My grandmother was the kind of grandmother that you read about in fictional fairy-tales and books... the grandmother that loved to see you coming... the one who baked cookies, and hosted family gatherings. Every Christmas Eve, Sunday after church, Fourth of July, Birthdays, Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve - and the like - was spent at her house. Thirty to forty family members would crowd in; folding chairs and tables, set up for the kids in the living room and on the screened in front porch. After we'd finish eating, the ladies would do the dishes and clean up the kitchen while everyone else lay around trying to overcome the indigestion from overeating. Once the cleaning was done, it was game time... out would come the Scrabble, Dice, Cards, Chess board, and Monopoly. We'd play games until late in the evening, and then the children would drift off to sleep, while the adults would sit around and reminisce about the "Good Old Days", sharing fond memories.
What I remember most was the laughter and the joy of frequent family reunions. You could say she was the "super glue" that bound the family. She was the matriarch and the core of our lives for many, many years.
I remember all the times I came home from school. I had to walk past her house on my way home... and I would always stop by to visit. I would gently knock on the door, turn the handle, and crack it open... then enthusiastically announce my arrival with love and affection... "Christina's here!" Even at the tender age of four, she would take the time to listen... while hanging intensely on every word with an unspoken delight. If I had a bad day, she would warm my spirits with her secret family recipe... molasses cookies with icing, and she never forgot the cup of milk.
Our entire family - aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived within a mile of one another. I grew up with seven cousins; Scott, Russell, Pam, Trixi, Dustin, Nathan, and Tiffany. I also had three brothers and a sister; Shaun, Corey, George Brandon, and Heather Lee. There was an old dirt road that ran up the canyon of the Rocky Mountains where we lived called Mulky Gulch... and we became known as the "Mulky Gulch Gang". The gang would gather in the summer and engage in dirt clod fights, make mud pies, explore the valley, go rock climbing, bass fishing, float the Clark Fork River on inner-tubes, build forts, and ride ATV's, One year the Clark Fork River nearby flooded the frontage road and we had to paddle around in canoes. When the flood was over, the boys scavenged the riverbed for large scraps of metal, wood, and anything that could be used to construct a fort. Grandma, always so vivacious and young at heart, was never a stranger to participation. She'd join in the fun and embrace every adventure. She put on her grubs and went out to the wood pile with the boys and played "contractor" while directing, and supervising the construction of what ended up being a three story fort, built into the woodpile with, two rooms at the base, and a lookout at the top. That fort provided years of adventure, and I believe it still stands to this day... a legacy of sorts.
In the winter we would bundle up like NASA astronauts, construct protective walls with buckets of packed snow, and engage in some brutal snowball fights. We would wax up the old runner sleds then build jumps at the base of, what could only be described as, "Death Mountain" which - too - has left behind many beloved scars that bring back the memories. We would slide down the mountain on inner-tubes, and tow them behind the ATV's... of course, the goal was always to "dismantle" the fools in tow, which also resulted in a scar or two... as well as a few minor concussions. Grandma was never one for cold weather, so she'd bake cakes and cookies, and make hot chocolate to warm us up at the adventures end.
Is it any wonder that I miss that remarkable woman? Growing up, she was my best friend. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. She fought a valiant fight, but eventually the cancer metastasized and she moved onto a new spiritual plane on New Year's Day, 1995. I was living in New York City at the time, and came home for Christmas to see her. I bought her a dozen Baby Doll Roses... you know, the cream roses with pink edges on the petals. They were always her favorite. When I arrived at her house, which could only be described as "home away from home", I knocked at the door, cracked it open, and - announced my arrival as I had throughout my childhood, "Christina's here!" The house was full of family, as it had always been in the past. But where there was once laughter... there were tears and intense emotional grief. I stayed until New Year's Eve, due to catch the next flight back to New York. I knew I would never see her alive again. She was fading away with each new day... and she was suffering, but not from pain... from the thought of saying goodbye forever. She had been the center of our universe for so many splendid years full of joyous memories. I remember leaving for the last time. I leaned over the hospital bed for a final embrace. She reached up with her weak, frail arms, wrapped them around my neck, and expressed her unconditional love for me as the tears flooded my face. Then she whispered her final words... words that resonate in my heart today. She spoke softly in my ear... "Always remember to be my good girl". That was the last thing she said to me before I left that day. She died that night in her sleep. I have often wondered if I have lived up to that expectation... if I have made her proud.
