In a sad and odd bit of synchronicity, Grannie, my last remaining grandparent, passed away around the same time I was driving out of Saratoga Springs last week. She was in her 80’s and had been increasingly ill over the last several months, so this was not really unexpected, but we were all hoping she might rally. It’s pretty scary to see how quickly things can go south in the elderly – I used to joke about Grannie being built like a tank, and it was only a few months ago that she and I drove down to New York together. She was in great shape at the time, still completely on top of her game mentally and no signs of infirmity physically – in fact she spent a week in august with my mother during that trip working on an elaborate backyard garden they were giving to my sister as a wedding gift. Given how badly things can go towards the end of life (Grannies’ mother, for example, spent somewhere around 10 years institutionalized with alzheimer’s) I think Grannies’ passing came pretty close to the best that one could hope for compared to the horrors one can end up with, and I’m glad for her in that regard.
Grannie was my first child care after my sister and I emerged from the hazy wilds of Canada and my mother’s stewardship, and she had a profound impact on my early upbringing. She was a pretty strict task master and didn’t have much patience for my nonsense, but she was not an unkind woman and she had a great sense of humor and liked to laugh. I can’t recall her ever having to physically correct me, despite her being from a generation where that was common. With Grannie it was the sharp tongue and an assurance that my folks would hear about whatever I’d done (and given that my dad had few compunctions about physical correction back then, this was something to be concerned about ;-).
She loved to garden and each of her houses (3 of which I can remember fairly clearly and 1 I’m a little hazy on) were surrounded by elaborate and carefully tended gardens, including her last house. When I was a kid monkeying in and about those gardens was cause for trouble and so of course it was something I liked to do, little imp that I was.
Grannie was equally interested in interior decorating and she spent tons of time on projects. If I had to characterize her tastes I think (not being a student of design, mind you) that I’d say Quaker was her cup of tea – she favored somewhat austere, uncluttered rooms and simple furniture.
Grannie was an avid reader and I discovered to my pleasant surprise that we shared some common tastes – she read a lot of history and was also fond of some of the historical fiction I also enjoy and we had read quite a bit of the same stuff. She was also pretty interested in politics and spent a lot of her time watching cspan. She was a liberal and had nothing good to say about the Bush regime.
My grandfather died while I was in High School and Grannie spent roughly 20 years as a widow. My uncle John lived with her for a good bit of that time, both while she was still on Long Island and then after she moved upstate to be close to my Aunt Melissa’s family. For a lot of those years she took care of children, both the various progeny of her extended family, and (I’m pretty sure) kids she took care of just because she enjoyed children (and possibly for the income too, I’m not really sure about that). While I lament the fact that my grandfather passed relatively early compared to Grannie, I also think it was one of the cooler aspects of her life – she basically got to be her own gal and pursue her interests for 20 years of her life. Not many of us can say that, and if she missed Arthur in the beginning, certainly by the time I got out of college she seemed to be enjoying herself.
One of the coolest things about moving to Saratoga Springs a couple of years ago was reconnecting with family I hadn’t seen much (if anything) of in years. I’m not much of a socializer so it wasn’t like I spent a ton of time hanging around with Grannie, but I did get to go on a couple of long car rides to NY with her, including one where it was just the two of us and she related a bunch of stories from her early life at my prodding. This was stuff I had never known and I’m glad now that I got to spend that time with her before she passed.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life was during the funeral of my Grandfather Fisher shortly after I graduated from college. I was the only young male in that branch of the family (my mother’s family had only girls, and they in turn had only girls aside from me) and so it passed to me to stand with my Grandmother when they closed the casket. To say she was distraught is to do the word a disservice – my Grandmother Fisher had known my Grandfather since she was in elementary school, and they had been married for over 50 years. She did not want them to close the casket and she was close to losing it, and I sat there trying to think how to help her walk away from that. What I ended up saying was that as hard as it was to accept it, he really wasn’t gone, that Dick lived on in our memories and in the stories we’d tell of him and the smile and impish sense of humor that we’d remember. I don’t flatter myself so much to think that what I was saying to her at the time was what helped her turn her back on his remains – if anything it had more to do with a soothing voice and an offer of comfort – but I’m not a religious guy and I really do believe that, and I’ve tried ever since to make sure I try and honor that by telling my favorite stories to people I know of the loved ones and friends I’ve lost over the years. This post is my first pass on doing that now for Grannie. I have a few others socked away that I’ll relate on here as time passes.
I’m ashamed to observe that I have no pictures of Grannie in my gallery – I actually did have quite a few, but they were all from a visit Lisa, Samantha and I made to Long Island some years ago when Grannie happened to be there visiting my mom, and I ditched the Lisa galleries some time after we split up. The Grannie pictures went with them. I’ll dig through my archives and get some posted over the next few days.