What a Difference a Hat Makes

These past few days I have been cloaked in grief.  I didn’t expect my grandmother’s death to hit me quite so hard.  I thought I had such a good grip on the very logical, very healthy, very Irish perspective of “Death is just a part of Life” that it wouldn’t be long until my heavy heart could catch up with my clever head.  Maybe it hasn’t been that long, really, but I am still rather reeling from the loss.  It gets easier every day until the day comes when it isn’t easy at all.  But the sun always, always sets on the hard days, and always, always rises again on a day that has the potential for being better.  In that way, Life is just a part of Death.

Yeah, some days I’ve got it all figured out.  And other days, I need a little help.  Yesterday, my bright and beautiful boy was my rising sun.  It was something so simple, as day-brighteners often are.  It was just a trip to the grocery store.

I justify not always dressing my drooly/slobbery/barfy little stain magnet when we’re at home by drawing a heavy line at his always being dressed when we go out among the English.  Yesterday, I put him in a simple short sleeved, red and blue striped, grey accented onesie.  On a whim I grabbed his little grey newsboy cap.  I, of course, thought he looked absolutely adorable, but guess what?  I think he’s cute when all he’s wearing are carrots and peas.  I was unprepared for the red carpet that appeared beneath our grocery cart.

This kid was a massive hit!  It took us five mintues just to get in the opening-closing-opening-closing doors because every single grandma and grandpa in the front entry stopped to admire him. The Deli Dames damn near lost their minds.  It took me fifteen minutes to get my cold cuts for the week because the gal who was helping us literally kept calling the other ladies over to look at Boyo.  Then she stopped the customers who were walking by with a “Don’t walk by that baby!  Get your share of the cute!” One call over begat another and pretty soon, we had a Nana and PopPoparazzi surrounding us!

As we walked through produce, we encountered a grouch.  She was clearly agitated by the fact that her path to the zucchini was blocked by other shoppers.  The “harumph” never left her face or her voice when she spotted us and said, “Cute. It’s the hat.”

I was picking out a ham steak in the meat section when I heard the microphoned voice of the cooking demonstration lady calling, “Oh my goodness, look at that baby!  With the hat!  Oh, look!” I would have guessed that taco seasoning really can’t hold a candle to my boy’s incandescence, but it sure was pretty awesome to have announced proof.

I swear I am not making it up when I say that on every single aisle, someone, usually an older gal, but also men, young women, store employees, and even a teenager stopped to remark on how adorable my hastily and serendipitously dressed little man was.  We were the celebrities in the cereal aisle, the stars of the seafood department, and the famous faces in Frozen Foods.  We were showered with attention and praise at literally every turn.  My cheeks hurt from grinning like a fool.  It felt fantastic!

I missed introducing my son to my grandmother by three weeks.  That fact is a heavy stone in my pocket.  I take great comfort in knowing (thanks to my mother and my aunt) that even toward the end when my grandmother couldn’t remember anything, she always asked about my boy by name.  If I were a more mystical being, I would have said that maybe my beloved grandmother had a hand in enveloping us in grandparental admiration and attention yesterday.  Maybe it was her way of telling me, “I see him.  I see you.  And I am proud of you both.”

Of course, for that to be true, it would mean that dying completely changes your personality.  My grandmother was a lot of things, but maudlin and sentimental she most certainly was not.  That’s what the living do, though.  They hold on to their dead, seeing and hearing and feeling them until they are ready to let them go.  I guess I’m not ready yet.  Because yesterday, I swear, she went grocery shopping with us.

Yesterday, I unknowingly exchanged my cloak of grief for a little boy’s newsboy cap.

What a difference a hat makes!

I mean, is it any wonder, really?  Look at this effing kid!

I mean, is it any wonder, really? Look at this effing kid!

 

The Truth About Oldie

Before my grandfather died thirty-ish years ago, he told my grandmother that when she died, he would meet her in the nebula of Orion and would take her the rest of the way to Heaven from there.  Two nights ago, he did just that.  Surrounded by four of her children, with the fifth on the phone, my Oldie died and flew to the stars.

I know it was coming.  I know it was time.  I know she was so curious to “see what was on the other side.”  I know she was tired.  Tired of living, tired of dying, tired of missing her husband.  I know it’s a blessing for her, for all of us, especially for my mother, who took such brilliant, loving, quotidian care of her.  I just wish the steadfast logic of my beloved grandmother’s death being a good thing had any effect at all at on the wellspring of sadness that has dampened my heart and my cheeks.

Grief is a harsh task masker.  It will not be ignored.  You try to turn your back on grief and it will rise up, gather strength, and knock you on your ass whenever it goddamn feels like it.  The only tool we have against grief is to surrender to it, feel it in its entirety, deflate it from the inside.  And so, as I mourn my heavy loss, I am taking out my memories, thumbing their well worn, dog-eared pages, and remembering some of the lessons my Oldie taught me.

You don’t have to deal with something you hate.  Get rid of it.   Oldie was staying with me while my folks were out of town the day I brought home my 4th grade school pictures.  I was terribly upset. I had a mouth full of metal, a face full of pimples and (O! The horror!) my hair was parted down the middle!  She tried to console me, told me it wasn’t that bad, that braces were fixing my teeth, that my skin wouldn’t always be turbulent, who the hell cared where my hair was parted.  None of it worked.  So she pulled out a pot, filled it with water, took out all the spices and said, “Boil ’em up.”  We spent a half hour, the two of us, adding a pinch of oregano, a soupçon of gravy master until the offending image was gone and all that was left was a blank page.

