98 YEARS OF ELIZABETH

We celebrated my maternal grandmother’s 98th birthday the weekend before last. She has been in an assisted living home for… I’m not certain how many years now. Toward the end of that week, she suffered a minor heart attack and was also diagnosed with pneumonia. Not good news.

I was asked by my aunt to go to the hospital one day to sit with her while my aunt ran some errands. While there I decided the medical profession was a joke and that there’s nothing more disturbing than watching a 98-year-old attempt to consume water in the form of a gel. Unless it’s that same 98-year-old trying to consume soup in the form of a gel.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see the sense in denying a 98-year-old anything she wants. She’s earned it. Especially since she still had the good sense to push it away and say, “Yuck.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Within a few more days she was asking for her clothes so she could go home.

As requested, Grandmother returned to her room at the assisted living home earlier this week and was placed in the care of hospice. She would rally for short periods of time, then be unresponsive. On Thursday afternoon, she passed away under the loving watch of her three children.

These are a few of my favorite Grandmother moments remembered over the past week.

The neighborhood where she lived for many years after my Grandfather’s death definitely took a turn for the worse. Regardless, she insisted on wearing her fur coat and sparkly jewelry to go grocery shopping, despite our warnings that she was going to be conked on the head and stripped of that mink.

One of my earliest memories was of being at Grandmother and Grandaddy’s house – I must have been maybe three or four years old. Instead of a snack of popcorn or potato chips, I recall wandering about the house, a thick red parfait glass filled with little cold cocktail shrimp in my hands. It seemed perfectly normal at the time. So, thanks, Grandmother, for introducing me to shrimp cocktail as early as possible.

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I remember holidays at the house where my mom, aunt and uncle were raised. The dining room was adjacent to the large kitchen and it seemed Grandmother would sit for possibly 10 seconds before someone asked for something, or she wanted to check on something and up she’d pop. I doubt that she ever ate a warm meal. In fact, during the dawn of the home video camera, my uncle set up a tripod and camera at the far end of the room so we could play the video back and show Grandmother how often she was popping up and down.

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Speaking of holidays, I also remember all the women in that kitchen, peeling potatoes, mixing the stuffing, stopping then unstopping the kitchen sink… Drinking wine or Cold Duck. At halftime, everyone would head to the front yard where a family football game was played. What we lacked in style we made up for in enthusiasm.

What else? Jewelry. Desserts. The time she became a gun owner and we were all afraid to approach the house and absolutely certain the mailman was going to meet his maker. The dark, dark hair she insisted on maintaining until the very end. The outrageous things she’d say. “He’s as dumb and blank as any old billy goat you ever tried to talk to.” I also remember the unfortunate thing she said at my wedding shower that resulted in all my friends standing in unison and making their way to the bar where they stifled laughter and thrilled at the ribbing they were going to give me once we were unsupervised. Then there was the late-in-life introduction to chocolate liqueur.

Complaining. Lord, could she complain! I was quite young when I learned that if we went to a restaurant with Grandmother, a change of tables (at least once) was inevitable.

“There’s cold air blowing down my neck,” Grandmother would say as she eyed the ceiling.

“Would you like to move?” We would ask.

“No, no,” she’d delicately shiver and adjust her chair.

“We can move. It’s okay.” Everyone at the table was suddenly in dire need of flagging down the waiter before the situation escalated.

“No. It’s fine here.” She would insist.

Even though we knew better, we would wait the prerequisite 5 minutes.

Grandmother would suddenly cringe and look toward the ceiling. “I think we are right under the speaker. I can’t hear anything over that terrible music.”

Frantically, we would spin in our chairs as though the restaurant was on fire and we needed to spot an exit.

“We should move,” someone would insist again, rising half way out of their chair.

“No, no. Maybe if they could just turn down the music. And the air.”

Eventually, a move would take place. Within minutes though, it was clear we were now near a loud group, were too close to the kitchen, in a busy pathway, or the table was sticky and/or wet. I felt pity for the nervously trembling waiter who was so intimidated he could no longer manage to pour a glass of water for her without it overflowing. Nor could he deliver a basket of warm bread to the table. All of these flaws would be sighed over and commented upon with a sad shake of her head. Not directly said to the waiter, mind you, but to her table mates, in the presence of the waiter, as though he didn’t exist or was stone deaf.

Good times. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until now.

She was beautiful. She was caring. She liked things that sparkled. She preferred Cold Duck to Moët Chandon. She delighted in saying outrageous things and pretending she had no idea why we were all reacting the way we were. She liked to stir things up. She suffered years of sleepless nights as she worried about every single one of her children and grandchildren (not to mention their spouses), whether they needed worrying about or not.

She was the child of dirt farmers, married a good, hard-working man, then found herself circling the dance floor of the Country Club and behind the wheel of a new Cadillac every year. Often yellow.

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She was loved. She was feared. She was a handful.

She was The Grandmother.

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THANKSGIVING RESERVATIONS

Today’s LetsBlogOff topic is about Thanksgiving and food. 

I was having a really hard time coming up with anything particularly unique about our Thanksgiving, until last night, when this year’s got canceled.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. Actually, it’s only canceled for my mother, who fell and broke her pelvis during game 6 of the World Series. I know it was Game 6 because having lived almost my whole life in Dallas, with a baseball team that was a major joke for years, Game 6 nearly killed me. I also know that when I got the call from my stepfather at the hospital, part of me was really depressed that I was going to have to head to the emergency room and miss the end of the game. (I know. I know. I’m ashamed and going to hell. I know.)

