I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with all four grandparents. So many wonderful childhood memories tempered with the sad reality of watching time chase them away from me and distance chase me away from them. Whatever musical intuition I have clearly seeped out of their DNA and into mine. So much of who I am has to do with who they are/were, so it’s necessary to spend some more time here...
Grandma: Loved unconditionally. Laughed always. Gave birth to five children over twenty years, give or take. Mom was the youngest. Kept books and kept house on the farm. Shared the greatest love I have ever witnessed with her husband. Baked up a storm and always let us lick the frosting off the mixer. Taught me how to catch butterflies and how to play solitaire and pick-up sticks. Sat with me on a wobbly piano bench and showed me how to play easy duets. I didn’t know it was the B flat yet, but that was the one that always stuck so I used it to find my place. Always stopped to smell the roses. Literally, she would stop to smell any rose that crossed her path. One of her favorite activities was swimming in a creek with all her clothes on during family camping trips. Spent the last ten years of her life surrendering her brain slowly to a ruthless dictator named Alzheimer. Used to write “Look to the Lamb of God” over and over again on the bathroom wall. When her mind was completely gone, we took her body and spirit to Hospice and waited. I know her spirit was still there because she waited too. She waited for my grandpa to come to her bedside and say goodbye before she finally accepted death. When my mom got home that day she sat in our living room recliner and made sounds that I’ve never heard before or since.
Grandpa: Worked all day every day since he was a child. Worked so hard all his finger nails were cracked right down the center. Wore boots, jeans, thin short-sleeve button down shirts, flannels, and trucker hats. Always carried those pens that clicked into one of four different colors. Owned a successful trucking business then transitioned into farming. Plopped me in his lap during tractor rides in the cotton fields. Never met a hammock he didn’t like. Loved my grandma to death. Loved her so much, in fact, we all thought he was a goner after she died. But he turned back to the one thing that brought them together in the first place: music. He achieved rock star status in the retirement homes, pickin’ out old gospel songs on the mandolin with his other musician friends. Unlike Grandma, his body gave out instead of his mind. When I last saw him alive, he made a quick-witted joke about the rips in my jeans. “What’s the matter, you can’t afford pants?”
Granny: Spunky, strong, and still kickin’. Scooped me up every Sunday for church from the time I was in diapers until I left for college. Taught me how to sew (don’t do it anymore). Hooked me on thrift store shopping, or junkin’, as we call it (still do it regularly). Makes the best biscuits and gravy. Slips me some cash every now and then when no one’s looking. Reads, writes and kicks ass on Jeopardy. If she were a celebrity from my generation, she would be a cross between Sandra Bullock and Beyonce. Smart and sweet, but not to be messed with. My therapist often talks about how everyone carries a grief backpack. My Granny has been lugging hers around forever, and it keeps getting heavier due to events such as the untimely death of her younger brother, watching all three of her sons go through ugly divorces, being wrongly bullied out of the church she helped build, and standing by as her husband suffered and recovered, suffered and recovered and now suffers again with some form of dementia. It’s a wonder her dimples (got those from her too) still make themselves known, but they do. She’s Great Depression strong. I don’t see her much anymore, but we are each other’s pen pals. It’s a role I cherish. I am certain a piece of me will die when she does.
Poppa: Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Worked his ass off until he found himself retired. Drank his ass off until he found himself Jesus. Taught me how to recite the alphabet backwards (which I can most certainly do faster than you). Used to “count ribs” in attempts of getting in some good tickles. Would drive by our house every time he heard an ambulance just to make sure we were okay. Gladly accepted my weekly kiss on his forehead as soon as I grew tall enough to place them there. Would announce to the church congregation which page to turn their hymnal to and sing along as my Granny’s wrinkled fingers would play “How Great thou Art” and “Nearer my God to Thee” on the piano while I taught myself to harmonize in the back pew. Joked around about riding a buffalo across America and always asked me if I know so-and-so who used to be stationed down in San Diego. Traded his traditional Sunday suit for a Mr. Rogers-style cardigan over a button-down shirt. A few months ago Granny had some health scares resulting in a few ER trips and a pacemaker. The trauma of these events seemed to short circuit Poppa’s brain yet again, only this time we think it’s for good. I hate that I can’t remember every single detail of the last time I saw him as himself. Now all I see is suffering. Time can be such a cruel motherfucker.
This is where a bunch of my writing lives.