Remembering

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Grandpa

Baby Marvin

High School

Wedding Day

June 14, 1947

At home – the house they bought new in 1957. Grandpa will take his last breaths in this room.

This is how I will always remember him – wearing my favorite glasses, smoking a pipe, and driving the white LTD.

Fancy!

He and Juniper were good friends. He called her Juni and liked to give her lots of treats. She repaid his kindness by taking on the role of guard dog.

Marvin, Marv to friends, Dad and Grandpa to a very lucky few.

Grandpa L O V E D. He loved his family, my grandma most of all. He loved an afternoon cocktail, the stronger the better, “A touch more whiskey, please, Leenie” (what he always called me). He loved to camp and especially to fish, sometimes to hunt. He loved to eat: cookies, a good tamale, salmon, asparagus with hollandaise, biscuits and gravy, pecan pie. He loved to have fun: to laugh, to tell stories, to play Farkle and throw horseshoes, to while away the afternoon in the company of a friend. He loved whistling to the radio, playing his favorite big band music and standards of yore. He was one of those people that charmed the room, easy going and light-hearted; his whole being said, “Welcome.” And though it was less frequent, he loved solitude, too: immersing himself fully in the crossword, sitting alone on the back porch watching the birds, smoking his pipe.

He served in World War II, after memorizing the eye chart to gain entrance to the Navy. He was among the lucky who saw no combat while serving in Guam, though was not spared injury, nearly dying from typhus while his unit attempted to find a cure. Upon his return from the war, he met and fell in love with my Grandma in Albuquerque, selling his car to buy an engagement ring. His best man drove them so they could celebrate with a single night in Santa Fe, taking the bus home.

Tenacious and charming, it was no surprise that he became a salesman for medical equipment, Cutco Knives, and an independent insurance agent, earning trophies, accolades, and trips for his hard work. He and my Grandma got to take a proper honeymoon to Niagara Falls (where they saw Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe – her dress was painted on!!), and flew to Mexico, New York, Florida, and California, even a solo trip to Canada for the best fishing of his life.

His health declined since losing my Grandma nearly three years ago, and it was my great wish that he would die on the same day as she did, a sweet reunion of souls. I am beyond grateful the last of his suffering did not stretch out that long. He contracted pneumonia and fell three times last week, doing awful damage to his already fragile body, bruises and sores and wounds. He hurt everywhere, the lightest of touches causing him to cry out in pain.

Greg and I, knowing the time was near, came to give much needed respite to my exhausted mom, aunt, and uncle. We arrived Friday evening, and though he could no longer walk, his spirit was intact, giving a hearty “Bless your heart!” for baking his favorite biscochitos. He ate one, and we chatted and laughed before giving him his medicine and going to bed. I awoke to him screaming at 1:15, in pain or in terror, I am not certain. He refused more medication, but I was able to soothe him back to sleep.

Saturday, he was surrounded by my cousins and our dear friend Sybil Ann, delighted to see everyone and calling each by name.  We listened to his favorite music, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. As the day wore on, he became tired and grew confused, starting sentences with clarity but ending them in gibberish or not at all. I asked him if he knew where he was, and when he nodded yes, I said, “Hawaii, right?” He exploded with laughter and smiled! How glad I am to have made him laugh one last time. He ate a bite of cookie and slept a lot. The pneumonia was awful and the blanket hurt his tender skin, so I helped him cough out the uglies and rubbed pain lotion on his withered leg.

He shouted out and grabbed the hubster’s hand, “Greg! Help me up!” The hubster asked, “Where do you want to go?” Grandpa replied, “I don’t know…” but kept a firm grasp on his hand, only releasing it to mine, then Sybil Ann’s, hours having passed, keeping a last hold on this life, I suppose.

When the family had gone, we kept the music playing and he lost consciousness. The nurse came, taught me more ways to keep him comfortable, and we talked about the signs – there were more and more. I swabbed his mouth and gave him syringes of water to keep his mouth moist. We went to bed.

I awoke at 2:30 to check on him, his poor body heaving. I swabbed his mouth again, gave him more water, and a dose of morphine to ease his pain. I stroked his hair and kissed his head. I whispered, “Good night, Grandpa. I love you. We all love you and will miss you. It’s okay if you want to let go.” Twenty-eight minutes later, he was gone. What an honor that my voice was the last earthly one he heard.

Driving north Friday afternoon, May 19th. May 19th, snowy Colorado cold, my heart cratered and crushed, the talented and beautiful Chris Cornell dead and gone, and me and the hubster with tickets to a Soundgarden show that will never come to be. Life is full of surprises, some magical in their beauty, some terribly sad.

