Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Another Goodbye

Every year at Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa visited. They drove out to LA in their RV, bearing cookies and gifts. Chocolate Refrigerator Cookies, Sugar Cookies, Shortbread, Melt-a-Weighs. And a big tin of flavored popcorn for everyone, and a fresh deck of pinochle cards for each kid, and some kind of polished stone from their winter home in Quartzsite, Arizona. An ornament, usually handmade, sometimes by Grandpa himself. Grandpa had a video camera and documented the unwrapping of presents. Grandma, in the evening, sat at Daddy's upright piano and played carols, singing along, inviting the rest of us to join in as we pleased. As she got older, Daddy played more of the carols, but Grandma always sat near the piano as he did, and sang along with him.

After Christmas, we'd all pile into the car and follow them back to Quartzsite, where we'd spend a day or two wandering the swap meets, enjoying all the Christmas lights and decorations in the RV camp full of other retired grandparents enjoying a warmish winter.

The other time of year I always got to see Grandma and Grandpa was early Autumn. They were both retired, and spent a good part of the year, driving around the continental U.S., dropping in on their scattered children and grandchildren to say hello. They usually made it to Virginia in early Autumn, where they would pick my sister and me up and take us out to dinner at the Western Sizzlin', or another similar buffet-style restaurant. Grandpa had his camera in tow, and Grandma had photographs of the rest of the family to show us.

Every year on my birthday I received a card from my grandmother with a one dollar bill enclosed. And when she sent letters, they were written on a typewriter, neat and polite.

They were big card players, my grandparents. Pinochle was the preferred game, but if only poker cards were handy, Kings in the Corner was just fine. In partners pinochle, they were always a team. Grandma took tricks like she did most things, quietly and simply. Grandpa would slap a card down with a triumphant "Ha!" enjoying any surprise he could pull. If there were no group card games to play, they were also content with a bit of solitaire.

A child of the Depression, Grandma learned to save everything. Old margarine tubs were good containers for any number of things. Presents came packaged in old boxes of Velveeta cheese. Every ounce of flour or sugar was consolidated in tupperwares, saved for the future.

For Grandma and Grandpa's 50th wedding anniversary, they decided to turn it into a sort of family reunion. It was the first (and for most of them, only) time I met my cousins on Daddy's side of the family. Daddy turned our journey up there into a summer-long camping roadtrip, with stops at Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and a nod at Rushmore. Uncle Dave's kids were already living in town, but the rest of us piled into the house Grandpa had built himself decades earlier - the girls taking the attic room where Daddy and his three brothers had grown up, the boys couched in the basement. We read Edgar Allan Poe stories in the dark and scared ourselves silly, and played epic games of Pinochle and Egyptian Rat Screw (for the purposes of not offending Grandma and Grandpa, we called it "Egyptian Slap" whilst in Grand Forks).

Grandma and Grandpa were a matched set, making it impossible for you to think of one without the other. They were married for 58 years before Grandpa passed away on Thanksgiving, 2004, in Daddy's house. That Christmas, we helped Grandma pack up the RV plot in Quartzsite - she wouldn't be going back there. None of us had quite realized how co-dependent Grandma and Grandpa were, I think, until we saw how quickly Grandma deteriorated afterward. We had one more Christmas after that, maybe two, where she flew down to spend it at Daddy's house in LA, but after that, she stopped traveling. It is hard to think about Grandma these past five years. She hasn't really been there, at least not in a way we could tell. I hadn't seen her since that last visit, but her children made it a point to gather in Grand Forks once a year after that, to see her, to check in with each other.

Every death is the first death. Every death is a new death. It's a strange grief I feel today. I am sadder than I would have thought. I don't mean that to sound callous -  but we said goodbye to Grandma years ago. And we say goodbye to her again now. I miss the sweet woman with the gentle smile, the bird-like voice. I miss my Grandma, the quietly content woman who so clearly loved her husband, her children, her grandchildren, who was glad to say hello, to listen to your story, and to tell her own.

Margaret & Ronald Knapp

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