Friday, August 20, 2010

Has the mail gone?

My Grandma Florence passed away early this morning after 94 years on this earth.

When I was little, I loved going to Grandma and Grandpa's farm in the summertime to spend the night. I remember how Grandpa would have cornflakes for breakfast, and when he finished the cereal, he would swish together the last bit of milk with his coffee and drink it down. Even in the heat of summer, Grandpa wore long pants, long sleeves, and a seed company cap when he went out to farm. I remember running around in the pasture, I remember the musty, earthy smell of the barn and the sound the cows made as they breathed, I remember the sleek German shepherd Tasha who would run full speed straight at me until the very last instant when she would veer off to the side and circle round me. At night time, Tasha would come in to sleep in the "cellar," and Grandpa gave her a cookie before she went to bed. I remember how Grandpa knew the names of all the birds ("Jenny wrens" were what he called a lot of them). I remember going fishing in the creek (pronounced "crick"), and how we'd always throw back what we caught. When I was visiting Grandma and Grandpa at the farm, it was hard to decide whether I wanted to play outside or inside. The bedrooms upstairs, which had belonged to my aunt and mother, were full of interesting things and toys. One of the rooms was where Grandma stored all of Auntie's and Mom's old prom dresses and formals. There was so much chiffon and lovely high-heeled shoes with impossibly pointy toes.

We would always go to the farm on Christmas morning, and there was always snow. There was every kind of food you could imagine, and an old fashioned Christmas tree with multi-colored lights and tinsel and ornaments from when my mom and aunt were little. In the wintertime, the pasture turned into a sledding hill, and Grandpa would push us on the sleds until somebody made us come inside.

Grandma was the root of us all. Pretty much every trait that my mother, sister, aunt, or I possess comes from Grandma. From her, stems our inability to be idle and the feeling that we must always be actively doing something. Grandma was always working, scrubbing, or cooking. There were strawberries and new potatoes to be sliced, sugar cookies to be baked, beans to be snapped, and corn to be husked. There was bread and butter and pie at every meal.

Grandma knew everybody in the county and was probably somehow related to at least half of them. She knew everybody's name and age, who they had married, and all the names and ages of their children. She remembered all of these things well into her 90's. She read the farmer's almanac cover to cover and knew when to plant everything. She always brought gladiolas when she came over to our house in the summer. She never complained about anything. She just rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Grandpa was nearly deaf from before the time I was born, and Grandma became his ears. When Parkinson's began to take hold of Grandpa, Grandma took care of him so well that for a long time we didn't realize how bad it was. When it got too bad and Grandpa could no longer walk or talk, and he didn't seem to recognize any of us anymore, he went to go live at St. Joseph's Nursing Home in Lacon. It was right after Christmas. We all tried to be strong and cheerful and to not cry as we moved him in. Grandma was the strongest one of all. Only once Grandma's voice faltered. As we were getting ready to leave, Grandma told the sweet nurse who was caring for Grandpa, "This is the first night we've ever been apart; the first night in 60 years." Then she kissed him on the forehead, patted his arm, and said, "All right, George, I'll be back in the morning."

And she was. Grandma went to St. Joe's every morning and stayed there by Grandpa's side all day long. She called it her "job." She sold the farm and farmhouse to pay for Grandpa's ever increasing medical bills and his ever decreasing health. She moved into a little apartment in Lacon, just a few blocks away from the home. She never complained. She just did what needed to be done.

She had a certain way of doing things, a way that has trickled down through the generations. When I was little, I remember being frustrated with the way my mother folded the towels because it seemed unnecessarily complicated. Once as I was trying to help with the laundry and just couldn't get the towels folded right, I grumbled to my mother, "Why do you fold the towels this way?" She thought for a second and then said, "Well, that's the way Grammy Florence folded them, I guess." I vowed that I would never fold the towels that way when I grew up. But you know what? I do. I fold them the exact same way.

Grandma had a certain way of saying things too. I didn't quite realize how Grandma's manner of speaking had rubbed off on me until I was 19 and studying abroad in Paris. I was living in international dormitory with many of the other students from my program, and whenever someone had been past the front desk, the rest of us would ask, "Has the mail come?" Except for me. Instead, what I'd ask was, "Has the mail gone?" I didn't realize that was a peculiar way of saying it until some of my friends looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Melissa, mail comes, it doesn't go!" But still, has the mail gone just seemed like the right way to say it, and I kept trying to figure out where I'd gotten it from. Finally, I realized that's what Grandma said. Has the mail gone. The mail goes if you are mailing a letter, and Grandma often was. She wrote to her many friends and relations all throughout the country. She wrote to me too, and at least a couple of times she sent me a care package of my favorite homemade lemon sugar cookies. She always claimed that she didn't add any lemon to them, but they tasted like lemon, so you know she did.