And these photos, taken in my grandparents neighborhood, which, save a Halloween when I was a wee child and have zero recollection, I had never really walked. So, many thanks to Ms. Juni B., without whom we never would have had reason to so thoroughly explore and spy a Wiley Coyote live and in person. What a privilege!

There was much that brought us north – a party to celebrate the son of a bestie graduating from high school (woot!), my own sweet nephew’s graduation (double woot!), and to spend time with my Grandpa. My Grandpa who is ninety-three and has cancer tendrils winding ever more thoroughly through his body. My Grandpa who now needs an oxygen snake following him about the house. My Grandpa who cries tenderly over the loss of my Grandma and looks with love and bewilderment at her beautiful face at every stage of her life. My Grandpa who I spoil with chocolates and his favorite home made meals – hollandaise with roasted asparagus, biscuits and gravy, and take out from our favorite (and BEST) tamale place – Moreno’s on Morrison Road – red, always, always red. We don’t speak of the inevitable, but it hovers and dances while we laugh and listen to our favorite songs.

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Last night Joy Division was on a constant loop, on the hi-fi and my mind’s eye. Positively agog that this music has been a steady part of my being for more than thirty years. What, whaaat? T H I R T Y.

I sat, joyfully awash in the memories elicited.

Of staying up late, hunched over my desk, doing homework, music low. Other times, the joyous solitude of listening for the sake of it, to grasp the meaning, scribbling words and ideas in notebooks, pinning them on walls and doors, of dancing by myself wrapped in the sheer pleasure, of attempting to drown the noise of a loud house and an even louder family.

Of being an outsider, neither a punk nor a waver, neither a stoner nor a jock, neither a nerd nor a cheerleader, but skirting the territories, knowing each as a person and friend, beloved, crafting the finest patchwork quilt of companions, threads of kindness in my wake. Proving some things never change. Be who you are. Love and do as you like, just show me your kindness, your heart, and we can be friends.

Unpredictable me. Clothes preppy and new wave, loafers and buckle shoes, never a sock. Obsessed with skulls and so much black, save around the eyes. Makeup light, bangs high, then the bob I would have for years, sometimes bangs, sometimes not, shoulder to chin and back again. Honor roll student doing donuts in my friend’s Charger, fast, faster, I laughed wildly while he whimpered like the baby I was purported to be. French student of the year who occasionally got high, drank practically never, save to taste. My first cocktail was a Lynchburg Lemonade, further proving some things never change. I do like whiskey best. Designated driver and caretaker, I got people safely home, handed out bowls to vomit in, and practically ran a therapist’s office out of my car.

My car! I worked long hours and saved for years, fast food and bussing tables, finally having enough Christmas break senior year of high school. 1981 Toyota Celica, five speeds and the freedom to do what I please. My music. My Thoughts. My whims. Mostly in darkness, when I reflect, whizzing and crawling along the back roads of Arvada, Boulder, and the mountains beyond. The Sex Lights and searching for possessed goats. Driving to parties, the Westminster Mall. The highway downtown to be among the skateboarders, outsider again, my favorite, wickedly handsome with a foot tall mohawk and bad manners. But, goll-ee, to watch him skate, the grace and lightness of fine articulated limbs.

Later, at night, to wander among the warehouses, under viaducts, places long gone. To smoke – stupidly, for a year – Camels and the fanciest black cloves at Paris on the Platte, sip a Cafe Jacques, or, on more brazen evenings, a Crowbar, plied with enough caffeine to open the eyes of the dead. Other times it was Muddy’s, darker, quiet and moodier, too, whispering among ceiling-high books, nursing a chocolaccino, delicate sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

Music was the undercurrent of it all, often misunderstood and mocked by friends, yet what held us together, too. Those dark hours, adding up to days and months, driving and talking, the music never stopped. Joy Division. The Doors. The Cure. U2. New Order. INXS. Lou Reed. The Clash. Eazy-E. The Rolling Stones. The Beastie Boys. The Psychedelic Furs. Echo and the Bunnymen. The Smiths. Modern English. General Public. More I can’t remember. More I choose to forget.

 

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On plane journeys, the hum of engines and sight of the world from on high sparks a fire of words. I flip the magazine page, and it reads “journal.” So, this is what I write:

I am soaring above the Pacific Northwest and remembering, a cascade of images and thoughts at once. Driving winding back roads, shady with giant Doug Firs (and that place, too, many a Saturday afternoon lunch, talking Dolly Parton with our favorite server, eating a grilled cheese) before rounding a bend to a picture perfect view of some gorgeous volcano. Hood. St. Helen’s. Rainier. Adams. Jefferson. All glorious and snow capped.

