38,325 days…the later years

This is the 7th and final installment of my series on the remarkable life of my late Grandmother Marion. You can check the archives for the previous installments. I hope you enjoy.

When I left off my Grandfather had passed away at the age of 92. At the time, they were living in a really nice Assisted Living community. I feel the need to mention this because Marion was one of the only residents who didn’t need assistance.

They moved out of their tiny, quaint home into this facility on the condition that their house would not be sold while they were alive. With that detail secured, they made the move to a very small apartment in a building that could always be identified by the Ambulance parked out front with the engine running. The transition was difficult for Marion, there was only room for a small amount of her furniture in the apartment but she managed to take the pieces that made her the happiest and the rest went into storage. The place did have its advantages, there were other residents to make friends with, they didn’t have to worry about treacherous stairs and shoveling driveways anymore, and transportation was provided by the town. They were also offered extensive Visiting nursing care…Marion would have none of it. It wasn’t until my Grandfather started to really fail that she accepted the medical assistance. After he passed away, she had little difficulty caring for her apartment and for herself. She did accept the services of the volunteer “companions.” Some she became quite close with, others were unceremoniously shown the door. She wasn’t lonely. She disliked 80% of her neighbors for some reason or other (we never knew and stopped asking) but made a small circle of friends that kept her busy. She lived like this for years with little or no medical care. She watched her soap operas, went to the Senior center and lived for company, especially from my 4 kids, her great-grandchildren, who she absolutely adored.

 

My parents had retired to NH and only came down to visit Marion and maintain her house in order to resell it someday. I had a large house at the time so it made sense to have holidays at my house. I loved hosting the holidays. I had a big table to seat large groups, many chairs, and sofas to sleep off the inevitable food coma and several rooms so that we could all spread out. One of the big upsides of hosting was not having to take my kids out. They were free to be at home and be as wild or as mellow as they wanted. And they had a great room to get away from the adults. The previous owners had converted the garage into a giant “playroom” and after dinner that’s where you would find them.

One Thanksgiving, when Marion was 97 years old, she got off of the sofa after a brief siesta and went to the playroom to see what her beloved Great-Grandchildren were doing. The room entrance had a 1-inch drop that we were careful to tell people about. She did fine as she crossed over and checked on the kids. After she had watched them be wild and crazy for awhile she turned to exit the room. She failed to remember the step up and she went down. Hard. On her face. She didn’t even get her arms out. I was across the room, I didn’t have time to catch her, I could only watch in slo-mo as she went down. I will never forget the sickening sound as she hit the floor. She was in great pain. We called 911 and kept her still. The paramedics arrived and we all went outside to give them room. As they wheeled her out, her face bloodied, the paramedic leans into me and says, “Sir, your grandmother is 97 and claims that she’s not on any medications? Is that correct?”

“Yes, it is,” I replied. “Unless you count a daily aspirin.”

He continued on in amazement. An hour later she was released, the only injury she sustained was a broken tooth.

Later that year she was moved to a Nursing home after she developed some Gastrointestinal issues and was being hospitalized frequently. She wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon, she had just had surgery and had a Colostomy bag installed. She hated the bag and refused to learn how to care for herself with it. They wouldn’t let her leave until she mastered it but she was too stubborn. So stubborn that she asked to have the surgery reversed so that she could “use the crapper like everyone else”. At age 98 she was deemed healthy enough to do the surgery. She breezed through the surgery, amazed the doctors and moved to another assisted living facility. Incredible.

Previous to her 100th birthday, we called Good Morning America and requested that Al Roker feature her on the show. He did such stories all of the time and we hoped she would get a mention. He never responded. Marion shrugged her shoulders, said “the hell with him, dismissed it and moved on. Unfazed, we still gave her a hell of a party at the home. She shared her “Flag Cake” with everyone as she cheerfully, and without assistance, devoured her slice.

Her 101st, 102nd and 103rd birthdays would find her still alert, pushing her wheelchair with her feet around the entire facility, accusing people of stealing from her. When we visited her, they had to find her for us because she was never in her room.

Her 103rd birthday party was the last birthday my father, who was very ill with Parkinson’s disease, would spend with her. One very profound memory of that day, other than her recalling the name of her class President from her HS class of 1929, was her eating her favorite “Flag” cake without assistance…as we fed my father his because he was unable.

7 months after her 104th birthday, Marion started losing strength and would become bedridden. She was finally slipping mentally as well. To this point, with brief moments of not knowing what decade she was in, she was sharp as could be. Those “lapses” now became the norm. She was still alert, and when we visited her she had moments of clarity. But she was depressed and kept asking for Mel, her late husband. We increased our visitations, knowing the end was near.

5 weeks before her 105th birthday, she stopped taking nutrition. She had shriveled to a mere shadow of her former self and barely spoke. She did little more than writhe around in her bed, moaning. It seemed like she was attempting to communicate but we didn’t know if it was us or if she was dreaming. On April 28th, we were summoned by the nursing staff, they felt Marion would pass that day. My mother and I arrived and we were asked if there was any other family coming. My mother explained that the calls had been made but it would be a couple of days before some of them could make it. “But that’s too late” the nurse stated, “she won’t make it that long.”