Grandma's health failed little by little, and in fact, we didn't even realize it at first because Grandma had always been so strong that it seemed inconceivable that she would ever falter. But she had a lot of little strokes, each one taking its toll. She also some big strokes and some grand mal seizures. Eventually she went to go live at St. Joe's, where Grandpa had lived some 10 years ago before his passing. Her once sharp mind faded. She couldn't really talk anymore, and when she did, the words were garbled strings of syllables that didn't make much sense.

Grandma may have just left us, but really, she's been gone for a long time now. Because of the way her health deteriorated, it doesn't seem like she was really Grandma in the later years. Instead of how things were at the end, I'll remember her when she and Grandpa still lived at the farm. She would be working in the kitchen, surreptitiously adding lemon to a batch of sugar cookies. Or showing up at our house on an early Saturday morning in the summer with some fresh cut gladiolas.

I'll miss you, Grandma.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful stoy!
God bless your family.

Love, Grandma Barb

Anonymous said...

WOW! well, dearie, you nailed it!!! If grama could read that ,she would laugh!!! You've made me cry and LAUGH at the same time...... THANKS SOOOOOOOOOO MUCH for all the memories you shared,, your grama florence would be SOOOOOOO proud of you and all your achievements, ( IN FACT SHE WAS<< in her own way, she knew!!!!!!!) we all must keep truckin on,and keep those TOWELS folded 'the right way!!!!!and watch for the MAIL TO GO!!!!!!!! we'll get thru this becuz 'it's what we do',, spose there are lemon cookies or cookies with just ONE nut in them baking somewhere now?? luv you , mama

Cathy said...

Melissa, She sounds like a really neat gal, you were Blessed, and my prayers are with you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Mellissa What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady. Yes she wrote letters to me also, always a birthday card on time and when my husband Dean passed 5 1/2 years ago. I received letters of encouragement for weeks and months as I live in Smoot Wyoming now. I so enjoyed my semi annual visits with her when I returned to Illinois. I often would hear her tell how she and George moved my parents from South Bend Indiana to Sparland, Il in 1938 in the farm grain truck. Oh, so many stories I enjoyed so much. She helped me so much when I wrote the record of our family history a few years back. I was at St Joseph's to visit this past May and even though her mind was slipping, she instantly recognized my voice when I visited "Is that you Lucille?" I am so sorry I won't be able to be there for her memorial service but will be there in thoughts and prayers. God Bless You and All of your family. Love Lucille Probyn p.s. my father Raymond McCullough and your Grandma Florence were 1st cousins.

Anonymous said...

Melissa--I'm a friend of your Aunt Marj's, and I knew your Grandma--not well, but well enough to know you certainly did nail it! She was a wonderful person, and people of that generation didn't know how wonderful they were. I'm glad you appreciated all she taught you and that she will be with you forever in your memories.
Marg Colley

Melissa said...

Thanks everybody for all your comments and emails. It is really nice to know how much Grandma Florence meant to everybody

Anonymous said...

Your Mom told me you wrote this about your Grandma and Grandpa, so I came into my computer to read it. Brought tears to my eyes, because, like you, I stayed there many times overnight with your Mom. I remember a lot of the same things that you talked about. One thing I will always remember is hearing your grandma yelling up the stairs on a school morning saying," Nancy and Patsy its time to get up for school". Your Grandma and your Auntie, are the only people ( I think) that called me Patsy. Your Grandma was a special lady, and left us all with some good memories. A beautiful tribute to her, Melissa.

From Pat, or should I say 'Patsy'

Anonymous said...

Dear Melissa,
I so enjoyed your story about Florence. She was such a kind, thoughtful, pleasant woman. She raised your Mom and Aunt Marj well, and I have always thought they were two of the prettiest women I had ever seen. Florence was such a great wife, and I remember seeing her and George sitting in the same spot in church every Sunday. I was quite young when I visited their farmhouse, but can still remember what it looked like. I didn't have a babysitter very often but remember playing there with Troy for one reason or another. Your Grandma loved music and always commented on how well my mom played the organ and sang at church. And your Aunt Marg could really play and sing well, so it was quite a compliment!! God Bless You and Your family, as you celebrate Florence's life.
With heartfelt sympathy,
Lori (Probyn) Smith
Youngest daughter of Lucille Probyn

Anonymous said...

Such wonderful memories in your writing ... DD and I were reminiscing about some of the 'gramma-isms' as we drove to LaPrairie today ... hopefully her strength and ability to handle whatever came her way will continue to be part of all of us ... and as i looked out at the mailbox this afternoon and thought wonder if the mail's gone, i had to chuckle a bit ... thank you so much for posting this ... it is beautiful. Love, Auntie