Yesterday, October 9, was my Grandma's birthday - my Dad's mom. When we were young, we called her Grandma, but somewhere along the way, we shortened her name to Gram...and she'll always be Gram to me. She grew up in Oklahoma, one of many many kids (I can't remember how many), and during the Dust Bowl, she and her family traveled west and settled in the San Joaquin Valley of California -- just like the Joad family in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Some of her remaining siblings still live in the central valley.
Here is Gram after work one night...check out that cool purse!
Gram and Grandpa have an interesting story. The bottom line is that Grandpa was a hellion, was in the Navy, and somehow found God and Gram, and he became a southern Baptist preacher. I loved going to his church and sitting next to Gram when I was a kid. This is a picture of Gram and Grandpa in 1953, about 16 months after my dad (their oldest) was born.
Gram and Grandpa had two boys, who had fun tormenting their mom, but also loved her deeply. Here are those "boys" with their mama when my dad (on the left) was 18.
Grandpa got cancer and passed away when I was in 4th grade. I remember only sketches from that time. I remember hearing the word cancer. I remember hanging out in the parking lot of Stanford University Hospital in a motorhome while Grandpa had treatments. I remember how skinny he got. And I remember the day that my parents came and pulled me out of 4th grade to tell me Grandpa had died.
I also remember how scared I was to go to the funeral and see him lying in a coffin, but I knew I had to do it. I remember how different their house felt without him there. And I remember how sad Gram was.
My dad was only 32 when this happened - younger than I am now. I have NO idea how he dealt with the death of his father at that age, let alone how he explained it to his 3 kids age 9 and under or how he was able to handle the estate and all of Grandpa and Grandma's affairs. But he did.
Gram moved to our town and lived for a while in an apartment a mile or so from our house. I spent a lot of time riding my bike over to her place where we'd make cookies or chat or watch TV. She eventually bought an AWESOME house a few more miles away. It had a HUGE back yard with trees and a garden and a dog run and a secret hiding path along the back fence. We planted grapes and watermelon and pomegranetes and green beans and figs (yuck!), and we worked in the yard and we had BBQ's and she was still close enough for us to ride our bikes over.
I don't know why this timeline is so hard for me to remember, but it is. Over the next 10 years (it seems like a lot longer than that), my parents and my brother and sister and I moved to Texas, moved back to CA but to another town, Gram moved to Florida to be close to her other grandkids, and then she got cancer. It wasn't diagnosed in a timely fashion...Gram didn't like doctors much, and she ignored some of the symptoms. She went through some treatments, lost her hair, lost tons of weight, and eventually Dad convinced her to move back to CA so he and Mom could help take care of her.
But before she got too sick, I graduated from college, my brother had a baby boy and got married (in that order), and my sister moved to Virginia for college. Gram made it to all of these events. That fall while she was still living in Florida, I flew out to visit, and then we flew up to VA to visit my sister. We couldn't move at the same pace that we had years before, but it was still an awesome trip. While Sis took classes, Gram and I went sightseeing around Virginia. It wasn't long after this trip that Gram's health spiraled downward.
Dad moved her back to CA and into our house with he and Mom. I was living about 3 1/2 hours away, so I came to visit as often as I could. Gram was terminal, and we all knew that we would have to say goodbye shortly. Her time came in June of 1998. Dad says that she passed away peacefully, and all of us had made it home the week before to say final goodbyes when she had been surprisingly alert and coherent. She was 69. She had been a widow for 14 years, but she had been brave and created a new life for herself...and she was finally reunited with Grandpa that June day.
I miss her dearly. It's not every birthday that I think about her and get this sentimental. I don't know if it's pregnancy hormones or knowing that she will not meet my child until we're all in heaven together, but I miss her very much this year. She wasn't able to see me walk down the aisle on my wedding day. She wasn't able to make my wedding cake like she made my parents' cake (I always told her growing up that she had to make a cake for my wedding that was as tall as me!).
As I sit here typing with tears streaming down my face, I am remembering all the fun times we had, and the arguments in her kitchen. I think of all the fun recipes that came straight from her - recipes that my sister and I have to call each other for a couple times a year (what else goes in Orange Julius, Sis?) because we can't remember exactly how it goes (I just made bananas with sour cream and toasted coconut...yum!). I remember how I used to chastise her for going to the grocery store at 3am after she got off her shift at the IRS. I remember the wonderful cards I'd get in the mail from her while I was at college, and the visits when she would drive over to see me at school and take me out to eat or to the grocery store. I remember how strong in her faith and beliefs that she was, and it's because of that that I KNOW I will see her again one day.
I love you, Gram! Happy Birthday!