Tag Archives: grandma

I Wouldn’t Cry At Her Funeral

14 Jul

My neighbor died recently. She was eighty-something widow, mother of two sons, and several grandkids. I didn’t know much beyond that because she was crazy, raving b#&$h.

I recently looked back at one of my posts which talked about discovering people dead in their houses years after they died. Our neighbor Michelle had a stroke and somehow notified the ambulance hours after it happened. She lived alone, went out once a day at 3 pm, watered her plants in the backyard, got in her car, and came back at 4 pm (I’m guessing grocery shopping). She checked her mail occasionally, but otherwise, I didn’t see her.

Frankly, that was fine with me. I hadn’t talked to her in years. In fact, I deliberately went out of my way NOT to talk to her. Our neighborly relationship started off okay; saying hi while passing, mentioning when something was broken. However, it was obvious she was a person who focused on the negative. When I was smoking my pipe in my backyard, she asked me if I could smoke it on the other side. I obliged. But when I was smoking while working on my laptop, she came out and starting watering her plants. She decided to splash me with her hose… with my $2000 laptop on me!

To quote Bugs Bunny, “You realize, this means war.” This lead to escalation between us – passing insults, dumping crap on her windshield – eventually this led to me shouting at her which led to my wife shouting at her. After that, we just agreed, “Screw her. We don’t need her in our life. I smoked on the other side of the backyard and never talked to her again. If we had to communicate to her for some reason, we called her son. Interestingly enough, he came over to our house, introduced himself, and gave us his number… you got the impression he knew who his mother was.

We saw the ambulance; my wife found out from her son she had a stroke. We prayed for her recovery–even though I hated her–but she didn’t make it and died a week later. We didn’t ask to attend her funeral; frankly, I think the neighborhood is a better place without her. I think she had been waiting to die for decades.

I try not to hate anybody, but sometimes, someone just rubs you the wrong way. Michelle was not a person who got along to get along; as far as I could tell, she didn’t talk to anyone outside her family. Certainly no one else visited, apart from repairmen. She could have easily been someone whose body wouldn’t have been discovered for two weeks.

In our neighborhood, there was also one house that was always shuttered up. I mean metal shutters over the windows, signs to tell everyone to stay out, and so many security cameras that it was overkill. It had been that way since we moved in seven years ago. My theory was that it was a snowbird who got too old to travel back and forth (like my grandparents), but never got around to selling it. He must have died because they just recently renovated it and make it really amazing looking. Did his neighbors ever wonder if there was a mummified body in Mr. Paranoid’s house?

My point? Make your platitude your attitude! No… wait, ah, what about “Life is chaos, be kind?” There’s so much hate or reason to be angry in the world – it costs you nothing to be polite. Then maybe people will come to your funeral; maybe people will wonder where you are.

Grandparents and Strawberries

21 May

He was a farmer, a fisherman, an ice harvester, and a gin runner… but by the time I met Chester, my great-grandfather, he was an old man who liked to make jokes, lived in the house he built, and loved his kids. And in his 80’s, he still grew a field of strawberries.

I was lucky in the fact that I remember six of my great-grandparents. Chester is probably the most colorful of them all. All eight were farmers; all of them moved away from their parents and bought their own farm. I didn’t know his wife, my great-grandma Helen, because she was 5 when she died of cancer. We were living in Kansas at the time, and I don’t remember going to her funeral, so if my mom went, I wouldn’t know.

That branch of the family is the most settled out of all the clans. The Crosses moved out to Illinois in the 1850’s and as their kids grew up, married, and farmed themselves, they only spread out in a eighty-mile radius. Not an easy visit, but completely do-able from the histories I’ve read at the time. When I went to visit Cordova, I found I accidently ran into my fourth cousin! I make a big deal about this because every other branch of my family moved to hell and gone away from their family. I don’t think this was on purpose–it’s just where the affordable land was.

