Remembering Grandma C

My grandparents were a very striking couple. She was tall at 5’8” for a woman and he was 6’9” - very unusual for their generation.Grandma C is my father’s mother. I remember getting excited about trips to see her at a very young age. Perhaps because she had a special place in her heart for her granddaughters. (Don’t feel sorry for the boys; she loved them all, too!) My Grandpa C passed away when I was 8 months old, so I didn’t ever get a chance to know him, but Grandma C stayed with us until I was almost 20.

Some of my earliest memories of her were when she used to brush out her very long hair and put it up in the braided up-do you see in this picture. Then, sometime in the early 80s she had to have brain surgery and they shaved off all of her hair. She never grew it long again, but I never forgot what it was like before the surgery.

There are so many things that I associate with her. York peppermint patties (though she’d mostly buy cheap off brands in bulk to save money). She also loved Andes mints, but didn’t get them very often. I think she had a thing for mint chocolate combos.

She played solitaire in her La-Z-Boy recliner on a board that created a desk. (It was a great thing. I’ve asked Matt to make me one.)

Every time I see a champagne-colored Oldsmobile I remember Grandma C. That was her car of choice. I got to drive it once (a big privilege in my mind since it was custom ordered).

Her favorite hymn was “In the Garden”. I sang it at her funeral and now I can’t hear it without thinking of her and tearing up. (I haven’t been able to sing it since her funeral at all.)

Grandma C was a smoker and every once in a while I’m around someone whose smoke smells like hers did. My sensitivity to cigarette smoke started after she was forced to quit so the scent actually has a good association for me.

On occasions when my younger brother and I were visiting her for the day, Grandma C used to make us butter sandwiches for lunch, or my personal favorite - banana sandwiches. She would tell us about how much she loved onion sandwiches as we cringed and made faces. She loved vidalia (sweet) onions. I remember her moving about her kitchen, preparing the food and humming as she did it. She always hummed little tunes as she went through the day. I loved hearing her humming.

At 12:30 every Monday through Friday, she would tune in to CBS to watch The Young and the Restless. If she was home for the rest of the afternoon, she’d watch the rest of the CBS soaps, but Y&R was her favorite.

She was good at telling stories. We used to beg her to tell us the tales about when she was a young girl and as I got older, she began to share the history of her relationship with my grandfather. They snuck around to be able to see each other when she was in college and then were married secretly for two years after she finished college. Grandma C was a rebel!

You can just see those two necklaces in this picture. I once tried carrying on the tradition of wearing them both, but they always get twisted.She always wore two necklaces - every single day. Both were gold. One had gold balls strung on it and the other had a trolley car charm. I’m very lucky to have both those necklaces in my possession to remind me of Grandma C. Along with her cedar chest and sewing machine. I also have her sewing basket where I found a letter tucked away from a good friend of hers who hadn’t known about her secret marriage - that was a fun find!

Grandma C was a fabulous woman. She loved her family dearly and it showed. She rarely ever complained, so when she did people took notice. Like the time my mom started making her meals without salt (on doctor’s orders). She asked if Debbie (my mom) could go back to cooking like she used to. It was barely a complaint, but Mom got the message and she figured that if it made Grandma’s last few weeks more enjoyable, then she could have salt in her diet.

It’s hard to lose special people like Grandma C, but I’m so thankful I got to know her. My life is truly richer for having had her in it.

Creating a connection or morbid gift idea?

My grandmother on my dad's side came to live with my family in late summer of 1995, because it was either that or a nursing home. Some of the family preferred that she go to the nursing home, but my mom and dad were adamant that she should get to live in comfort with family who could be there for her, caring for her and keeping her company 24/7. They both felt strongly, and encouraged myself and my brothers, to make my grandmother feel like a blessing rather than the burden she often claimed to be. For me, it was fantastic. I'd always had a special relationship with Grandma C and loved hearing her stories. This was a good thing, because her memory was failing and she often repeated the same stories multiple times without realizing it.

I used Grandma C's stories this in at least one or two papers that I was working on for my college classes at the time. She was an extremely valuable resource for the history of my hometown as well as the university I was attending. Boy, was she ever proud that I went to her alma mater. She'd tell me stories about sneaking out to meet her beau - the man she was eventually married to, my Grandpa C. Grandma and Grandpa got married in secret, though, because my grandmother wanted to teach. In the 1930s, women weren't allowed to continue teaching after they married. My Grandma C was a REBEL! How cool is that? You can see why having her live with us was no hardship in my opinion. Far from being a burden, we loved having her there.

In November 1996, when I was 19 years old, Grandma C had a "silent" heart attack, they called it. It was picked up through some routine testing several weeks later and the doctors told us that she had approximately six weeks to live. This wasn't unexpected as she was 84 years old and had been experiencing a number of health problems for a couple of years including congestive heart failure and emphysema (she was a smoker). Her emphysema had progressed to the point that she needed oxygen and that was when she was forced to quit smoking for obvious safety reasons.

After the doctors told us their prognosis for my grandmother, my mom and dad got an idea of how we could create some special memories for what we were fairly certain was going to be my grandmother's final Christmas. They asked my brothers and I each to think about something special and practical that Grandma C would use for whatever time she had left. Something that she could enjoy. The idea was that our respective gifts would be "passed on" to us after her death. That the object we decided to gift her would be a way of connecting with her and that special time of being with her as she passed out of this life would always remind us of the person she was and what she meant to us for years after she was gone.

I have no idea what my brothers picked to give her. I can't remember. But the gift I chose was a pink terry cloth bathrobe. Grandma C loved the color pink, but her mother wouldn't let her wear it for some reason. So, my mom, knowing how much she loved pink used to spoil her with pink moo moos, nightgowns - anything she could wear that was comfortable. Grandma C loved the robe. She was an incredibly gracious woman anyway, but you could see the genuine pleasure on her face when she opened my gift to her that Christmas morning. She then proceeded to wear that robe just about every day of the rest of her life. She died January 17th, 1997 - less than one month after that last Christmas.

I'm going to be honest; pink is probably the last color I would willingly choose for a bathrobe, but Grandma's robe is hanging in my bathroom to this day and I won't replace it unless it starts to fall apart. Knowing how much she enjoyed it reminds me of that last year and a half that we had with her.

I still love this idea! It isn't about the object itself so much as it's about the memories that can surround it. I love the thought of nurturing common ground between different generations of family and having something special and tangible to cherish that bond. Obviously, you don't say, "Here, this is for you to give to me when you kick the bucket." That would be insensitive. But is it so awful to give a gift and say that it's something you'd like to be able to pass on to a particular person? Grandma C didn't know what was going to happen with the items each of us gave her, so she enjoyed them openly. The benefit to me has been a practical, daily-use item that reminds me of her - even 13 years after her death.

What do you think? Is it a creative way to make a connection or just a morbid gift idea?