Thursday, October 27, 2011

And Then There Was One

Life has ways of being interesting.  A lesser known fact about me is that I have had nine grandparents.  How do you ask?  Well... My father's parents, one and two.  My mother's parents, three and four.  This is the usual configuration for most people.  However life happens and sometimes there are additions.  In my case it happened several times. 

My mom's parents divorced. 

Her mom remarried, five.  After a (not very long) while, he passed.  One gone, I was just a babe.  I wish I had known him, I am told he was a really good man.

My parents divorced a couple years later.

Not long after, dad's mom passed.  Two gone.  I can barely remember her myself.  But she lives on in the memories and stories of her children.  A very kind and intelligent woman and mother of 13.  Three years is not nearly enough time, especially when there were so many others to share her with.

Not long afterward my mother's father remarried, six.

Not long after that my father's father remarried, seven.

My father remarried.  Though that bond came her parents, eight and nine.

It is around this time when I am really aware and can remember people and events.  So the relationships began to develop past familial to personal.  Mom's mother was Grandma!  Straight, no chaser, grand parent of all grand parents.  For me she was the most constant.  The greatest presence of all the grands.  She also happened to be my family's Madea... But I digress...  My mother's father, he was number two.  So much I can say about him.  Too much going through my mind to even write it.  That was my man though.  My father's father was a ghost to me.  An occasional visit here and there.  It was hard to be a part of his life since he relocated to California before I really got to know him.  Which of course meant that I didn't really know his wife either.  My mom's step mom. She was grandma too, but without the capital "G".  She was a pretty nice lady from what I can remember.  But there was something I couldn't put my finger on that put up a barrier.  I guess the families never really quite meshed.  Her children never quite felt like uncles and aunts.  Her grandchildren never quite felt like cousins.  I guess they really weren't because after her death, I didn't see much of them.  After his, they became pretty much legends...  My step mom's parents are the last two.  I will be the first to admit that this was a strange relationship.  I never had a problem connecting with either of them.  But it was not really a grandparent grandchild relationship.  More like beloved great uncle and aunt.  There was a certain distance between me and my sister and my step mom's family as a whole.  Just never really engaged with the clan.  No nights spent over folks houses.  No cousins ever came by.  Now that I think back, it was almost always a case of me going where they were.  I guess to a kid, one way don't cut it.  In fact it probably explains the distance between my brothers.  Meetings usually on their turf, not mine.  Hmmm...  Different post that.  But back to it.  Pappa and Big Ma were their identities within the family.  Poppa to me was a stereotypical good humored southern farm boy.  Always happy to see you.  Honest, hard working, Salt of the earth kind of guy.  A great big old teddy bear.  Big Ma on the other hand quite a bit soft spoken.  Seemingly as small as he was big.  Always willing to take up the conversation or relate a story.

This is the grandparental landscape as it was when I was five.  It remained that way for several years.  Then my mom's step mom passed.  This was the first grandparent I really engaged with who moved on, three down.

Things stayed stable though my teens.  Mostly...  Grandma was the next to go.  This was the one I really connected with.  I got a lot from her.  I remember one incident that sealed the deal.  She had a fireplace in her house.  There were pictures of all of her all over the place.  I remember mentioning to her (with my lip poked out) that she didn't have a picture of me up there.  She gave me that "are you effing kidding me?" look.  Then she said something that pretty much meant the same thing.  Then she steered me to the photo albums.  Told me to look though them.  Needless to say after a few moments I felt like a complete jackass.  And never more loved...  Best believe that a couple of years later upon my high school graduation, hers was the first picture I delivered. Four down.

About a year later Grandpa was also gone.  I think he was heartbroken mostly.  He took Grandma's passing, and the circumstances, really hard.  First time I remember seeing him cry.  I will always remember the lesson he taught me about respect and paying attention to what folk say.  Seems he sent me to the store.  Gave me a list of stuff to buy him and I could have the change.  I came back with a half assed order for him and the bounty of the gods for myself.  I think he was a little pissed.  I remember the laughter more.  And that had more of an effect on me.  I will never forget that.  Mostly because he never let me.  Five down.

A couple of years later, my father's father and his wife returned from California.  His health had starting heading south.  As had her memory.  They needed to be cared for, so they came home.  I got to spend a little time talking with him as an adult,  Digging through the stories and history that he had available in his head.  But there was not enough time.  At least I never thought so.  Six down.

His wife was the one where the connection was weakest.  As I said, they were in Cali most of my life.  When the came back she was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's.  By the time of his funeral, her memory was mostly gone.  Pretty much everybody was a stranger to her.  I remember the last couple of conversations we had.  She looked at me with a sad and apologetic look and said "I'm sorry, I don't remember you."  I was slightly taken aback.  Remember, Dad is one of 13.  13 who were fruitful.  So there were a lot to remember.  Even in the best of circumstances, that statement was not unexpected.  So I tried to explain who I was.  We both felt better for the understanding achieved.  The next time I saw her, the conversation started the same as before.  This time I simply replied, "That's okay, I remember you".  Not long after that she joined her husband.  Seven down.

Poppa was the next to leave.  He was a good man, who lived a good life and raised a family.  Can't really remember that man ever having anything bad to say about anybody.  We were always happy to see each other.  My biggest regret is that we didn't have more of each other in our lives.  Eight down.

This leads me to the somewhat deceiving title of this post.  See Poppa passed years ago.  So there has only been one for over a decade.  Big Ma is 93.  Good health and a bit of spunk to boot.  She and my father celebrated their birthdays together and the family showed up.  I still smile when I picture that scene,  She was sitting in the chair by the window.  Somebody asked what she wanted from the store.  She replied that she wanted something to drink.  After folk asking about various soft drinks and juices and getting "no" as a response, somebody (I forget who), said "The hell with all that Big Ma want her a DRINK!"  The very satisfied grin she wore after that pretty much told that tale.  She got her a little cognac for her birthday drink.  Job well done!  I also remember looking at her a couple of times during the event.  She wore a beaming and satisfied smile while the late winter sun beamed down on her through the picture window.  An beautiful day, a good drink and surrounded by family in celebration.  That included my absentee ass...  I have to say her last birthday was a good one.

Today she inspires the writing of this post.  Because of recent events, one may soon be zero.  A couple of weeks ago, she fell and broke her hip.  The doctors said she needed emergency surgery or she wouldn't walk again.  The surgery was successful I guess.  However there were some complications that ended up in her falling into a coma.  I was by dad's house this weekend.  She is there, sleeping.  I stole a quiet moment to hold her hand.  Not believing that after 93 years that her time may have arrived.  Though her end may be soon, her legacy is strong.  And like the others, she shall live on.  In me...

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