is going to tear the house down or maybe burn it; it will not be there, that I know. Her property is worth a fortune and I expect the money will all go to paying for her care in the retirement home because she will live to be 100.
"I just want to die." How many times has she said that to me over the years? When I visit, she talks about her mysterious ailments, the Second Coming, the firemen who are faithful to revive her when she hyperventilates, and how mad she is at my cousins and how much she appreciates my aunt from Montana. Next time I see her, it's the same only she appreciates my cousins and is mad at my aunt from Montana. She feels neglected. Forgotten.
I won't ever forget her. Today I went all around her house inside and out, trying not to focus on the devastation of her things and the way she had them. I remembered our tea parties, her "patches" that she made quilts out of, and all of the balls of colorful fabric she had cut and wound for rag rugs, then displayed on her sewing table for decoration. Tears sprung to my eyes when I was digging in the buffet and found the very old game of Hi-Q that I used to play when I visited her as a girl.
I found seven forgotten comforters that she had made; three in the kitchen, one in a box in her bedroom, and two upstairs. I took her favorite hymnal that she played from on her organ. It has shape notes. She only played hymns written with shape notes because she couldn't read music any other way. Always, always when I went to see her she made me play her organ, which was ridiculous because she was a virtuostic organ player and I really s-u-c-k. She always had the organ facing the window looking over the river, and would play, "I Looked Over Jordan, and What Did I See?" (A band of angels, coming after me.) After about two minutes when I was really getting into playing and flipping all the sound keys she'd yell, "I'm getting nervous! I have to have some quiet; come in here and sit down and visit with me."
We'd look at all of her photo albums and I would do embroidery while she crocheted rugs. She always talked about Joseph in the Bible who wore a coat of many colors. Every single one of Grama's rugs is filled with all the colors of the rainbow. Each one is unique but she followed patterns like two rows of navy and white stripe, one row of fuchsia, two rows of orange, four of green and six of blue, then two of red and the center multicolored. Never any yellow or white because those "would show dirt."
We always drank peppermint tea from the teapot her mother gave her. She grew the peppermint herself and nothing from the store ever tastes as clear and sweet as hers. A few years ago my Dad took her Bavarian teapot away from her and gave it to me because he was worried she would break it. I found out today from him that she told him off, "Why can't you wait until I am dead to give away my things?"
I found some letters I wrote to her as a kid, a young married, a young mother, a single woman (she never failed to wail, "when are we gonna find you the right man?!") and some letters my dad wrote her addressed "MA CRANK." He and her never did get along well (too similar) except for the last two years he has been hawking over her making sure she was taken care of. That surprised me. Now he is in her good graces again--oops--once she finds out she can't go home, she will hate the world and her oldest son, we'll all be in trouble for "doing this to her."
I will go to see her soon. She will ask where I have been for so long. She will say she hurts and she wants to die. She will repeat Biblical prophesies to me that she's told me a thousand times; her grandma filled her head with them from the time she was eleven years old. She will say she loves me. She will say she wants to die. She won't want me to go.
I don't want her to go either. I don't think I will go back to her house because I want to remember it with her in it, not the shell I saw today. I'm so glad I found a recent picture of her sitting in her chair, a half-made rug on her knee, and she is smiling. It's her crooked smile and she still has those cat-eye fashioned glasses with the rhinestones on the corners. She looks like she is going to start laughing or singing or yelling.
Tonight I sat in my kitchen in one of Grama's kitchen chairs; now mine. I had just folded and sniffed one of her comforters fresh from the dryer. Two of the rugs I'd taken from her porch were spinning in the washer. Sitting in the half-light of one lamp--a milk glass wall lamp she used to read under--suddenly I caught a glimpse of myself in the future. I was like my Grama sitting at her kitchen table looking around at everything in her kitchen. Just like her, I mix orange and red and bright pink, blue and green, and brown with every shade between, all hugging each other in the same place. I never thought anything she did clashed. It was bright, it was utterly the Bird of Paradise she is, and she taught me how to do the same. Now she is ninety and her colors are fading, but in my heart she will always glow.