Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"love to the max"

Today, I imagine, my grandmother is sitting in her wheelchair in the nursing home she now calls home. She is frail and small and feisty. She is no longer the sweet presence she once was. We mourn the loss of her as she sleeps more and more and remembers less and less each day. Her body has been claimed by an awful disease we call Alzheimer's. It is so hard to come to terms with the fact that this is my grandmother, the woman who is remembered by most she has ever met as one of the sweetest women they have ever met and was voted citizen of the year many moons ago. How does one reconcile the loss of the woman she once was?
My best guess is by remembering the woman that she once was and that I believe is still inside buried in the darkness of this tragic disease. Rhea was born in the 1940s on Bainbridge Island during the boom of the Port Blakely Lumber Mill. She was the last of five children and quickly named "her father's darling". Her high school years were seemingly idyllic. She was a cheerleader, sang in the glee club, and played in the orchestra. Lest you think she was all roses and dresses, after learning how to drive a Mack truck, she quickly became known as the girl who could "double-clutch like an old pro". She was sunshine and auto grease. She'd drive trucks with the best of them in the morning and later waltz and Jitterbug the nights away.
Growing up, I couldn't get enough of Grandma's house. I remember hours and hours of play in her attic. Dressing up in her old clothes and playing on the old rocking horse and creating endless imaginary tales and scenes. The aroma of her goulash creation, perhaps the one entrée she knew how to cook is stamped in my memory along with the cans and cans of Diet Coke lining the fridge. I felt safe in her house, running up and down the stairs and in and out of rooms lost in a fairytale wonderland my cousins and I had created.
Her house may have been safe but her driving was a whole other animal. I don't think she once wore a seatbelt. She would zip around the island at least 20mph over the speed limit in her little sports car. I remember she let my cousin Erin and I squeeze in the back seat for a joyride around town. The wind blowing our hair every which way made us laugh 'til we thought we might pee our pants or fear we might swallow a bug. I loved every second sitting behind my Grandmother driving fast just to feel the wind in her hair. That may have been the only joyride as our parents were less than thrilled that we had been driving with Grandma and without seat-belts. I didn't walk away from that one without a record breaking lecture around driving safety.
She was a woman who had a kind word to say about everyone she encountered. She knew everyone and we could rarely go anywhere with her without being stopped every ten feet with another friend stopping to say hello. She is one of those island staples of my hometown. People I've met throughout the years who happened to have been to Bainbridge maybe a handful of times will jump in excitement when I tell them my grandma is the sweet old woman they remember from the small little grocery store or the little ice cream shop. She left an impression of kindness on everyone who crossed her path. It brings me comfort to know that so many people will remember my Grandma for the compassionate, loving, and vibrant presence that she was so many years ago. I know that piece of her is still inside, but it's such a shame that it just appears for fleeting moments like shooting stars. But for those of us who catch a glimpse of those precious moments, we are blessed.
She used to call me every year on my birthday and sing me happy birthday while playing the piano and signing off with "love you to the max". It was the most precious gift I received every year. This is the first year I didn't get a call from her, but I will definitely remember when she did.
love to the max.
This video is from a couple years ago during one of those precious moments, sorry for the sidewayziness..
love you to the max, grandma. :)


karyn said...

Shannon, what a beautiful tribute to your Grandma. I can see her behind the wheel of a truck and hear her singing happy birthday... she sounds exceptional. She must be exceptional, as she is a part of wonderful you.
I'll pray for her tonight. And you.

Lisa said...

Awe Shan this made me cry. You have such an amazing family. I like to think she has you tucked away in her heart safe from that disease. Such an amazing woman, and what a wonderful blog. Love you ((HUGS))

Anonymous said...

totally made me cry...Love that video :) xoxox Erin

rawster said...

If I watch the video I'm sure I'll cry as I'm almost crying righ now. And I'm at work, so I'll wait till I'm at home to watch it.

Shannon, the way you described your grandma showed me that you have a lot of her in you. It's so wonderful that you know her and knew her while she was herself. You have such amazing memories of her. Most people can't say that - that they knew their grandparents in that way. You are blessed. And thanks for sharing.