Grandma’s Sentimental Journey

Grandma moved to the couch when I began to cry. She closed both of her warm hands over one of mine and looked me straight in the eye. “I don’t want you to have to leave St. Bonaventure, and your Papa wouldn’t want that either” she said. “I can help you.”

The last time I saw Grandma, 7/8/13.
The last time I saw Grandma, 7/8/13.

I bawled and sank into her warm embrace. I thanked her profusely. I shuddered and said, “Please don’t tell Mom.”

She understood. She provided a little money toward my latest tuition bill and I didn’t have to tell my parents how much I actually owed. It was our little secret. Grandma loved that she could help me and loved that we had a secret. I was her special girl.

She’s gone now.

Grandma filled the plastic pool with water and sat in a lawn chair nearby as my lifeguard. There, in the pink wading pool, I learned how to hold my breath underwater for the very first time.

My salary as a child came from Grandma. She showed me how to take Papa’s old sock, put it over my hand like a glove and spray it with Pledge. Off I went meandering around the house, moving picture frames and knickknacks out of the way to reach the dust underneath. Three dollars sure felt like a lot of money to earn back then.

She’s gone now.

…and I can’t even write this without bursting into tears.

My graduation.
My graduation.

My grandmother was such a wonderful woman and her oh-so-recent death is unfathomable to me right now. It’s not real. It can’t be real. I’ve taken up residence in a wonderful cocoon of denial, but it’s beginning to break open.

She’s gone now, Reality keeps telling me, though I try to drown him out with mindless television, conversations with my family and thinking about anything but Grandma. And, in this way, things seem okay for awhile. Grandma is over at her house, sitting in her favorite chair and reading the paper.

SHE’S GONE NOW, the voice gets louder. She disappears, the chair disintegrates, the piles of newspapers fly around and, when everything has cleared, only the walls, carpets, cupboards, windows and doors remain. Rooms empty, pictures removed from walls; nothing signifying a house made into a home for 40 years. No sign of the couple who filled the home and made it the safe haven that it was.

I’m still in my little cocoon. I catch occasional glimpses of what is actually happening –– like Grandma’s body in a casket –– but quickly dismiss them. I experience flashbacks where I could swear I’m watching short videos of times I’ve spent with her. One second we’re baking cookies, the next she’s teaching me how to make pie and then we’re in Bubbles, driving around her neighborhood as she sticks her hands out the sunroof.

A picture I INSISTED on taking back in May. I'm glad I did.
A picture I INSISTED on taking back in May. I’m glad I did.

I want to break open my phone to retrieve the voicemail messages she left years ago that I so stupidly –– and accidentally –– deleted a couple months ago. I want to delve into the files of my brain and remember every detail of every visit she and I had within the past year. Memorize how she was, hear her voice again. Feel her warmth.

The largest dose of reality came when I took a closer look at her corpse and felt her hands. I kissed her cheek, but that wasn’t my grandma.

She’s gone now.

At least we can laugh about it

“Didn’t you just want to say to that guy, ‘We’re going on a road trip!!!!’?!?!?” my mom asked me, referring to the cashier at Wal-Mart. The idea of eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts had clearly gone to her head.

“Not really,” I said and yawned. Departure for South Carolina at 9:30 p.m. had dumped us at a Wal-Mart 40 minutes later.

We loaded the car and set off to hit a nearby Tim Hortons for Iced Cappuccinos. Mom rolled through a stop sign at the edge of Wal-Mart’s parking lot. Both of her hands left the steering wheel as she raised them in excitement on the main road. I noticed a cop sitting in the parking lot to our right.

“Mom…there’s a cop sitting right there.”

“So what? I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Lights turned on. His siren wailed. My mom’s face shone red and blue from the reflection in the rearview mirror.

“OH SHIT!” she said when she realized we were the culprits. She (just barely) pulled into the Tim Hortons parking lot and rolled down her window. “Hello, Officer.”

“Could I see your license and registration?”

I fished the registration out of the glove box, Mom retrieved her license from her wallet.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” he asked. We told him “no.”

“You have a headlight out on your car,” he said.

He let us go, but warned us that we’d better change it before setting out for South Carolina. We had three options: 1.) Give up, go home and start again tomorrow during the day. 2.) Carry on and risk getting pulled over again – or worse – ticketed. 3.) Change the damn headlight.

You have to know that my mom NEVER gives up and NEVER settles. Guess which option we chose?

