One day Anni was twirling and singing one of her original compositions.
"It's my gift!" she declared.
Dizzy, she fell with spectacular gracelessness.
Laying on her back on the tile floor she began flapping her arms and legs
as if she were making a snow angel.
"Falling down is also a gift!" says she.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

words are overrated

It's been a week. Another week. My grandfather died last Thursday. He was 93 and ready to go, so there's not so much mourning exactly. But there's always sadness. I didn't spend much time with my grandparents as a child, and I didn't have the same kind of relationship with them that Annika and Frankie have with their grandparents: long phone calls with an only halfway understandable 2-year-old, frequent visits, and hand-embellished cards posted halfway across the world. My grandpa was the silent type. I can barely remember what his voice sounded like, I heard it so infrequently. My grandma, on the other hand, has never been short of words, but expressions of affection did not often pass her lips, either. And I don't mean that to sound critical. My grandparents were good and hard working people, farming in western Kansas until they were too tired to do that anymore, and then realizing that farming didn't come with much of a retirement plan. So my grandpa took a job as a custodian and they moved to a little town in Kansas with the saddest zoo I've ever seen, a town where half the population could be found in the Dairy Queen on a Saturday night. They loved their children and their grandchildren and their many great-grandchildren fiercely, and perhaps it's only my memory that has forgotten the actual words being spoken. I spent a few weeks at my grandparent's house one summer, but my cousin Wendy came up from Texas for those same few weeks. So I remember that time as my vacation with Wendy, rather than my vacation with Grandma and Grandpa. I remember those visits, though, just not in the way I thought I would. I remember smells: Grandma baking bread (her specialty); the smell of their basement like wet wool, where we slept on beds with scratchy blankets and always took care to leave the rooms as spotlessly clean as we found them; the woody smell of their backyard where they grew plants with the confidence and success of lifelong farm people. I don't remember hugs or praise or inquiries into my feelings about the household rules. It wasn't so touchy-feely. But I knew I was welcome in their house and I knew I belonged there, in the automatic way of family. My grandparents' ways are so very different from my own. I think perhaps they didn't express their love out loud so frequently because they didn't feel the need to do so. Why state the obvious? Why else would Grandma let us have a slice of her irresistible bread, still warm and cut perfectly with an electric knife? Why else would Grandpa keep the old bikes in working condition for us kids? For them it wasn't much about hugs and affirmations of kids' wild emotions ("I understand that you are angry/sad/scared about - insert denied ludicrous kid whim here, for example Frankie's insistence that grape lollipops count as a fruit - but I still have to say no because - insert logical adult reason only slightly undercut by inadequately suppressed smirk.") Their days as parents were exhausting and long and structured by a kind of hard necessity. I contrast that with my own days, filled with work and worry, yes, but also the luxury of silly games and wasted time. This evening I was planting a weigela bush in the backyard with Frankie, while Jörg and Annika were off at the hospital getting Anni's labs drawn. Still kneeling in the grass, I grabbed Frankie and held her close while she giggled in that awesomely wonderful 2-year-old way. "What do you think, Frankie? Do I love you?" "Yes!" came her response, unhesitating and enthusiastic. "Hmmm. I guess you're right! But do I love you a lot or a teeny-tiny bit?" I asked her, knowing full well that "teeny-tiny" is easily Frankie's favorite expression right now. "A lot!" she said, passing by the opportunity to say "teeny-tiny" for the opportunity of wallowing a bit in her mama's over-the-top lovey-dovey. And I hugged her close and leaned her down into the grass, so that the feathery weeds like tassels of wheat growing in our lawn would tickle her cheek as I said, "Right again, little one." Maybe it's true that saying "I love you" so often will eventually rob the expression of its specialness, but I can't help myself, caught between the luxury of spare time that things like dishwashers and washing machines allow, and the feeling of time sparingly rationed whenever I think about the seriousness of Annika's illness and the uncertainty of the next few months. I didn't go to Grandpa's service, although the rest of my family was there. Annika's been sick again, and there's a vague feeling of dread hanging about around here. We just never know when it will be the start of Something again. So, yes, we're checking her poops obsessively for any signs of blood (none), frowning at her belly's increased distention and wondering where the infection is lurking this time. With no runny nose, no sore throat, no obvious symptoms of any kind of viral infection, we worry about bacteria settling into her liver or the fluid in her belly or in her sinuses, poised to make the short leap over to her brain. In my head I can see these bacteria, green jaggedy dangerous looking things, floating around in her blood stream, unchecked by her suppressed immune system. So I did the laundry, just to be sure we'd have clean clothes to grab for any sudden hospital stays. Or, you know, it could be nothing. So I sent my love and regrets to my mom, and stayed home. At my grandparents' request, there was no funeral, just a simple graveside service. I suppose it seems fitting that the man who had so very few words in life wouldn't have wanted speeches and long eulogies to commemorate his death. The last time I saw my grandfather was at my Aunt Pat's funeral. I was glad he got to meet Annika and Frankie finally, but I'm not sure he was able to take notice; he was so obviously wracked by the pain of outliving one of his children: age 6 or age 60, it's never enough. It's an emotion I can certainly understand. My sister did go to his service. I know my sister's relationship with my grandparents was much different than my own. I hope she reminded everyone of my favorite Grandpa story, which, of course, involved no words spoken on his part. Grandpa was notorious for his stubborn frown in all the family pictures. He turned toward the camera with the stony expression of a man who drank a thermos of hot coffee every day out at work in the blistering heat of western Kansas summers and kicked a 4-pack-a-day cigarette habit just because he decided it was time to quit. My sister, the budding shutterbug, pleaded with him to smile, just this once for the photo. "Show some teeth!" she prodded. And without so much as a blink, my Grandpa popped his dentures out of his mouth so they sat atop his still unsmiling lips, giving him a distinctly donkey-like appearance. He gave her a few seconds to pop the shutter, and then he went back to eating his dinner as if nothing had happened. Years later, at my wedding, Grandpa was the only one crying. Frankly, after the alarmingly bad judgment I had often shown in my dating choices, there was a general air of joyous relief that I was settling down with such an appropriately all-together kind of guy. But when Grandpa gave me a hug, I started crying, too, although I have no idea what we were crying for. I suppose it's handy to have a reputation for few words, when most of the important stuff in life is inexpressible anyway.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear about your Grandfather. Please know we keep Annika in our prayers, and pray for your family as well.

