Thursday, November 5, 2009

Eulogy: part 1

My grandmother didn't want a funeral. That is what my mom said. And really I can imagine her saying that. She was a "don't make a fuss over me" kind of a woman. I can see her looking at my mom in the eye, with her "don't mess with me, I'm still your mother" look and saying, "Judith Irene, (she always used my mom's middle name when she wanted to make a point) I don't want a funeral when I'm gone." And so, one day, she was just gone. There wasn't a funeral, or an article in the newspaper, or little card with oil-painted Jesus on it with her birthday and death on it. Nothing. Just the last of her few possessions she hadn't already given to us, packed into a couple of cardboard boxes. I am embarrassed to say that I don't even remember the exact day she died. Just that she was 94 and she told me she was ready to go.

The last time I saw her was in the dim room she shared in a nursing home. She had lived in the house my mother grew up in until she was 89. The last 5 years she had spent in a retirement living home. And now, this was her last stop. With each move, the treasures she took with her became fewer and fewer. Now she had one shelf on the wall next to her bed lined with pictures of my mother, my late grandfather and my brother and me. She told me she was tired. She was ready to go.

That was ten years ago--she died right after my son was born--and still I am left feeling that we should have done something. My kids rabbit died and we had a funeral in the backyard--

And even saying that I realize it wouldn't be for her--but for me. To say goodbye.

The most vivid, wonderful, happy, normal childhood memories I have are of my grandmother. I called her Baba (the Yugoslavian for grandma) and everything about her was magical and mysterious to me. She was the daughter of immigrants, one of five children, twice a widow, a nurse. She was from a different time, when they used words like Chesterfield (sofa) and Highboy (type of dresser) and when you had your hair washed and set just twice a month. She never owned a dishwasher and still had a washboard she used to scrub clothes in the washbasin on her back porch. She used foreign words like "yetti" (eat) and "zube" (teeth). Her skin was baby soft and wrinkled as a prune, sprinkled with age spots--but I loved they way it felt and smelled--like tea rose lotion and Oil of Olay. Her once brown eyes turned blue-grey with cataracts but I still thought she was beautiful.

I spent almost a month alone with her each summer. She lived in a small, nowhere town that was in a literal time-warp. No movie theater, no toy store, no shopping besides the one Thrifty Drug store. The heat in the summer could be so unbearable that you didn't dare go outside until after dinner--and never without shoes. (Even now, if we have one of those blanket hot days, when the air feels heavy and still--I think of those summers.) There were few kids my age in the neighborhood--and yet, I loved to go and just be with her.

Her house was filled with treasures. They probably weren't worth anything but I can still see each one--in it's place. A set of three Siamese porcelain kittens, each posed differently--sat in a clear glass box on her television. The tiny stork figurine, whose long white neck and small head, bobbed up and down when you touched it. Her hand painted tea cups in the window and the piece of wood my grandfather had once found that looked like a sparrows head. Her golden pill box with it's blue-flowered marbled top, sat in the center of the kitchen table, next to the little ceramic turtle filled with saccharin for her coffee.

We did normal, everyday things together. She taught me to thread a needle and sew a straight stitch by hand and how to make a bed with "hospital corners". She showed me how to measure out dry ingredients for cookies and told me, "never double a recipe". She taught me to play Chinese checkers and took me to garage sales.

I put on great performances for her and her friends (I would never do this at home in front of my brother) and she helped me set up a "restaurant" complete with menus in her kitchen.

She'd tuck me in at night, hold my face with both her hands and say, "sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite".

For me it was a safe place. Free from the underlying turmoil in my own house. Here I could be a child--it was all I was expected to be.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Mid-life Crisis

I am having a bit of a mid-life crisis. I know, I am not that old--but if I do only live to be 80, then I am right on schedule.

Really, it is just lately, I feel caught between two desires. One, to be supermom--with the super obedient kids and super clean house (yes, you can drop in anytime) oh, and the super-cool outfit--and two, the overwhelming desire to just run away and be alone.

After twelve years of staying home, the prospect of someday having more than just one or two hours to do what I want--by myself--seems like a far off dream. And then I wonder, "what would I do with myself?" Who am I after twelve years of being consumed by these little people--and what did I used to do?

Sometimes I will have funny little memories about things I spent time on--pre-kids--like hand-washing my silk Victoria Secret's underwear and hanging it to dry. ( Oh, no need for that now--Costco's value pack of cotton briefs does just fine in the regular cycle.) Or how I used to visit the Gap day after day waiting for my favorite new item to make it's way onto the sale rack. Or just going out to eat--anywhere--during daylight hours--seems like a novelty. (Why pay to shovel down food as fast as you can while praying someone doesn't have a meltdown before the check comes?)

Lately, every time I get into the car without kids, I just see myself driving and driving and driving. It is not really where I am going. It is just that I can go. I can think. I can breathe. And then comes the question. "What do I want?" And really, that is the craziest part of the whole thing--because what else would I choose to do with my life? Would I want to be single or married without kids or some career woman? I know that if I didn't have my family that it would be the single desire of my heart--like being alone seems to be at times. Only it wouldn't be satisfied by one or two hours of being with some kids or visiting another family--like my being alone can.

So, I am caught now--feeling pulled at times between wanting that inconceivable "something else" out of life and knowing that what I have right in my lap is greater than anything else out there. And I have to wonder, do all mom's feel this way at some point in their lives? Do we all wake up from a sort of "diaper-changing induced slumber" to wonder "what happened to that person that used to be me?" Is this the point in life for me where I just do a bit of a self-adjustment? Re-aligning my "self" back towards my love of literature, and movies and music--where I had been obsessively focused on potty-training, discipline tactics, and sleeping through the night for the last decade?

So, maybe I am not "losing it" as I have seriously thought. Maybe this is a natural part of life-- another season. Maybe it is just that I can finally see beyond babyhood. Because, honestly, having five babies in 9 years can seriously convince you that it will never end.