Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On Love and Loss

My grandparents have been gone a long time now. My Papa died in 1984 and my Grandma in 1990. They weren't that old. Neither reached average life expectancy although their parents lived well into their 80's and one even over 100! Although they were relatively young when they died, they always seemed old to me. Ever since I could remember, they were old.

I loved being with them as a child. Often times we would get to go to their house by ourselves. Coming from a family with six children, having a chance to be an only child for a week was a big deal. A very big deal.

My grandparents were fancy folk. In my opinion anyway. My Papa wore a suit every single day. My Grandma, a dress, with a hat, and heels.

 When one of us kids got to stay at their place we were allowed to choose some favorite foods to eat. I remember choosing cream of celery soup, Bugles!, and they always had crunchy crust bread. When we were there we also got to look through Grandma's jewelry box. Oh the beautiful things she had.

 I also remember watching my Papa set his barometer. I have that barometer and I set it every day still. It was the inspiration for my own collection. And his stamp holder, I remember him taking stamps from it. I have that too and last year I was able to buy a roll of 50 stamps for it!

I remember drying dishes after meals. My Grandma had the water so hot I could barely touch the dishes to dry them without burning my hands. And I remember the cutlery drawer. Every piece of cutlery was laid in just so and we were expected to do the same. That must have made an impression on my way back when because to this day, my cutlery drawer is arranged just like it. In fact, I have Grandmas silver and a few weeks ago I decided to bring it out for every day use instead of just when our girls come home. I even put it in the dishwasher hoping for that lovely tarnished look. So far it hasn't tarnished but it will. I hope.

My grandparents were gardeners. Not vegetable gardeners, but flower gardeners. My Papa grew gladiolus and my Grandma grew lilies and mums. They took great pride in their gardens and one day my Papa's garden was vandalized and it made the city newspaper! He was a city alderman and ran for mayor so that could be why it was news. I also remember my Papa would water the lawn by hand. It took him hours to do and he always wore a fancy hat while doing it.

My grandmother was strict. Very strict. There was no doubt who was boss and we daren't cross her. We wouldn't even dream of it. We loved them dearly and respected them greatly. Although she was strict, she played with us all the time. We would act out stories. A favorite was the Bremen Town Musicians. She would sing us songs. Songs that I sang to my children and they now sing to theirs. Old songs, long forgotten my most, but not us.

My Papa kept peppermint Life Savers in the glove box. He would let us have one each time we were in the front seat with him. He took my to the corner store to buy Divinity cookies. My favorite back then but I haven't had one since he died.

The rare occasion that our Winnipeg cousins would come to Regina for a visit was special too. After the feast the grown ups went to the front room for liqueur and the kids retired to the den. All of us moaning and groaning that we ate too much. Always olives and celery stuffed with Cheez Whiz. The lot of us went on several summer vacations together, all in our own cabins. Grandma brought her "Rainy Day Box" which we always looked forward to, but not as much as actually seeing Grandma wear pedal pushers and Papa in his shirt sleeves! A rare sighting.

After dinner each night, Grandma and Papa would read the mail and read the newspaper. They would talk back and forth to each other about this happening or that news item. They seemed so wise and I suppose they were. Every night they would pray the rosary together out loud. If I close my eyes and try really hard, I can still hear the drone of their voices. I hear the way my Papa would emphasize the word BLESSED are thou among women and BLESSED is the....

One of my worst memories was when I was 16 years old. He had just found out that I was pregnant and when he came to the house for a visit I was in the bathroom near the door curling my hair. I saw his reflection as he looked at me with tears in his sad blue eyes. He walked in a put his hand on my shoulder and said he loved me and walked away. Ouch. When he died, Paul and I were married and were expecting another baby. He didn't live to see her but I think he was happy for me.

After he passed away my Grandmother would come to my house every week to spend the day with me and help with my three little girls. They, too, have the memories of her singing and acting out the same stories. Paul gave her her very first ride in a pick up truck and her first trip to the dump! One time while I was at her home she was looking for something on her dresser. She picked up a little angel with a green dress and she started to cry. She put it down gently and told me this story:
     "Many years ago when we were just starting out and had very little money, Grandpa came home with a this silly little angel. I was angry at him because we shouldn't be spending money on frivolous things like this. He told me he saw it in a shop window and he wanted me to have it. Now this little angel means so much to me."

After she died, I got that little angel. As you can see by the pictures I have several of the things that remind me so much of them. This little angel's wings were broken and glued on so many times over the years and after so many moves I had lost it. I was telling my daughter that this was one regret that I had, having lost this little angel. A few months later, at Christmas time, I unwrapped a gift from that same daughter and it was the angel. She had it and she gave it back to me.

All of which is to say, this angel taught me several things. One was that I never appreciated how hard it must have been for my Grandma to have lost her husband. I figured he was old and so that is what happens. She should have expected it. How very wrong I was. Two: It teaches me still not to bother worrying or fretting about things that don't matter because, well, they don't matter. Three: It teaches me to live each day to the fullest, to love more deeply and to take joy in the simple things.

Now this little touchstone sits on my window sill over the kitchen sink. I think of these things and of my Grandma each day as I wash dishes. It is a silly little wingless angel and now she means so much to me too.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

I loved reading this and seeing all the wonderful pictures of your grandparents. You are a good writer Michelle. All of my grandparents have died, and this post certainly got me thinking about them. The angel, and what she means, is precious.