I WROTE THIS PIECE three years ago tomorrow, the day after my grandma died. Considering I took a nearly three-year blogging hiatus shortly after, I find it fitting on the third anniversary of her passing to start putting pen to paper again and start telling stories that have been lost in the translation of the chaos that became my life since hers came to an end.
And I will, dear readers. I will.
But first, I must take a moment to nod my head at this wonderful, crazy, beautiful, strong woman all over again – the one who would want me to model myself after her and not let life changes crush me, but use them to blossom into someone better.
And I am, dear grandma, I am.
You’ve been gone from me for three years and I still miss hearing you threaten to come haunt my ass. And between you and I? I tell our dog “you’re a good kid” just like you did every day. Unless he’s been a “little varmint”, in which he acts appropriately guilty. But I’m sure you already knew all that.
I have no words that could even come close to explaining how wonderful you were, so I’ll go ahead and let your epitaph do it for me.
I’d never really thought of pearls before, those shiny globes formed inside a sea creatures mouth. An irritant that the oyster protects against by putting down layers and layers of shell-like material until it forms into a bead we string and wear around, physical reminders of the oysters pain and annoyance, displayed as extravagance.
Oysters have an amazing ability to take something painful or hard and turn it into something beautiful. I found out about pearls when I researched a ring that my grandma always wore on the fourth finger of her right hand, a ring that held a stone for each of her babies. Pearls are the gemstone of the month of June. The month that my beautiful grandmother was born in (seeing how much she loved the summer, I’m certain that she hand picked a warm month to arrive in).
June is the name my grandmother went by.
She was a pearl herself – with soft white hands and wise eyes, she knew just the thing to say to comfort her babies both young and old. She was the pearl of our family. Beauty and elegance with just a touch of rough edges (after all, that is how you identify that a pearl is real – if you can find a grit to it that declares it has been through a rough time and come out stronger and more beautiful on the other side. None of this artificial facade that the more smooth stones present).
She was also a pearl maker. She raised her babies as only a mother knew how – with rules of course, but also with love and kindness. There were practical things like teaching them how to milk a cow and turn the cream into butter, but there were loving things like having a baby lamb live inside with them after it’s mother died, owning a wood rat that would bathe with the children, and allowing them to ride, climb, sit on and play with the bull of their cow herd. She would tell me that she wasn’t sure how she made it out alive of raising her kids, but that she truly enjoyed it.
My grandma experienced great things in her life. She also experienced great hardships. Going through her divorce was one of those hardships. I believe she was in her early fifties when it happened.
The name June is derived from the mythical Juno, who “In Roman mythology Juno was the wife of Jupiter and the queen of the heavens. She was the protectress of marriage and women, and was also the goddess of finance.” Grandma was the protectress of marriage and upon finding my grandfathers infidelities she did everything she could to make sure she would wind up on top. She was smart enough that she wound up with the house, the truck, and $200 that she had stashed away. And rather than let it ruin her she thrived. She exercised. She met new friends. Took ceramic classes, painting classes, and maybe a dance class or two (not sure on the last one, but this is where I cry from missing being able to just go ask her). My favorite? She went to college for the first time and got her degree in nursing.
She took her degree and worked at Tiny Tots for a while but her passion was her job at the nursing home. She was never without a story (having her own ornery father living in the nursing home she worked at made for quite a few tales in itself). We would sit for hours and discuss her patients and coworkers.
She worked there for I believe ten years before she retired.
I moved in with her in October of 2008.
At first it was hard (pearls again). We would argue over where I’d put my coat hanger and where I could park. We would fight over what time I should be home (her thinking 10, me thinking that I was old enough to not need a curfew). We fought for three months until she agreed to let me have a dog. I can’t tell you how much Ollie had brought us together. I remember their first meeting. It was like they were meant for each other – although he was skittish with me he ran right up to her, jumped on her lap and started kissing her face. He was our “timeshare” dog and I am so grateful that she was able to keep him during the days. He was our middle ground, the four legged furball that brought us together, our “kid”.
Grandma became my very best friend. I am so grateful that I have hundreds of memories with her. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to live with her, share meals, watch TV together, enjoy warm summer days sitting on the front porch and complain about winter storms from the comfort of her couch. I got three Christmases with her. She was able to attend my wedding. My most vivid memory of my wedding day was when we were leaving. Everybody formed a line and my grandma was at the end. We’d passed out bubbles and she held hers with the widest smile on her face. She rushed to blow the bubbles as we walked by, her hands slightly shaky from excitement. I blew her a kiss while we drove away and she blew me one back.
I blew her a kiss as mom drove her to the ER. I sat by her side those two and a half days as much as I could (and not enough. It could never be enough). I will never forget our last conversations. I held her hand and just cried. I told her sorry for being such a baby. I told her, “You know, moving in with you was the best damn thing I ever did.” She nodded, agreeing in her way. “We always did have the best times together” and she corrected, “do.”
We always DO have the best times together.
She was so tired but she held my eyes with hers for what felt like forever. We just sat there, looking at each other, both thinking about the times we had shared and wishing we could have more. She looked at me and raised her eyebrows, a look I’d seen a hundred times through my life but finally got the meaning of. It meant, “oh well” and “I love you so much”.
I got up and told her I’d see her the next day and told her I love you. She said, “Love you…and the dog” back.
The next day, we knew she was going to leave us. Her body was too sick but her mind was still sharp. We said a prayer and I held her hand and she squeezed my fingers and looked deep into my eyes. I told her it was okay. I kissed her and told her thank you for everything she’d given me. I didn’t, and couldn’t say goodbye. The grandchildren left our sweet grandma in a room surrounded by her lovely daughters where I’m told she just went to sleep.
She’s gone but she’ll always be here inside of me. I love you so much grandma. So very much.