My family didn’t tell stories of how Chester and Helen got together, but they did, and settled on land right on the Mississippi River. It wasn’t the best place to farm; it would flood every five to ten years. Even the nearby city dikes weren’t built until the “hundred year flood” back in 1965. (I once filled sandbags at that property.) They were poor… really dirt poor, and he had three daughters, one of which was my grandma. During the Great Depression, she told us kids about the time when they made biscuits, but cheese was expensive, so they would hide a bit of cheese in one of the biscuits and it was a game to see who got the cheesy biscuit. That was the treat.

When you’re a poor farmer, you do what you can to get by. During the winter, he would join the gangs of men who would chop ice blocks out of the Mississippi River. Before refrigeration, insulated ice boxes were what you used to keep your food in, and that required harvesting and storing ice in ice houses for the rest of the year. Going to the ice house during the summer was a big deal, especially in places like Texas, but Illinois can be just as humid.

He was also known to do a little petty theft here and there. He probably helped run booze during Prohibition across the river, but he didn’t talk much about it. Chester was always great with a joke and loved to laugh. His three daughters married well–my grandma was the oldest and became a farmer’s wife… until they couldn’t afford to farm any more, and became a factory secretary. My great-aunt Doris married the publisher of the local paper, so she did well, but made the grievous faux-pax of marrying a Dutchman. (gasp) They built a house right next to her dad and hated every minute of her country estate living right next to a moldy old shack. But she watched out for her dad in his old age, but tore that place down the week after he was buried. The third daughter, great-aunt Nancy, had the misfortune of outliving four husbands… she’s still alive and living in a nursing home in my hometown.

Chester didn’t have much, but he loved his family, and did everything he could with what he had… even if it wasn’t legal. But I remember him taking us out to the strawberry fields, looking at Helen’s collection of spoons and tchotchkes, and being fascinated by what an older man could see in his great-grandson. I hope you have some good memories of your great-grandparents; share them in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

Double Vision in your Hometown

14 Aug

Going back to your hometown is like having double vision; you see things the way they are and the way they were at the same time. Now add wind storm damage, lack of power, a pandemic, and a funeral.

So I grew up in Morrison from 7 to 17, and lived off and on between college and jobs until I was 23. So it’s been twenty years away from this place; you don’t really appreciate it until you leave. I had such a case of wanderlust that it never occurred to me to stay. Now I wish I could go back, but time and circumstance make that very difficult… And may never happen.

But I got to show my son around and tell him all the fun stories about growing up here. Showed him the park, the old factory, my old homes… Actually found the school buildings open so a quick look at the high school, middle school, and elementary schools I went to was interesting. Most of them still have the 1960s shell, but have either been renovated or added on to. Even found a door open to the auditorium, so I could show him the massive (for the town) stage that we had… And that spoke to his little theater geek heart.

The funeral was nice and weird. Got to show Asher the church I grew up at which has a lot of really cool stuff and secret places. Even played some ping pong; the boy really wanted to go back. We were all masked in the sanctuary, we didn’t sing the hymns, but the preacher was great. Then we drove to the cemetery and interred her there. Then I dragged him around to visit my mom’s grave, my grandpa’s, my good friend’s, and my brother’s.

And that’s probably the reason I don’t come back very often. Most of the folks I knew are gone. When you move around as much as I did, you realize that it’s not the places you miss as much as the people. So when my mom died in 1993, followed by my brother is 1996, I had less and less incentive to return. My cousin still lives here, and he’s wonderful, but my uncles and aunts are spread out more. There’s always an excuse not to come.

The preacher said that she really didn’t know my grandma that well (he arrived 14 years ago and she became less and less talkative after grandpa died 12 years ago), but he knew who she was because he knew her kids and family. That was a great tribute. The family loves readily, laughs easily, helps out others, slow to anger, and slow to forgive… and that came all from my grandma. Not perfect, but wonderful, and with six children, fourteen grandchildren, and 22 great grandchildren to show for it.

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