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 Post subject: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun , 2009 3:37 pm 
The Grey Amaretto as Supermega-awesome Proud Heretic Girl
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Before the viewing, we drove by the house. Even though I’ve been at Grandma’s house many times as an adult, there’s always that initial moment when I’m startled by how much smaller it seems now than it did when I was a child. It’s actually a normal-sized, 50s-style house on a pretty street bordering the Black River gorge. One side of the street is Elyria; the other side is Sheffield Township, which means it’s long distance to call across the street. I always thought that was so weird as a child. Grandma and her neighbor rigged up an intercom system, so they wouldn’t have to spend money on phone calls. I thought that was smart and clever, especially back in the early 80s. In any case, the houses on the Elyria side border the Black River and supposedly have an enormous cliff drop-off to the river below (about a 100 feet or more). I say “supposedly” because no one would ever let me go over there to see for myself.

But Grandma and Grandpa’s large and heavily treed yard, on the Sheffield Township side, bordered a field and abandoned train tracks. Violets bloomed in profusion beneath an enormous tree in the back corner of the yard. If you walked through the hedge, you were in a farmer’s field. I liked to do that—to go from the seclusion of the wooded yard, dark and cool, to the open space of the sunny field, surrounded by tall cornstalks. Coming back into Grandma and Grandpa’s backyard, it had a bit of a secret garden feel to it.

There was no hidden door, of course, but there was a garden. Grandpa always kept a large garden full of vegetables with flowers growing everywhere, too; I loved the tall, purple irises with their sweet, subtle fragrance, and the exuberant pink peonies that lined the driveway in the front yard. The heavy, purple clusters of the wisteria growing on the trellis would brush your head as you walked underneath it.

The flowers at the funeral home were elegant and beautiful. Pink and white roses, mostly. Grandma would have appreciated that very much. She was an elegant lady. I always thought that about her. She dressed well, smelled expensive, and was always reminding me, “A lady doesn’t do that, Mary Beth.” (I liked to whistle. Apparently, ladies don’t whistle. And I climbed trees and played in the dirt. Ladies don’t do those things either.) She taught me about china and silver and the proper way to wash and dry them. She had Waterford crystal and Hummels. She had sparkly diamonds and lustrous pearls, though I don’t believe my grandparents were the least bit rich—just richer than us! And they worked hard for everything they had.

Grandpa worked at Jack Knight Dry Cleaners. Grandma worked in Higbee’s Department Store, selling carpet. That doesn’t necessarily sound glamorous, but Grandma made it glamorous. We would visit her sometimes, in awe of the fine things for sale in Higbee’s. (We shopped at Gold Circle and Hill’s—the Wal-marts of the time.) We would travel up the escalator, my heart always catching in my throat as I tried to find the right time to step onto it, hoping I wouldn’t get snagged and caught. Stepping off always made me nervous, too.

But Grandma would be there in the carpet department, looking regal. My brother and I would be allowed to play (quietly and calmly, mind you) in the giant carpets hanging from the ceiling. It was a forest of rugs, their new smell forever captured in my mind as belonging to Grandma. It was dark and mysterious, between the Orientals.

A few times I got to go with them when Grandma went to measure for carpet. At that time, Grandma didn’t drive, so Grandpa drove her everywhere. I would sit in the front seat while Grandma was inside measuring for carpet, and I’d play with the compass Grandpa had on the dashboard and talk his ear off. Grandpa was a great listener. Later, when I grew up, I discovered that Grandma had measured for carpet in houses all over Ohio. It became our joke. I’d mention somewhere new I’d gone, and then say, “Did you measure for carpet there, Grandma?” Most of the time, she had!

Spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s was a huge treat. Grandpa spoiled me awfully! I loved it! Grandma was less demonstrative, but I think she spoiled me in her own way. I got to sleep in her bed—the pink and white room. It was perfect and neat, orderly and clean. Out of her high window, I could see the sky and the tops of a few trees. Her jewelry sparkled on her dresser, and I loved the little, yellow plaid Scottie dog that served as her doorstop.

Sometimes, during those overnights, Grandma and Grandpa would argue—fiercely! Grandpa would finally grumble and go outside to smoke a cigarette. Grandma was devastated when Grandpa died, so I really do think they loved each other despite the arguments.

We traveled to my beloved Lake Erie before the visitation. Perhaps I was hoping that filling my soul with its beauty would sustain me for the upcoming ordeal of a viewing and funeral. I’ve always used the Lake as a source of comfort and serenity. I would drive out to my favorite beach as a teenager or young adult and walk out to the end of “my” pier to sit and think. Sometimes, I’d be there at night, when all you could see were the lights of far-off Cleveland and the moon spilling across the waves. Of all the things in northern Ohio that I miss, I think the Lake is the one I miss the most. It is my wellspring.

