My maternal grandmother is almost ninety years old and, to be completely honest, I have never really had a relationship with her because we live so far apart from each other. However, about two years ago, my mother told me I should start writing her letters and learning/recording “her story,” so I did. Well, I wrote two letters, because inconsistency is my most consistent quality.
So I went to my campus library to type up my first letter because I thought that size 14 font would be most appropriate, and handwriting that big is unnatural after age 8, so I opened a Word document, typed it all up, and then printed it. I went to the printer to check my printing queue and there were no pending documents… so I tried again. And again. And again. Then I asked the library assistant for help, and she had me try two more times…
And then I realized that I was not logged into my account on the school computer, but was using the account of some guy before me who had forgotten to log off. So all the letters I sent to printing were sitting in his printing queue, just waiting… To this day, I wonder if he ever printed one…
Anyway, a few weeks ago, we got news that my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and only has a little bit of time left to live (which is, yes, very sad, but wow 90, that’s a good long life). So when you get news like that, there’s only one thing to do…
R O A D T R I P
My mom and I drove the 15+ hours out to Carlsbad, CA, so this week has been filled with: relatives I haven’t seen in over 15 years, relatives I didn’t know existed, and the uncovering of many awkward family photos that I’ve never seen before. And also, I’ve reached that age where I’M the weird relative saying things like “wow I haven’t seen you since you were a baby.”
(I’m the baby in my grandma’s arms, the blondie with the (what on earth hairstyle is that) next to me is my sister, the girl above that is my other sister, and the extremely happy boy above that is my brother. Look at how hard he is cheesin. That is a showbiz smile.)
My mom thinks that my English degree and background in journalism means that I should write down all the family stories (for genealogical purposes), so I played the interviewer to try to get all my grandma’s stories. I thought I’d get some fun stories and some fun life advice. You know, like those women who live to age 107 and the news interviews them and publishes headlines like “Longest Living Woman Says That Secret To Long Life Is Eating Your Vegetables And Avoiding Men.” I knew my grandma wouldn’t say that exactly, but I had hope. Instead the conversation was…
Me: Got any good life advice?
Me (yelling from the chair next to her): What is your best advice for life?
Her: Oh, I don’t know. Everything.
Her: Yeah, why not.
I just feel so much more wise now, you know? The conversation also included lots of repeating myself, and many instances of my mom/aunt/uncle jumping in to correct her stories when necessary because I guess your memory gets a little fuzzy when you age. She did have some wild stories, though, like when a man threw a firebomb into her house when she was three years old and her dad told her and her brother to run to the alfalfa field where they all watched the house burn down. Or when her brother died from chopping his leg while chopping wood when he was twelve. Or when she… yeah, I don’t know, she had kind of a rough life. I’m not really envious. And now, of course, she’s in denial about having cancer. She says the doctor is full of bologna. I’m just saying, that’s a lot of confidence to have against modern medical technology when you’re that old.
So some suggestions I have for people trying to record the lives of their own old people to preserve some records for posterity: try to do it before they’re senile. Try not to have to do it all at once. Try to get some better life advice out of them and send it over to me, because I think I was gypped.
But honestly, it was a super interesting week. It’s fascinating to hear the stories about the people who you come from. My mom drove me around town and showed me her high school and the places she used to get 5 cent ice cream and where she had her paper route and her first job at a bank. It made me really grateful that I never had to have a paper route. She also showed me on the driveway where they all have their hand and footprints. Also the house I lived out until I was a whole year old.
And as I looked at the picture of the family reunion we had when I was ten, I thought “Wow. All of this from one couple. That’s pretty incredible.” Maybe her story isn’t the happiest one, but look how many people get to now write their because of her. And my story is only possible because of her story. And my mother’s story. And the story that came before them. And so on. Does that just blow your mind?
Look at us. My head tilt game was STRONG.
also my arm was in a cast because I broke it by getting hit by a parked car that week.
I guess this is the last family photo we gave to grandma because it’s the only one in her house… that little on in the corner is me and I’m pretty sure I look like one of the dogs my aunt breeds.
Anyway. You’d never believe it but this is the least awkward picture I took with my grandmother this week (and I’m pretty sure the ones I took this week are the only ones that have ever just been she and I)
I’m really blessed to have had the opportunity to visit with her before she goes. And my mother was really blessed to have grown up one mile away from the beach. Can you imagine???
Anyway, families can be together forever and I hope there are beaches in heaven.