Kammie is named after her... Kammie Elaine. Ironically, she has her incredible strength, courage, passion, devotion, and sense of humor. When I look at her, I pray that she will continue to live a life that reflects such beautiful attributes.
So, THANK YOU GRANDMA... for always taking the time to listen and share... for never complaining, always looking on the bright side of life, and illustrating the pure love of Christ... for living each day with purpose... for never giving up on the ones that you loved... for your relentless smile and beautiful spirit... for your patience with God's plan... for exemplifying courage during times of trial... for getting dirty, playhouse blueprints, molasses cookies, crazy cake, fairy villages, Anne of Green Gables, rock climbs, and fun on the Clark Fork... for games of horseshoes and Fourth of July picnics... for curlers in your hair, games of dice, baby dolls made from craft scraps,, birthday wishes, holiday kisses, and joyous family gatherings... for keeping us fed.... for teaching me that everyone has something to give... And last, but not least, FOR FAITHFULLY ENDURING TO THE END.
My grandparents were young and in love, but my grandmother's father disliked the rugged cowboy who had fallen desperately in love with his daughter. They were determined to marry, so with a pocketful of cash, and a youthful dream of "Happily ever after"... they ran away together and married in Coeur d'alene, Idaho . Their dreams materialized through a long and prosperous marriage of over forty years, with six children, and twenty-one grandchildren. I picked this song as a tribute to them. It was sung at her funeral, accompanied by a beautiful slideshow that captured the magical essence of her life. Always remember, "Everyone has something to give"...
Wow. I had a Grams like that, really two of them, I was doubly blessed. One Grams, on my father's side ironically, was magical. She'd answer the phone before it would ring, or tell me to go fetch the phone because it was my Mom. She always knew. We lost her a while back, at least in terms of the physical world. I know she's safe and happy on the other side and will be waiting there with a cup of tea for me when my turn comes. My other Grams is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and doesn't really know anyone. I've not gone to see her in a long time because I know it would be weird, she'd mistake me for my Mom like so many other people do, and they don't have Alzheimer's so it would be weird. I know when the time comes, she'll be with the rest of the family on the other side, and it'll all make sense to her then, but now. I don't know if my hearts strong enough to walk that path.ReplyDelete
I miss them both, as I sort of miss my Mom. Mom's been gone now since '82, but our connection is so strong I can often feel her with me, and she's frequently in my dreams, helping me, guiding me, giving me the love and support she always has. Plus spend, as we always have, lots of time in the kitchen, baking and drinking tea.
And the Colin Raye song, oh it's one of my favorites. I thank God often for the grandparents that enriched my young life. And the fact that both grandmothers knew and kept my secret. It was something the women of my family shared, and when and where ever possible, I was cherished as I was, not as the men folks said I was supposed to be.
My young life could have been, would have been, so much worse if not for the women in my life. So it's good to see you write about your Grams. She sounds like she'd have gotten on just fine with mine.
Lol...what was your grandmother's name?...I think we had the same one. :)SuziReplyDelete
Christina – thanks for writing this. I was directed to this blog post by my sister, Sunny. We both broke into tears when reading it. I was 12 and Sunny was 8 when Grandma died. Since then we’ve thought about her often, wishing she was still here, holding our family together like the super glue she was. It is so reassuring to read your words and know that you felt the same way – that our memories really weren’t just a fairy tale. She really was amazing.ReplyDelete
I’m currently in Palm Springs, spending time with my Dad and Uncle James after Uncle Rocky passed away a couple days ago. I keep thinking about the hours I used to spend, sitting around with them talking about memories of Grandma and those family get-togethers. My Dad is making her molasses cookie recipe tomorrow. PS: the secret ingredient is lard. Gross....
I also want you to know how much I looked up to you and the rest of the "mulky gulch gang" when I was a kid, and how I still envy you for the years you got to spend with Grandma. I remember thinking you were one of the most beautiful people I’d ever met in real life – I’m pretty sure I even wrote about it in my journal.
It’s funny how memories can blend together, but I too remember the last thing Grandma said to me before she passed. “I want you to know you’re beautiful, and I’m so proud of the way you carry yourself.” At the time I was an overweight, self-conscious, and awkward 12 year-old, but somehow her words lifted me up and after she passed away I thought of them often.
On another subject, I think it's wonderful that you and your daughter have each other. I'm starting residency in pediatrics this June, and I am active in LGBT groups for physicians. I will continue to hope for more understanding and acceptance for transgender children and adults.
Thanks for writing!