My mother, as if in a trance and someone was speaking through her, said “No, she won’t die until May 2nd. The day her husband passed away.” The nurse was in disbelief. “Trust me,” Mom said. “I’m right about this.”

Marion, as predicted, passed away on May 2nd of 2015 just weeks shy of her 105th birthday. Her only medical condition was Scottish Alzheimer’s, a condition in which you forget everything except who you don’t like. I used that joke when I delivered her eulogy. I got a few laughs. I know she would have liked it.

Her funeral was sparsely attended, she outlived all of her friends and most of her family. It was hard to be sad, we instead celebrated her incredible life. If we mourned we only mourned the loss of the values, strength, and integrity that we will never find in any other generation than hers.

God bless, Marion. And Godspeed to you. We’re all better for knowing you.

38,325 days…a life truly lived cont’d

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 and here.

In the last entry in this saga, I was describing the sleepovers at the Grandparents house. Without hyperbole, I tell you that these are among the finest moments of my childhood. I had left off with the need to go to bed early when I slept over because the next morning at the breakfast table always proved to be the highlight of the day and I needed to be rested for it.

My Grandmother was a saint on earth, she really was. She had so many wonderful qualities about her. Unfortunately, a sense of humor was not one of them. In this sense, she married the wrong man. Mel was a tireless jokester and he loved an audience.

Breakfast was always at 8 AM. I would wake before that to the smell of bacon. Even if bacon wasn’t on the menu. Marion cooked everything in bacon fat and a black skillet. Everything she cooked smelled like bacon. As an aside, isn’t it incredible that she lived to that age cooking with only bacon drippings from a Chock Full O’Nuts coffee can? I would usually come downstairs when I smelt breakfast or heard her clanging around. Sleepy-eyed, I would come into the kitchen and get a warm greeting from her.  My Grandfather would never come to the kitchen until he was called. He would putter around in the basement in the morning or watch the news in the living room which was a mere 15 feet from the kitchen. He knew the coffee was brewed and breakfast was done but when I was there he insisted on being called…nay screamed for. Marion would call him once or twice and he would ignore her. When she yelled, that was his cue and the show was about to begin. He would then walk into the tiny kitchen with his famous devilish grin, in his pajama bottoms, a worn wife-beater, and slippers and say “what are you yelling for, I’m right here!?” Marion would shoot him a look for being a smartass. That’s when he would wink at me with those wicked eyes and his trademark bushy eyebrows. Yay, I would think, the show’s about to start!

The show didn’t always begin the same way. Sometimes he would start stacking cups and saucers precariously high and wait to get yelled at. Other times he would put salt in her Marion’s sugar bowl. Sometimes he would each behind him and put the creamer back in the refrigerator and then ask her why there’s no cream for his coffee. Other times he would just start off by acting deaf. No matter how it began, it ended with him being yelled at and a playful wink in my direction. Marion was fussing to make everything just right for me and he did everything he could to mess it up. Marion, God bless her fell for the bait every time. This apparently happened when my mom was little also and she never really caught on. It was her drive to make everything “just right” that caused her frustration, I wish she found it half as funny as her husband and I did.

After breakfast, Mel would retreat to the basement where he shaved in an old sink with a straight razor. His show was over, now it was me and Grandma time. They didn’t have much of a yard for me to play in and they lived on a very busy street so I was usually inside. Her routine became mine. I helped her clean up from breakfast, including the occasional broken saucer that her menace of a husband broke when balancing it on his head or spinning it on a spoon, drained her black skillet into the famous coffee can and then the day began.

Marion was not much of a house cleaner despite her obsessive tendencies. Her table, earlier cleared for the breakfast debacle, was immediately covered with 86 pounds of clutter that was moved to the fourth, unused chair. She was a hoarder before it was a thing. She made enough room each day to do her letters. Her letters are a lasting memory, both due to how outdated the whole “mail” thing is now and how much of a part of her life they were. She wrote to everyone and she absolutely lived to get mail in return. When the mailman came she moved like a hyperactive child to that mailbox. She kept in touch with High School friends and she had a large family in California. Sadly, I have not met most of them. Christmas cards and letters were the highlight of her year. I would be subjected to her reading her letters to me from people I didn’t know yet she continued to act as if I did. I regret being annoyed at that now, she really loved to share her mail with me. It occurs to me that she would hate today’s lightning fast, impersonal communications. An email would never bring her the joy that opening a card that she would read 20 times and keep 20 years.

If I was lucky, they would take me to the Senior Center in the afternoon. They were always old, as far back as I can remember. Maybe they were the youngest ones in the group but they ran with the older crowd. The Senior center had Bingo for her, multiple widows to flirt with my dapper grandfather, and a bunch of people that just loved seeing me. To be fair, I loved them. I have always enjoyed talking to the elderly. They had such stories to tell and I really enjoyed them. It wouldn’t surprise me if I found that I was immediately good in History class because of all of the Vets that I talked to and all of the women who did their share to keep this great country running during the war.

