Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gramma was rushed to the hospital a few nights ago with heart failure. The doctors didn't expect her to hang on this long and she's now in hospice care on a morphine drip. She could slip away at any time, and although I'm sad, I also realize it's her time. She's lived in a nursing home the past 6 or 7 years and has slowly succumbed to dementia. She had the occasional lucid spell, but she was to the point of no longer recognizing her own children. At least she was cheerful and seemed genuinely happy.

Gramma was never one of those super-involved grandparents although she was good to me growing up. After raising her own kids, she made it clear she was done and wasn't going to raise the grandkids, too. Mom is the baby of the family and I'm the youngest grandchild, so by then Gramma was definitely done. She did watch me in the summers when Mom didn't have daycare for me, or during the school year if I was home sick, she often came so Mom could go to her job. Gramma used to take me to the community pool in the summers, although I don't think she ever donned a bathing suit and she never got in the pool. We'd also go to Marcus Dairy for ice cream. Gramma always loved the sweets. Always. Marshmallows, Mallomars, and RC Cola were staples in her household.

Gramma was born in 1910 in Fairburn, GA. There used to be rumors as to whether or not her parents were actually married (they later separated and her father re-married) but I think my aunt did find a marriage certificate. Anyway, Gramma was raised by her mother and grandmother. I think she and her mom had a rough relationship, possibly her mom wasn't cut out for mothering, but her grandma doted on her. Her mom and grandma ran a lodge in Ormond Beach, FL during the winters, where they had regular residents who would stay for the winter season. Somewhere, Mom has a wonderful old scrapbook filled with turn-of-the-century postcards from the lodge residents. They are great.

She had wonderful stories of her childhood. The kooky uncle who kept pet squirrels and lived out back on the property. A sea turtle so big that she and 2 friends could comfortably stand on its back. Getting to church late on a Sunday and sitting with John D. Rockefeller, who gave her a nickel for the offering plate and a whole dime to keep for herself. The pet bear cub "Johnny Bear" they kept until he was too large to handle - her uncles accidentally killed its mother while hunting, not realizing she had cubs. Somewhere, there's a photo of a young Gramma standing on a chair next to the bear, holding onto its leash. He was eventually sent to a zoo.

At 16, Gramma married her first husband. They had 3 sons, the oldest died of pneumonia before the age of 10. Her husband liked to play the stocks and lost a substantial amount of (her) money in the crash. When money got really tight, she went to work in a factory that manufactured razor blades, as an inspector. The employees were paid per unit inspected and apparently she worked too fast, so the other employees told her to slow down. She and the husband eventually divorced. She later married my grandfather, who was also divorced (his first wife cheated on him). They went on to have 3 more children together - my aunt, uncle, and Mom. In all, they had 7 kids in the house. Grandpa was a pharmacist and had learned his skills by apprenticing - back in those days, you didn't have to go to pharmacy school if you apprenticed under a licensed pharmacist. He owned a pharmacy and all the kids and Gramma did their share of working in the store. Grandpa was a kind man who truly loved Gramma. And I think she truly loved him as well.

Grandpa died of a heart attack and Gramma later married a 3rd husband. I think it was mostly because she was lonely and was of an era when people didn't "shack up". I vaguely remember him, but he died when I was young. He seemed like a nice man, but I'm not sure the marriage was all that great.

The last 10 years or so became difficult. Gramma had a hard time living on her own, but none of the family wanted to take care of her. Mom tried for a while, but it took a toll on her. Gramma had become paranoid and would fairly regularly called 911 for no apparent reason. After several falls and a hospitalization, she was sent to the nursing home by the doctor. She hated it for the first few years, but once she was put on anti-depressants (to also help with the paranoia), she became happy. What a wonderful change.

As much as we used to gripe about Gramma and her idiosyncrasies and her often childlike behavior, she really was an amazing woman. She outlived 2 of her children and 2 husbands. She divorced her nutty husband in an era when that was not done. She lived her life the way she wanted and nobody could change that.

I love you, Gramma. I hope you go to a good place where you'll see your sons and Grandpa. Every time I see a butterfly, I'll be thinking of you.

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