The dozen times we drove to Seattle, through drizzle and storms, every season of the year, to arrive to sunshine. Every single time. The rain only commencing on the drive home. Seattle! The most beautiful city IN THE WORLD. The hills, towering trees, the sweep of Elliott Bay, with the Olympics beyond and Rainier peering over my shoulder.

And our trips further north, to Bellingham and Everett, the San Juans, our bit of solace on THE September 11th. A cabin on Orcas Island, at the end of the road and edge of the sea. No television. No newspapers. No images of horror and terror. Late afternoons, we listened, rapt, to accounts of bravery and loss. So very much of each.

The clouds have swallowed the landscape whole, light bouncing heavenward, shining on the memory of my mind’s eye. We took the ferry from Orcas and drove south on the Olympic Peninsula from Port Townsend, town of wooden boats, entering a place primordial. Tide pools, trees dripping, water and moss, winding among the low slung clouds, every bit a dream. Our shared dream.

Flying over the ocean now, conjuring our days at the coast. The time we walked, too late from Cannon Beach to our rented room, the tide rising higher and higher, engulfing the shore and forcing us upward, through clawing brambles and brush and near ninety degree angles of rock and cliff. Two jack-in-the-boxes popping out on the roadway in near darkness, scratched and scraped and bruised, but giggling still, just after night fall.

Mornings in Bend, the scent of juniper and wild chatter of robins gorging on their berries. Days on the Metolius, our wee cabin succumbing to the shifting river, burgers and marshmallows roasting on the barbecue. South to Breitenbush and Summer Lake to take to the waters at the hot springs. Quiet beautiful skies, roads less traveled.

The golden light gleams – a million pennies dancing on the water. Portland, the best and longest bit of our shared history. Our home. The half-ass house we called it. Half covered in siding. Half the yard an absolute shambles of three foot weeds. Half the switch plates missing their screws. Half the electrical box miraculously intact after being improperly wired. We coaxed out the best of it – blood, sweat, and tears.

A quick jaunt to Mt. Tabor, Hawthorne unspooling to the Bagdad and on down to the river, the West Hills and Forest Park, luxuriating in verdant shade on the hottest of days. We walked, drove, and biked nearly every street and boulevard, so many treasured places and favorite spaces, and meals, the very best of our lives! I am wishing, right this minute, for a coctel de pulpo at Taqueria Nueve.

And friends! We made the best. Popping across the street, down the block, zooting around town, to share stories, sweets, and home made treats. A little whiskey, a bit of beer, a glass of champagne. Laughing at the madness of IKEA and batshit crazy neighbors. Watching tiny children grow into teens, adults, beautiful people. Enjoying fondue on Christmas Eve. Sitting, late into the night, on a patio plucked from a Hawaiian dream, inhaling the sweet scent of gardenia.

And to the future, lamenting, tears streaming, the one day, hopefully far, far away, after everyone I love has passed on to the next life, how it will ALL be turned to soup.

 

Me and my best love, our drive west and the Mini packed tight. We had seven suitcases, three tote bags, one duffel bag, one milk crate, one Vitamix (nestled between us in the arm rest!), one computer monitor, one fire extinguisher, and one gallon of laundry detergent! The heavy burden made our car 10 miles per gallon less efficient and injured my right arm so terribly that I could not move it AT ALL for three days. Oof. But boy howdy, was it worth it! We are home. And what a marvelous drive we had, missing every bit of bad weather. We saw not one snowflake nor rain drop fall, and were treated to some of the most gorgeous landscapes America has on offer. My love for this great country has been galvanized further still, yes ma’am.

And the little white house, off of Sangamon Avenue in Springfield, Illinois, is where my Grandma Tess was born and my Great Aunt Mary lived until she was well into her seventies. Two adults, eight children, and who knows how many pets made their home in this wee two bedroom one bath. By some great stroke of luck, the current owner was sweeping the porch when we pulled up, and I asked him if we could go inside. He kindly obliged, and we spent the better part of the next hour sharing stories. Sadly for me, but great for the house, it is under renovation, with plastic and tarps obscuring the majority of the space. Thankfully, there was enough exposed to get a feel for it and my Grandma’s spirit in it, to see relatives I’ve only known in pictures puttering about, gazing out the window while washing a dish. Part of me is there now, too.

And Lincoln! It’s turned out to be quite a year for Colleen, Greg, and good ole Abraham. Gettysburg and Springfield – the train station from which he made many journeys and his final return, his law office, the old state capitol building where he worked, just one of many bronze monuments. And his crypt, which, wow, and hmmm, what to say? Evocative. If you have never been, go. Just go.

It was a sleepy New Year’s Eve, with us full up on sentimentality and hypnotized by a murmuration swirling about the capitol dome (that bit that looks like a smudge). The beat of wings the only sound we heard.

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