Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Bitter and Sweet (05/28/09)
TITLE: Two Grandmothers
By Nancy Higginson
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My paternal grandmother lived in Utah. My grandfather died of a heart attack the same day they lost one of their grandchildren. Her second husband died when I was too young to have any clear memories of him. She raised four children during the depression. About once a year, grandma came to stay with us. She would make scones, rice pudding, fried eggs on rafts. She would tell stories, passed down, of pioneers crossing the prairie with their handcarts. Sometimes we would go to Salt Lake City to visit her. The real pleasure was visiting her alone. We would go eat Chinese food, shop thrift stores, take a taxi to see old movies. We would go to church and to Temple Square. Grandma loved life, she loved people. She had 25 grandchildren, though not all of us carried her blood, we were all loved. Grandma met my husband for the first time on our wedding day. She introduced herself to him saying; “I’m your Grandma Reader”, she did not say she was my grandma, but his. In all my times with her I only heard her say an unkind thing about one person, ever, my dad’s first wife. Grandma Reader was a large woman, she had a large heart and a real love of life. Late in life she traveled with her sister, climbing the pyramids in Mexico and taking cruises.
My Grandma Reader lived on her own up into her nineties. When in her early nineties she suffered a stroke, my parents began the process to carry out her final wishes. But she shocked us all by making a 95% recovery. She continued to live on her own for a few more years. When the time finally came for her to move into a nursing home she did so with the joy of meeting new people. Then, just a few weeks after moving in, my mom called to tell me my grandma was gone. She had simply dropped dead on her way to the dining room for lunch. Grandma Reader was ninety-five years old. I did not really mourn her passing. Grandma had, for all her early hardships, led a full and happy life. I could continue to fill page after page of happy memories, stories shared. Lillian Reader was one of the sweetest people I have ever met.
My maternal grandmother and grandfather lived in the same state as we did when I was growing up. About once a year we would make the long drive up to northern California to spend a little time with them. They managed a trailer park and grandma worked, I think as a book keeper, when I was younger. Grandpa would take my brother fishing sometimes, but that was for the boys, never the girls. Grandma didn’t share anything of herself with us as we were growing up. Even when they moved to southern California when I was an adult there was no real connection. I moved in right next to them early in my marriage, with the idea that I would be close should any emergency arise. At first, I visited regularly. But slowly the visits became fewer and far between. Every visit seemed to consist of complaints about my siblings, my cousins, my grandfather and, sometimes, even my children. I couldn’t help but wonder what was said about me when other family visited. After my grandfather passed away my visits to my grandmother became almost non-existent. If my mother was visiting I might pop in for a little bit, but I rarely saw her alone. My grandmother became ill, emphysema and congestive heart failure, and could no longer live alone. She had always been a small woman and now seemed impossibly frail and empty.
My grandmother slowly wasted away in a nursing home. At this point I lived in another state and didn’t visit in her last days. The call to tell me of her passing came as no surprise. The real surprise was the pain I felt with her passing. There were no happy memories, only the memories of her bitterness. I felt such emptiness, the loss of what could have been and now never would be. I would not have thought I could miss that bitter old woman. Yet, we need the bitterness in life to make us truly appreciate the sweet.
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