We drove back to Wal-Mart, purchased an H7 headlight, checked out at the jewelry counter (we didn’t feel like walking all the way down to the other end for registers) and set out to do what we needed. I called my brother to ask if he could help (he lives near the Wal-Mart), but he and his friends were too drunk.

My mom parked her red Suzuki Forenza (named Flo) under a light in the parking lot. I held the flash light while she rooted around under the hood, trying to extract the rotten bulb. When we got the bulb out, we realized we had taken out the high beam instead of the regular headlight. Well, fuck. We didn’t have the tools to get to the headlight. Dad wasn’t even able to change the left one on his own the week before; he’d taken it to a mechanic. But, remember, my mom NEVER gives up.

We piled back in and turned right out of the parking lot.

“Hey, there’s that cop again!” I said.

“Watch, he’ll pull us over… HE IS!!!” my mom exclaimed. Before he could turn his lights on, my mom turned into his parking lot. I rolled down the window and yelled “Hi, again!!!”

“Oh right… you’re the ones heading to South Carolina,” he said. (I think he thought we were lying. Who the fuck leaves for South Carolina at ten o’clock p.m.? We do.)

My mom explained that we were heading to our campsite fifteen minutes away to get the tools we needed.

“We’ll beep and wave when we drive by again!” she said. We drove away laughing our asses off.

At our campsite we broke fingernails trying to get the headlight into its place. Flo’s owner’s manual shows an easy way to extract the whole light unit from the car. We didn’t have the right tools to unscrew the bolt (of course). We worked with a pair of just-boughten pliers and our tiny hands.

Tempers rose. We screamed at each other. We threw around “Fuck!”s and “Goddammit!”s.

I tried to shove the bulb in its place. It got tangled in the wires and what we came to call the “spring thing.” I got frustrated.

Mom tried it. Got frustrated.

I tried it again.

It seemed to be an endless cycle.

Finally, over an hour later, “I THINK I GOT IT!” Mom exclaimed. “Quick! Get the cap on before it falls out of place!”

I screwed it in. We tested it. HALLELUJAH. It worked.

At one o’clock – four-and-a-half hours after our original departure – we set out again.

“This is a typical Steves family trip,” I said, laughing.

It took us over 16 hours to get to Columbia, South Carolina. It should have taken only 12.

It was well worth it.


My new golden heart

I have wanted a locket of my own ever since I saw my grandmother’s (which is home to a picture of my grandfather in his military uniform, if I recall correctly). My mom also owns one that my daddy gave her. It seems like every woman who has a loving significant other owns at least one locket. Well, I wanted to be that woman who has a loving significant other. Turns out I became one.

I got Robby a winter jacket for Christmas (which I have been wanting to write on this blog for weeks!). On top of that, I (with my mom’s help) made him a fleece Yankee blanket to keep him warm – sense the theme going on here? A winter jacket sounds like a weird gift, you might be thinking. But, you’d have to know Robby to understand. He is someone who wore two hoodies and a hat hoping they could replace the warmth a winter coat could provide. I was sick of seeing him cold, so I bought him the nice coat you’ll see him wearing from now on (since he loves it so much).

I opened my gift from him and found a delicate, gray pouch. When I opened it carefully, a beautiful gold locket made its way into my eyesight. My jaw dropped. The front of the heart locket says “I Love You” and has a fancy flower design. I could not believe that he remembered that I wanted one badly since I didn’t really remember mentioning my longing for one very often. I opened it and found that it was empty, but then was happy thinking that he could help me choose the pictures to go inside of it. And boy, were there plenty of pictures to choose from. The next package I unwrapped was just as special: a beautiful oak jewelry box where I can keep the locket safe from harm. Just tonight, before the clock struck midnight and brought 2011, we picked and filled the locket with two very special pictures.

“Let’s see if you can keep that for sixty years like your grandma has,” said Papa after I showed the locket to him on Christmas Day.

“I plan to,” I said with a determined smile (at least, I hope it looked like I was determined)!

The pictures I have placed inside of the heart-shape will remain forever. I don’t plan on ever removing them from their new home.

The next day, mom told me that for my dad’s and her first Christmas together, he got her a gold locket (the one I mentioned earlier) and a jewelry box to keep it in. What a wonderful coincidence.

The Lollipop

I was little. I was stupid. That’s all I can say to defend myself on this subject.