Michelle (jack's Mom) www.caringbridge.org/ny/jack

5/10/2006 5:59 AM  
Anonymous Beanie Baby said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather.

5/10/2006 6:17 AM  
Anonymous Miche said...

Our thoughts are with you and your family at this difficult time...

5/10/2006 7:45 AM  
Blogger dublin said...

Moreena...your sis, here. E-mail me from your regular e-mail address. Our computer heaved its last a couple of months ago and I just got a new laptop (love it!) a week and a half ago...don't have a record of ANYONE'S e-mail addressess, though. So, can't write them (or you!) until I get an e-mail sent to me!

I loved this last blog entry. Reena, you have such a wonderful way of capturing moments so vividly in words. It is interesting how differently our perceptions of Grandma and Grandpa are...what a difference 8 years in time makes. I was talking to Ty at the visitation Sunday night and I was struck anew of that as he and I compared notes about our memories. His world was so different from mine, even though we were both there at the same time...my ten year head start laid a framework to build from that his own childhood did not have.

I will call, rather than rambling on forever here...

E-mail me, okay? Thanks!!!

Love,
Monica

5/10/2006 7:59 AM  
Blogger Sarahlynn said...

I'm leaving town tomorrow, off to my own Grandpa's funeral. Ellie got to meet him and say goodbye, but I hope that she doesn't remember him has he was toward the end, living in a nursing home with Alzheimer's.

Your writing about your grandparents was beautiful and touching, of course. You certainly plucked some familiar strings in the heart of this girl who grew up in an agrarian Kansas community.

***

As always, my thoughts and prayers are with you and Jorg and Anni and Frankie, and I am glad that you're having these sunny days at home together.

5/10/2006 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Becca - Natalie's mommy said...

I am sorry...your own eulogy was just beautiful.

Prayers for more carefree days of play with the girls.

5/10/2006 8:53 AM  
Blogger graymama said...

I lost both of my grandfathers very early on. One died before I was born and the other when I was six. My experience of grandfathers comes from Hubby's family. One was the quiet one and one was the loud boisterous one. Both had their gifts to give before they too passed on. Thank you so much for sharing your touching words!

Your family is always in my thoughts and prayers.

5/10/2006 8:59 AM  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

I'm sorry about your grandfather's death. It's true -- there's always sadness, even when it's time to go. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of who your grandfather was. Your writing, as always, is powerful and finely drawn.

Thinking about you, Jörg, and the girls.

5/10/2006 9:08 AM  
Anonymous yankee t said...

Beautiful piece, Moreena, just beautiful. I'm sorry about your grandfather, and I so strongly agree that saying goodbye is difficult under the best of circumstances. Thinking of you, all four of you!

5/10/2006 9:42 AM  
Anonymous peripateticpolarbear said...

I'm sorry to hear about his death; sometimes it's less hard, but it's never easy. PPB

5/10/2006 9:58 AM  
Blogger jamie said...

Beautiful entry. I'm probably just hormonal, but I'm crying my eyes out. While there is benefit to those who can express what they feel without words, we say I love you a lot in our house. I think it's important that no one ever have a doubt or say "i'm sure they/he/she loved us".

I'm always thinking of you all and hope that Annika is doing well. I'll keep her in my prayers.

5/10/2006 3:03 PM  
Blogger susan said...

I'm sorry for your loss, MOreena: there is always sadness, you're right. Family hierarchies change as an older generation passes, memories fade and are lost. It's sad.

You're all in my thoughts.

5/10/2006 7:03 PM  
Blogger liz said...

You've kept him alive forever by writing about him so beautifully.

I'm always thinking of you.

5/10/2006 9:57 PM  
Blogger Bridget said...

i am so, so, very sorry for your loss.

5/11/2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

So sorry about your Grandfather Moreena. Again with the tears, though! What a way with words you have...

5/11/2006 11:19 AM  
Blogger Rev Dr Mom said...

So sorry about your grandfather, but thanks for a beautiful post.

5/11/2006 8:13 PM  
Blogger timna said...

thanks. your words are so clear and not at all overrated.

5/12/2006 12:44 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Words aren't much, but they're all we've got to work with, so we generally get by. In this case, you did a lot better than get by; you gave the rest of us a beautiful portrait, in miniature, of your grandfather.

5/12/2006 9:39 AM  
Blogger purple_kangaroo said...

I'm sorry about your grandfather. This was a very well-written post. Sending hugs and well-wishes to Annika and you all, as always.

5/12/2006 5:10 PM  
Blogger Chana said...

I wanted to stop by and wish you a very Happy Mother's Day...i hope you enjoy your special day with the 2 angels that made you a mom...

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. My condolences. I hope you are all okay...

Hugs..

5/12/2006 11:51 PM  

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