Grandma and Grandpa were both first generation Americans—not at all uncommon in Lorain, Ohio. Its nickname is the “International City” for the number of immigrants who flocked to its steel mills at the beginning of the 20th century. Grandpa’s parents came over from Germany; Grandma’s parents came over from Hungary.

Grandma used to like to tell this story about her parents. Her parents both grew up in the village of Dusnok on the Pest side of Budapest. When her mother was a little girl of 9, she and some other children were throwing rocks at passing carriages. One young man of 19 stopped, looked directly at her, and said, “Beware, little girl! Someday I will marry you!” Of course, it wouldn’t be a good story if he hadn’t spoken the prophetic truth!

Eventually, that young man, Isteven Hodovan, left for America, in part to escape a cruel stepmother. He worked nights in the steel mills of Lorain. Eva’s grandfather, who often traveled to America to earn money, decided to play matchmaker, and he sent for Eva to come to America, with the assurance that she did not have to marry Isteven if she didn’t want to. Eva Kathleen Bolvari traveled alone, in steerage with the other immigrants, though the other women kept an eye on her to “protect her innocence.” Eva spoke 7 languages and arrived in America on July 14, 1912. She married Isteven one month later; he was 30, and she was almost 20 years old.

Grandma was the second oldest. Though she had two brothers (and a few that died in infancy), I only knew Grandma and her two sisters, Goldie (the oldest) and Eve (the baby of the family). A few years ago, I somehow ended up with Grandma’s diary from when she was a young adult. It was fascinating to read and get to know my Grandma as a normal 19 year-old. She worked hard as a cook at the Smythes’ home on affluent Washington Street in Elyria. She studied to be a secretary. She dated boys. They kissed and made out! She partied with her friends.

Of course, I only knew my Grandma as the wife, mother, and grandmother she became. She married John Lindner in 1939, his ice blue eyes, sandy brown hair, and fair skin in contrast to her black, curly hair, snapping, brown eyes, and light olive skin. My dad was born a little over a year later; my aunt was born five years after that. My dad resembles my grandma while my aunt resembles my grandpa. Appropriately, if a bit oddly, it was my aunt who was named after my grandpa instead of my dad. It suits her, though.

The ladies from the Altar and Rosary Society were at the funeral home when we got there. Grandma had her favorite rosary placed in her hand, one her priest had brought back to her from a pilgrimage to Ireland. When the priest arrived at the viewing, they all settled in to say the rosary for her. My aunt asked me to sit next to her. I had packed my grandpa’s rosary but had forgotten it back at the hotel room; Johnna offered to take the rosary out of Grandma’s hand for me to use. I politely declined. I could recite the words without one anyway.

One of the biggest treats for me as a child was to go to Mass with them. What a deep and lasting impression this has had on my life! I loved everything about Mass. It was so different than my little Southern Baptist church filled with transplants from West Virginia (and a few of us Ohioans)! There was nothing mysterious in my church, no ceremony, no majesty—just straightforward hellfire and damnation as well as love and grace. Simple. Honest. Emotional. Plain. That was my church. (And I don’t mean to give the impression that it was bad somehow, because it wasn’t. It was just very different.)

My soul, however, thrilled to the majesty and mystery of the Catholic Church. Grandma’s church was a beautiful building, old, with high ceilings and beauty everywhere: statues of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, statues of St. Vincent de Paul and other saints I didn’t know at the time. The smells of incense filled my senses, and though I didn’t understand hardly anything that went on, I was fascinated by it. (Perhaps that’s why I was fascinated by it.) Kneel, sit, stand, recite words I didn’t know—I wanted to understand it all. I peppered Grandma with questions: What was the bowl of water by the door for? What was this pull down bench thing for? Why are you holding that pretty necklace thing? Why is the preacher holding up the round, white thing? Why can’t I go up and eat the round thing? What were those little clips on the back of the pew for? (The answer to the last question is profound—it was a clip for hanging up your gloves or mittens!)

I was so glad when my best friend from grade school showed up at the funeral Mass. I had also been so happy to see some of our friends at the visitation the previous evening. When I realized it was Kathy walking toward me outside of the church, I got choked up. I was glad to have her by my side; Craig was a pallbearer and was carrying the white and pink casket up the steps into the church.

I’m sad that my girls didn’t know Grandma when she was still active, working at the church, going on trips, working for the Red Cross, reading to the children at her church’s school. When I asked them what they remember about Grandma, they said “her green carpet” and “the candy bowl she always had filled with candy.” Funny. When my grandma’s neighbor girls told me what they remembered about going to visit her, they said “the green carpet” and “the candy bowl she always had filled with candy.”