She taught me that when faced with something abhorrent, try a different perspective.  But if that didn’t work, then get rid of the damn thing.

They’re just boobies.  When I was about twelve years old, Oldie was again filling in for my folks.  I had a nasty chest cold.  Oldie tucked me into bed, grabbed the Vicks Vapo-Rub and sat down beside me, waiting for me to lift my nightie so she could apply it.  I hesitated, embarrassed to expose myself to my grandmother.  She said, “Come on, they’re just boobies.  I’ve seen ’em.”  Somehow, her brusqueness broke through to me in a way that sympathetic understanding might not have.

She taught me that sometimes we must make ourselves vulnerable in order to receive the comfort we crave.

The magic words.  I was in my early twenties when my grandmother called me over to her house to help her unstick a drawer.  I thought it was cute that my “poor old widowed grandmother” (as she like to call herself when she wanted me to do something for her) couldn’t get a drawer open and I felt kinda puffed up that I would be able to come to her rescue with little effort.  Well, forty-five minutes later, you think I had made any progress?  Yeah, no.

Me:  Oldie, I can’t get the thing open, either!

Oldie:  Did you say the magic words?  You can’t give up until you’ve tried the magic words.

Me:  What, abracadabra?  Open sesame?

Oldie:  No. [Smirk.]  Shit, shit, SHIT!

She taught me that I really do come from a long line of potty mouths, and that spicy language is sometimes the best way to get your point across.

You have to have a sense of humor about aging.  I used to call my grandmother “Grandma.”  All of my younger cousins do.  But on her 75th birthday, I teased that she looked fantastic for two hundred years old.  She stuck out her tongue, thumbed her nose at me and said, “Smart ass.” The spark in her eye and the wink in her tone told me we had just found a game that was gonna last for the rest of her life.  I started calling her “Oldie.”  She started signing cards and letters that way, too.  But just to me.  When my younger cousin once snidely called her Oldie, she snapped, “Don’t you dare.  Only your cousin can call me that.” I think she trusted that there was not an ounce of disrespect in my nickname for her.  Just the teasing love of a granddaughter who adored her.

Every Thanksgiving was the Old Folks’ Home test.  As long as she could make the gravy, she didn’t have to go in the home.  She always muttered about smart-mouth kids, but every single year, she called me to the stove for the taste test.  When she got the thumbs up she’d declare, “Stick that in your Old Folks’ Home!”

As she got older, her standard answer for “How you doin’, Oldie?” was “Not bad for an old dame.”  And she often said even when the chips are down, “You gotta keep on living.  Otherwise, they stick you in a hole a throw dirt in your face.”  She even had a sense of humor about her memory loss.  Toward the end, many a conversation happened like this:

Me: “I told you yesterday, remember?”

Oldie: “Oh, well, I have a very fine Forgettery, you know.  I must have put it there.”

She taught me that to fear or even lament aging is ridiculous.  It’s gonna happen, there’s no way around it.  Embrace it.  Surrender to it.  Laugh at it.  That’s the thing about life:  Nobody makes it out alive.  Life is better when you don’t rage against the inevitable.

There’s nothing like a dirty joke.  Oh, how my Oldie loved a dirty joke.  Not filthy, but dirty.  There’s a fine line, but I knew where it was and I could tickle her funny bone with any one of a hundred I had collected over the years, knowing she would love them.  As she started to get dotty, I would just stick to the four or five that made her laugh the hardest, because every time I saw her, they’d be new to her. (Thanks, Forgettery!)

Her favorite:

For the longest time, I never wore no underwear.  Drove my boyfriend Ernie nuts!  One day I got a cold and headed to the doctor.  Unbeknownst to me, Ernie called the doctor and told him, “Doc!  Tell Soph that the reason she’s sick is because she don’t wear no underwear.”  So I get to the doctor’s office.  He looks down my throat and says, “Soph!  You ain’t wearin’ no underwear!”  I says to him, “Doc! You can look down my throat and see I ain’t wearin’ no underwear??  Do me a favor.  Look up my ass and tell me if my hat’s on straight!”

She taught me that old people are just old young people.  And they love to laugh.

In the end, it’s just going home.  After many years, Oldie started wearing her wedding rings again.  She’d taken them off when Grandpa died declaring, in her classic unsentimental way,  “I’m not married anymore.  I promised til death do us part.”  When I asked her why the about-face, she said that Grandpa had visited her in a dream and said, “What’s the matter, Dearie?  You don’t want to be married to me anymore?”  She was excited to see him again, to be with him and with her God.  Her strong Catholic faith and a sixty-five year old love for her husband, whom she knew was waiting for her, alleviated any fear about dying.  She knew where she was going and was eager to get there.

I am honored to have known her, to have loved and been loved by her, to have teased and been teased by her.  She will live on in my heart, in my memory, and in the scintilla of my favorite constellation.    

Here’s to you, Oldie!  Orion shines brighter for having known you.  And so do I.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie.  I love you very much.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie. I love you very much.

 

 

AMKO  March 18, 1921 - September 29, 2013

AMKO
March 18, 1921 – September 29, 2013

 

This post is dedicated to the staff of St. Dominc’s Village in Houston, TX.   They treated my grandmother with the kindness, dignity, and respect she deserved.  They gave my mother endless comfort and worked tirelessly to help her maintain my grandmother’s finances and care.

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’  Matthew 25: 35-40