This routine would carry on into my early teens. Marion and I were inseparable. I was her “Dear Billy” and her pride in me helped me through my awkward teenage years of hormones, bullies and finding myself. She was non-judgemental and always there with a Root Beer Float and a hug.

more tomorrow…

38,325 days…a life truly lived cont’d

to catch up on previous entries on this series you can check here, here, and here.

Marion embraced the role of Grandmother with enthusiasm and grace. During the two years that my father served out the remainder of his obligation to the Army National Guard, he was away almost as often as he was at home. I was an easy baby, or so I’m told, but maintaining the small apartment my parents had rented in a sleepy town North of Boston, working part-time and taking care of me was taxing on my mother. Marion gladly took me whenever she could. While I don’t remember the earliest years, as to be expected, it is well known that I spent a lot of time at my Grandmother’s house.

In 1968 my parents bought a house one town over from my Grandparents. Marion never cared for apartments and rarely visited us when we were in the cramped upstairs apartment with poor lighting, worse ventilation, and too much street noise. Once we graduated to Suburbia, Marion spent much time at our house. I have wonderful memories of this time period. As early as I can remember, Mom and Marion had tea in the kitchen and talked for hours as I raced around the house playing Speed Racer or the Red Baron or whatever was popular at the time. Unlike kids today, I easily amused myself and Mom and Marion enjoyed my independence. When my grandfather and father weren’t working, a truly rare occurrence indeed, they got together and got along famously. Looking back, I had wonderful role models when I was a child.

Hard work pays off and eventually, my parents got themselves financially above water enough to actually have a social life. They went dancing or out with friends and went out almost every Friday night. I never thought twice about it, what it meant to me was Friday night at the Grandparent’s house. It was always the go-to option, they were happy to have me and they never went out. By this point, their house was as familiar and welcoming to me as my own.

Friday night would consist of mom and dad pulling into the driveway, letting me out, making sure I got in safely through the front door (Grandma was always there waiting for me) and they would pull out. I would endure the hugs and sloppy kisses and immediately look for my Grandfather. This is where the games would begin.

“Grandpa I’m here!”

“Huh?”

“It’s me!”

“Who?”

He would then pretend to suddenly recognize me and give me a giant hug. Begrudgingly, he would change the channel to something I would watch and we spent the night watching TV, eating popcorn and indulging in the occasional Root Beer Float with real A & W Rootbeer. I would always go to bed early. After all, I had to be rested up for the festivities the following morning. If all went as planned, and it always did, Grandpa would put on a show for me. One that went back to my mother’s childhood. The show didn’t have a name but if it did it would be called Let’s piss Marion off and have a good laugh in the process. I loved the game, but as you can probably surmise, Marion did not.

To be continued…

38,325 days… installment 2

As I stated in the last installment, my Grandparents’ marriage was not without tragedy.

In 1948, on a typical late fall afternoon, my Grandmother had just finished making dinner. A fresh pot of coffee was percolating in the kitchen and my Grandmother had just asked Charles to run into the living room and tell my Grandfather that dinner was ready. The distance from the kitchen to the living room was not even 15 feet but Grandpa’s game was to ignore her until she yelled then he would come into the kitchen with a big smirk on his face. Marion didn’t want to deal with the game. Charles did as he was told, and dutifully ran down the short corridor to call his dad. As he did, he accidentally tripped the power cord to the ancient coffeemaker. As if in slow motion, my Grandmother watched helplessly as the pot tipped and the scalding hot coffee poured down his back. He screamed, immediately went into shock and was dead moments later. My mother tells me that a team of doctors, with today’s technology, could not have saved him. My grandparents were completely crushed. My grandfather would retreat into himself, my grandmother would deal by completely, and I say this without exaggeration, smothering my mother, her only remaining child.

Not the grieving types, life went on. The UK in them sustained them. Grandpa was from Scotland, Grandma was from England, they were built of sturdy stock. My grandfather found work as an Oil Burner repairman and worked several side jobs. My grandmother busied herself immersing herself in her daughter’s life. She would find fault, in as matronly a manner as possible, with her friends, their parents, their houses, and their clothes. No one or nothing was good enough for her daughter. It wasn’t snobbery, although it looked an awful lot like it, it was merely overprotection. My mother somehow managed to maintain a small circle of friends, she simply coached them to look past the interrogations and disapproving looks and see the nice, battle-worn woman within. She managed to have a fairly normal childhood. At least for a while.

As it would turn out, tragedy would unfold again. After going upstairs during her 7th birthday party because she didn’t feel well, my mother would be found unconscious in her room. The diagnosis would be Viral Spinal Meningitis. In 1952, this disease had no cure. She would languish in a coma for a week until a young doctor approached Mel and Marion with a glimmer of hope. He told them of an experimental serum that had shown promise but was not approved by the government yet. With little to nothing to lose. they agreed to try it. It would save her life. It would take a year of recovery, including learning how to walk again, but my mother made a full recovery. I only wish the same could be said about Marion. The smothering would escalate to epic proportions.

to be continued…