I always thought that she had softened up in her older years. She would kiss my girls’ cheeks and love on them. I don’t remember her doing that to me, though I do remember always kissing her (both cheeks, the European way) whenever I visited.

Growing up, the contrast between my dad’s family and my mom’s family was pretty drastic. My mom’s family comes from the South. My dad’s family was very Northern. At Grandma’s, we always had fine china, crystal, silver, wine, and hors d’oeuvres. It was reserved and refined (in my eyes anyway!). Mom’s family was much more relaxed. And I had cousins to play with when we all got together. I had no cousins on my dad’s side. Neither was better than the other—just both very different. However, the one thing they both had in common was good food.

We left from the church with the incense clinging to our clothes. I found its fragrance comforting. The priest had known Grandma and had delivered a lovely eulogy. It was just a short drive to the cemetery. Grandma and Grandpa have a lovely site under some shady trees. The words were short at the graveside. We placed some of the white and pink roses on the casket, some people quietly sobbing. It was beautiful in a morbid sort of way; I thought of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her roses from heaven.

Her last 5 years or so were very difficult. So often, she’d say that she simply wanted to go “home” to see Johnny and her parents. She told me a dream she had once, of being back in the shop. (She and Grandpa ran an ice cream shop for a while.) The shop was filled with all of her loved ones—her mom, her dad, her brothers, Johnny, and one of her teachers. The teacher walked up to her and held out his hand. “Follow me, Mary.” She began to follow him, up the stairs. Then she woke up. She said to me, “I just wanted to go up the stairs, Mary Beth.” It broke my heart.

Her mind began to drift probably about 10 years ago. She began talking of the little boy in blue who was mischievous and hid in the walls. There were also the little girls who hid behind the curtains and kept her company. In the next breath, she’d be perfectly lucid. It was hard to watch. Which is worse—a deteriorating mind or a deteriorating body?

I remember when my other grandma was dying of cancer—of being torn between not wanting her to die but wanting her to die. Her pain was so great, that I couldn’t stand to see her suffer. Grandma was at that point. I wanted her suffering to end as peacefully as possible, though I was heartbroken to see her go.

More talented writers than I have expounded on death and dying. All I can add to their chorus of voices is an echo that affirms the feeling you experience of losing a piece of your childhood. It’s a strong reminder of your own mortality—a specter that haunts your thoughts. “You’ll be gone someday, too.”

We headed back to the church afterwards. The ladies had prepared a nice meal for us. I looked around at the faces—old neighbors of Grandma’s that I’d probably never see again, family I hadn’t seen in years or even decades. Some relationships were broken, and their pain grated against the rawness of my already hurting heart.

But we went back to my aunt’s after the meal and sat in the sunshine and talked. The kids played in the grass. We admired the flower arrangements and shared stories, moving our chairs as the sun shifted between the trees. It wasn’t a bad metaphor, really. Life is full of shadows, and you just have to keep seeking out the light.

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun , 2009 4:18 pm 
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That's lovely, Lalaith. Your grandma meant a lot to you, I know, and if she could read that she would be very proud and glad to be remembered in that way. :hug:

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun , 2009 5:20 pm 
The Grey Amaretto as Supermega-awesome Proud Heretic Girl
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:hug: Thank you!

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun , 2009 5:22 pm 
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That was really nice, Lali. :hug:

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun , 2009 8:58 pm 
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Achingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing Lali.

:hug:

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun , 2009 10:36 pm 
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That's very beautiful, Lali!

I have a book of Lynn Johnson's cartoons (For Better or For Worse) called Sunshine and Shadow. (I have most of her books, including one that's autographed.) The book includes the strips where Elly's mom passes away from cancer. The title is from the strip where Elly's daughters are talking about death. Liz tells April, the younger girl, that you can't always be happy, and sad things happen: "It seems you can't have one thing without the other. Happy and sad are like...well, sunshine and shadow."

Wise beyond her years, April replies, "And Grandma was sunshine!"

May your memories of Grandma always be sunshine to your heart! :hug:

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Lies the seed, that with the sun's love, in the spring becomes The Rose[/size]


Last edited by Sunsilver on Fri 19 Jun , 2009 8:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Fri 19 Jun , 2009 3:28 am 
The Grey Amaretto as Supermega-awesome Proud Heretic Girl
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Thank you, tinwe and Sunny. :hug: That is really poignant, Sunny.

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Fri 19 Jun , 2009 3:40 pm 
Lali, I am blessed to be your husband and blessed to have known grandma. Thank you for sharing this with everyone.


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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Sun 21 Jun , 2009 1:16 am 
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Very Beautiful Lali.

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 Post subject: Re: Memories of Grandma
PostPosted: Sun 21 Jun , 2009 2:08 am 
The Grey Amaretto as Supermega-awesome Proud Heretic Girl
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Thank you, guys. :kiss:

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