However, as it turned out, we were told NOT to come to the hospital. I talked to her on the phone briefly as the sedation was kicking in and got to stay home to watch the end of the game. And that’s when God smited me for my insensitivity by making it impossible for the Rangers to get ONE OUT. ONE LOUSY OUT… 

 

Sorry. Back to Thanksgiving. We don’t do anything terribly exciting. No cooking all night. No days and days of baking. We used to go to Grandmother’s, (who probably DID cook all night) but once she sold the house, the gathering became more of a moveable feast  – every year at someone else’s home.  The most memorable thing about Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s was not the food so much – though the dressing was AMAZING, but the fact that she jumped up from the table to run into the kitchen for some forgotten item so often we actually videotaped her end of the table one year so we could show her what she was doing.  I don’t know what on earth was so important in the kitchen that kept her popping up and down like a crazed jack-in-the-box, unless it was shots of vodka.   – Which explains why the rolls always burned. And my predilection for martinis.

When my mother married my stepfather a new tradition was created. I call it, “Thanks for giving me a stepfather who knows how to make a reservation.” Each year we eat Thanksgiving “dinner” at a restaurant. For years it was Les Saisons, then they moved or went out of business. (And yes, the French Thanksgiving theme was a little odd.) Then we tried some other location, and eventually settled on the country club.

Let me just say, Thanksgiving at the country club is a glorious experience. The turkey is stacked neatly on a cushion of cornbread dressing, the squash casserole is to die for, and there are cocktails. Shrimp cocktails, crab claws, smoked salmon, oysters. Champagne, Bloody Marys, wine. The only strenuous thing you have to do is wind your way around the buffet tables with a plate laden with 10 lbs. of yummy goodness.

Anyway, up until last night, Mom kept insisting she was going to be able to attend this three hour food fest, somehow ignoring that broken pelvis / sitting situation. The pain medications must not be keeping her in La La Land anymore because she announced she would NOT be attending our annual festivities. Instead, she proposed that we all go to the club without her, stuff ourselves (or as Granio would say, “Have sufficient,”) and return to the house with a “to go” selection of buffet items.

I was hesitant at first to accept this proposition, but it seemed to be what she wanted, so I agreed. (Part of me thought it could be a trap. People on pain medication can be crafty.) But so far, no repercussions. It looks like Thursday will indeed be a Thanksgiving without Mom. At least temporarily. And for that reason alone, it will be memorable, if a bit melancholy. (Yet still delicious.)

Wait a minute. I just had a horrible thought. Please tell me I wasn’t supposed to volunteer to keep her company while everyone ELSE goes to the club. 

Uh oh.

To see what others in the #LetsBlogOff are sharing about Thanksgiving, click the logo below.

THINGS I MISS

The other evening I was visiting with my lovely and talented blog topic muse, Max, and we started talking about things we miss from our childhoods. As a child of the 70s and 80s -heavily influenced by reruns of the 50s and 60s, it turns out TV and the people who were on it topped the list, along with a few odd items. (For instance, has anyone seen my sense of optimism lately? I think I misplaced that in the early 90s.)

I miss Johnny Carson. And the Carol Burnett Show. And Saturday Night Live. (The one that had Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner in it.)  Oops. Sad face. I miss Gilda too.

I miss after school TV like Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. (Re-runs all, but new to me.)  While we’re at it, I miss getting home before 4:00 in the afternoon.

I miss phones that were actually connected to the wall.  With a little effort I could get half way down the hallway, as long as I kept a tight grip on the receiver.  If I didn’t, the cord, which was stretched almost to the point of ripping out of the phone itself, would fly straight out in the air – smashing against both walls of the hallway before  landing with a crash on the kitchen floor.

I miss Miami Vice, (or more specifically, Don Johnson,) the Solid Gold Dancers, and the SANE Mel Gibson from Mad Max. I miss Bosom Buddies (Tom Hanks in drag), and sometimes, in a tiny corner of my heart, I miss Star Trek and my first crush – 1960s William Shatner.

I miss the Hustle (and disco in general), Boston (the band), Asteroids, mood rings, records, and summers off.

I miss getting exercise by simply existing – riding bikes to the lake, walking to a friend’s house, playing frisbee in the park – that sort of thing. The only way I exercise now is if I pay a gym to guilt me into it.

I miss my love of Hollywood and all things celebrity. REAL stars, like Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis, John Wayne, Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe. The advancement of Kate and Jon Gosselin, Snooki, and Paris Hilton to celebrities signaled the end of my Hollywood-itis. Plus, they all started sharing their THOUGHTS about politics and the universe. Who told them they could speak without a script?

I miss my first car. My green ’78 Mustang.  White top, white leather interior. I never should have sold it. A 20-something-year old boy ended up with my pristine Pony-car and did unmentionable things to her. The last time I saw her, one side was totally smashed. Pony deserved better.

I miss feeling that everything was easier. Friends, relationships, “work,” decisions, EVERYTHING. Of course, back then, someone else was in charge of me and I just had to do what they said. (More or less.) I wonder if my mother would like her old job back?

There was just something more comforting about those days. Maybe it WAS because we were kids. Maybe it was a simpler time. Maybe we had fewer choices, thus more satisfaction.

Or maybe, just maybe… Johnny really DID make everything better.

Here is the clip I always think of first when I remember the Tonight Show. My parents and I laughed so hard we cried. Enjoy!