We were at the Cracker Barrel years and years ago when there was one near us, and before or after going in to eat (I can’t remember), we were looking around at all of the cool things hanging out at the gift shop. My mom and I were looking at the stand of huge, colorful lollipops and she lifted one out of its socket and asked if I wanted it.

I stupidly shook my head no. I was little. I was stupid.

I had this strange idea in my mind that little kids like myself weren’t allowed to have those giant lollipops. I must have thought there was alcohol in them or something. I couldn’t believe that my mother was offering me a lollipop – I shook my head to diminish what I thought to be her “bad” parenting.

Ever since then, I have been kicking myself for not accepting that lollipop.

So, after watching my friend Kevin run at the New York State track meet at Syracuse, we saw a sign for the Cracker Barrel. Since they have become sort of extinct in our secluded neck of the woods in Western New York, his parents decided it was a good idea to stop there for some ice cream. Instantly I exclaimed: “yes! I can finally get me a giant lollipop!” And then, of course, I had to tell them the story of The Lollipop. Well, instead of getting only ice cream we ended up having a whole huge meal (which I was totally okay with). Then Kevin and I were lollygagging around the candy section of the gift shop (with me singing “I’ll take you to the candy shop. I’ll let you lick the lollipop.“) and I picked out the identical twin to the lollipop my mom held up to me so long ago.

Two dollars and seventy-nine cents later, it became mine. I had this crazy idea that I would lick it once a day everyday to see how long it would last, but I have since decided not to do that (“then it would get all nasty,” said Kevin). Instead, it is sitting on the shelf of my desk, waiting for my tongue to begin its process of withering away into my mouth in a sugar-coated frenzy. I have yet to remove its wrapper and taste the sugary goodness within. Maybe I’ll never taste it. Who knows? Maybe I will just keep it for its sentimental value.

As you would have done unto you

I have learned many lessons in my fifteen years. Not as many as other people have, I’m sure, but I am getting there.  I could sit here and try to think of them all, but there is only one that stands out to me everyday to show just how prominent it is. Being polite gets you far. No question about it.

My parents have always taught me to say “please” and “thank you” whenever the chance arises; to be courteous and open a door or two for people, and to help an old lady out by loading her groceries into her car. (Okay, so that hasn’t happened yet, but I am waiting for the chance to do so!) It’s not like we – or I – believe in karma, that what goes around comes around (in this case, it’s a good “what”), it’s more like we go by “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s that sort of thing. So, when I have to pass in front of a person or need a person to move out of the way, I say “excuse me” and get what I needed accomplished complete in a polite and sincere manner. I hold doors open for people, and when I hear a simple “thank you” it makes me happy and brightens my day considerably. I am careful to lower my voice when in public so as to not annoy or aggravate those around me whom I do not know. I am considerate, courteous, and thoughtful. I think about not only what I need, but what others need and wish for as well.

Now, what’s the point of this insightful post? Well, today was one of those days where every person I met was not polite in any way whatsoever. In Walmart, my mother and I were in the produce department looking at the Clementine oranges, and this lady came over and leaned over where we were standing without a single uttering of “excuse me.” Each time someone does this to us, either my mother or myself will say “excuse me” for the person who lacked to do so. It is so rude to just barge in near a person whom you are not acquainted with. The nerve of some people!

Lastly, my mother and I went to Kohls to check out what kind of a selection of flannel shirts they carried. We purchased what we wanted, and headed out the door. Well, almost entering the  door we are heading out of troops three women. Okay, so my mom went on through and opened the outside door for them, and I opened the second door that led to the inside of the store. They walked on by. No acknowledgment. Not a single one of those three women said a tiny little “thank you.” They didn’t even look at us. Well, my mom yelled “you’re welcome!” and then we walked across the parking lot, ranting about how there are no polite people these days.

And it’s the truth. Honestly, some people have no class and are so rude that it kills me. No wonder our country is so messed up. People take the help they receive for granted, and don’t know how to feel thankful for anything. I was raised to be cordial and polite to everyone I ever come in contact with, whether I like the person or not. You’d better believe that my children will have manners and know how to say “thank you” more than every once in awhile. They will appreciate everything I have provided them with, and will hopefully spread it on to this thankless nation. The people in this state, in this country, no, in this world, need a little make-over. Maybe I shall build an arc and rid the world of all of these people with a teensy little flood. Start the world over with a group of people that know and adhere to my policy. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”