38,325 days…a life truly lived part 6

If you have been following this series you will know that it is a dive into my family history, concentrating on the role of my deceased Grandmother who lived to almost 105 years old. If you would like to catch up you can here, here, here, here, and here.

Through my early teens, I didn’t have 2 things. Friends, and the trust of my parents. So, without a friend’s house to go to, and to spare me the indignity of a babysitter at 13, I continued to hang out at my Grandmother’s house on Friday night and Saturday morning. Come to think of it, my dignity still being a small factor, I really didn’t have a sitter because I tossed a rubber snake onto the lap of a sitter at age 12, effectively scaring the shit out of her, so sitters were no longer an option.

Grandma was glad to have me. The breakfast would continue to be the main event, but the rest of our ritual changed a bit, I would help her around the house, do housework or painting with Grandpa or just hang out and read a book. I enjoyed it. At age 13 Grandpa taught me how to use a lawnmower and I would cut his grass. At his suggestion, I began to solicit neighbors to do theirs as well, my neighborhood as well as theirs. As these things happen, I started to get busy cutting lawns and spent less time with Grandma.

At 15 I got a job at a local supermarket. Deciding that if I don’t come to her, my Grandmother would come to me. She did all of her food shopping on Saturday morning and I made sure that I made time to talk to her. She would stroll in, very upright and proper, dressed as well as she would for church. My friends and co-workers thought she was wonderful, and she soon became royalty. My co-workers bent over backward to see that Marion got whatever she needed. One of them once asked of her, “Marion, you’re retired. You could shop any day of the week why do you put up with the crowds on Saturday.”

“Because,” she said, “Billy isn’t here on a Tuesday morning now is he?”

‘Nuff said. I hadn’t actually realized that was why until she said it. But that’s Marion. A creature of habit and everything is done for a reason.

In 1983 my Grandparents celebrated their 50th Wedding anniversary at a Country Club in town. We managed to surprise them. Over 200 guests came to see Marion gracefully drag her clumsy but smiling husband across the dance floor. She was majestic, proud and as it occurred to me then, virtually ageless. When my turn came, it was my honor to dance with her. And I don’t dance with anyone.

Sadly, as life got busier for me I saw my Grandparents less and less. It wasn’t just on Holidays, but it was nothing like before. Life happens. But I always made it a point to call them and make sure they were ok. They always were.

In 2002, my beloved Grandfather passed away. He contracted pneumonia, which in turn “activated” dormant pockets of Asbestos in his lungs that he contracted while working on warships in the Navy. He was 92. He died, in their marital bed, holding my Grandmother’s hand. She was rightfully devastated. But not defeated. Many speculated that she, like many spouses of elderly, would go soon after. My mother, father and I all said No Way to that, she’s got a lot of years left in her.

We had no idea how right we would prove to be.

To be continued…

on Communication

I fondly remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a young boy, watching her do her letters. She was extremely structured and she always made sure to make time for the highlight of her day, the mail. When she heard the stuttering engine of the mail truck driving away she would hurry to the mailbox, eagerly hoping for a letter from a relative in California or a friend from High School. More often than not, she would get one. She would then sit down at the little round table in her tiny kitchen, with a steaming cup of tea and excitedly read her mail. She loved to relay to me the adventures of this uncle or aunt or friend or friend of a friend and give me the backstory. I didn’t know any of these people but it was nice to listen to her stories. She would then break out her stationary box, select the proper letter and matching envelope and write a response. That response would be in her mailbox that night, with the flag raised for the mailman to pick up the next day. On average it would take 8-10 days to get a response. This was the way she communicated, if she couldn’t see them in person then it was a letter. She hated the phone. She liked letters, and cards, she could keep them and reread them at a later date. When she died I recovered thousands of letters in her attic. Along with hundreds of letters from my grandfather to her when he was in the Pacific during WWII.

To look back on this now, it is a fond memory but seems as technologically advanced as loading a wooden ship with mail and then sitting in the Widow’s Walk waiting to see sails on the horizon. I can’t imagine the patience it required, but I can relate to the excitement when it arrived.

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We have lost that in today’s lightning fast world. This is obviously good and bad. It is good because we need to get certain information quickly and efficiently. But with regards to interpersonal communication, we have lost the excitement and have zero patience. In all of the rush to “shoot a text. fire off an email. Leave me a voicemail, Facebook me, Inbox me, Face-time or Snap Chat each other we have created a culture of immediate gratification. We call it “Ghosting” if someone doesn’t respond immediately as if there is malice or wrongdoing behind it. We misread intentions and tones behind texts which lead to massive misunderstandings and try to express complex emotions with emoji’s. In addition, and perhaps most tragic, is that in all of the abbreviations and cutesy shortcuts we take we’ve lost the ability to actually talk to each other. We are killing our language. It is perhaps fortuitous that our President speaks at a 4th-grade level and in short sentences. Many of us can’t understand a higher level and if we can we lack the attention span and patience to comprehend it.

I fear for those who never learn the complexities and benefits of language skills. Of eye contact. Of the handshake. I cringe for the job applicant that is unable to properly state his worthiness because of a lack of language skills, the knowledge of body language and posture. Things that someone who spends time talking to actual people, not screens, would know about.

My Grandmother read a letter 3 times before she took pen to paper. Her response required careful contemplation. (https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/16/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-16th-2018/) To not be misread or misunderstood meant as much to her on paper as it did if they were in front of her in her cozy kitchen, at her small table, drinking tea and eating Lorna Doone’s.

At this moment I have 1,129 unread emails in my inbox. I just heard my phone ping repeatedly so I likely have some texts. I hope that there is something in there that will motivate me to make a cup of tea, sit and really contemplate the contents, inspire me to share it with my family, print it out and store it in the attic for enjoyment at a later date. It really is doubtful. I swear, the farther we advance the farther we fall behind.