I was lucky enough to grow up with both sets of grandparents. My paternal grandparents (Nana and Grandpa) lived in Parker, Arizona, not far from the Colorado River. I have fond memories of summers spent exploring the desert hills, riding with grandpa in his red dune buggy, and shooting old beer cans with a .22 rifle. We lost grandpa to cancer when I was around 8 and it’s the very first funeral I attended. Military funeral. Even now if I see a military funeral depicted in the movies or on TV I get choked up.
Mom’s parents lived a more peripatetic life. They would routinely travel the retiree highway every summer from their home in Bakersfield, California to Lake Klamath, Oregon for Grandpa’s beloved fishing trips. To this day, if I picture them, it’s in their motor home with their little lapdog Scooter. Going on vacations with them was great for a little kid, and I’m sure my desire to drive around the country in an RV was sparked back then.
Grandpa Tiny (long and hush-hush story behind that nickname… we kids only knew to NEVER call him that to his face!) and Grandma Bea were the ones who sent me those “Congratulations, you’re [age]!” birthday cards in the mail where you would turn the spinning round wheel to get your age to show through the little window. When Grandpa Tiny died some years ago, Grandma continued the tradition, simply writing a number next to the wheel on the card so that I could still get my correct age. Guess she bought a bunch of them years ago and didn’t want any to go to waste.
“Congratulations! You’re (3)6!”
I always looked forward to her little kid cards, even when I got out of college. Like all grandparents, she believed in sending the grandkids money for their birthday, and I laughed when I got a check for $1 when I was at Baylor. I kept that check around for a long time until my mom finally made me cash it. She was afraid Grandma Bea would worry that it got lost in the mail and send me another one.
Grandma Bea and I had written more letters in recent years as I grew into adulthood and as she grew gracefully into old age. She moved in with her sister when her husband died and she always had lots of things to tell me in her letters. Mostly trivial stuff about how she and Angie liked to go play bingo, or how they would go walking at the mall. Nothing special. Occasionally she would include a doily that she’d knitted. You can never have too many doilies, I guess. She was always grateful for my letters to her. Erin and I started printing out pictures to go along with the letters, and I even used some software to make an “Erin and Jason Newsletter” with pictures and faux news “stories” a few months ago that told her what was going on in our lives. Nothing special- just a letter from her grandson. I got a letter from her a few weeks ago. Weather’s hot. I enjoy living with my sister. We walk around the mall. The flowers are growing in nicely. Looking forward to September.
Grandma was planning a trip to Texas this September to see everyone. It would have been the very first time she had met her great-great grandkids (my brother’s children), the first time to meet my wife Erin (who was, in turn, fascinated to meet her), and her first trip to Texas in over 20 years. My mom and dad tell me that it was all she talked about for the last few months. She was going to fly into Dallas and spend some time up there seeing everyone, and then she and mom and dad would drive the 200 miles to Austin where we could show her around town. We were really looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, life had other plans. Grandma went in for a checkup a few weeks ago after suffering from some unusual memory lapses and some other symptoms. The doctors discovered a tumor on her brain. She opted for the risky surgery-and-hope-for-a-full-cure approach instead of the inevitability of the do-nothing-and-wait-for-entropy-to-win approach. I admire the fact that, at 82, she was still proactive about her life, approaching each decision with a clear head and a strong faith. When the surgery didn’t go as planned, she and my mother (and mom’s brother) decided to let nature run its course. Dad told me that Grandma passed away this afternoon about 3:30. I was thinking about her at that exact time.
I’m sad that I won’t get to see Grandma Bea again. I’m sad that Erin will never get to meet her or that grandma will never get to meet her great grandchildren (“this side of Heaven”, she’d say). Even though she didn’t play as big a part in my life as some grandparents do, I’ll miss her.