Earlier this month, my grandmother died at the age of 92 years old. And, while I wanted to say something at her upcoming memorial, I decided, rather, to say it here. Because, after all, this is where I am most comfortable. Sitting at a card table, next to my books, drinking a beer in the darkness, waiting for sleep to finally lure me to bed.
I don’t think anyone is perfect. Usually the way we memorialize the dead, there’s a concerted effort to sanitize the subject’s life, in an effort to bring comfort and closure to those left behind. Though, I can’t help but think that disingenuous, like Thomas Jefferson cutting out the contents of his personal bible that offended his sensibilities. Life is complex, dirty, and beautiful. End of story.
My grandmother was always referred to as “Grandy.” I never knew why. It was never explained to me, and I never asked. It wasn’t until I was older (ten years old) that I learned her name was Matilde, or Matil. This is rather poetic, given that she never knew what I looked like. She suffered from Macular degeneration, which stole her sight from her over the course of her life. By the time we (my brother and I) were born, she had complete vision loss. Yet this never stopped her from challenging the norms of those suffering from blindness. She took many vacations and cruises to parts of the world that I could only dream of. She participated in sightseeing tours, experiencing (I imagine) the world through its smell and touch. I remember that she once asked me why God took her sight from her, when I was proselytizing in my earlier years after becoming a Christian. (Catholic and Protestant dynamic, and all that.) I can’t remember what my response was. But the way she asked it, I was certain she harbored some anger, or at least some dismay regarding her current situation. Her coping for this was bravely defeating it's stigma.
Her mastery over the world was always apparent. Both financially and socially, she dominated her world. For most of her life she was a shrewd investor, holding real estate and stock market assets, which allowed her to be independently wealthy for the duration of her life. One situation, if it wasn’t so traumatic, I find to this day bleakly amusing. There was this time when my parents were in the throes of getting a divorce. Argument was common in the remote farmhouse that I grew up in, the surrounding trees numbing the dissonance inside. It was when Grandy discovered that my mom and my dad were getting a divorce that she asked to have the Hoover vacuum cleaner returned to her, which she gave my mom as a wedding gift, as if recouping a financial loss. And though my dad, the always obedient first born son, went along with it, I know today that watching my parents scream at each other in the hallway was caused by the fiscal soundness of my grandmother’s design. For better or worse.
My grandma’s legacy will carry with me for the rest of my life. The stories I’ve heard, about her adventures, about the fights she had with her children, as well as my memories of going out to dinner at Coco’s Restaurant after mass and the time she insisted that all of her grandchildren order prime rib (at Coco’s) on her birthday, have shaped me. She would always insist, perhaps beg, that we remember her, for what she did for us. She made a special pact with her grandchildren (for instance) so that, if we didn’t drink/smoke/have coffee/do drugs, she would give us the kingly sum of $1,000. (A lot of money for a 9 year old kid, mind you.) I was the only grandchild that completed the Faustian bargain. (Receiving an unexpected additional $1,100. $2,100 for my 21st birthday... Get it?) I say “Faustian” because of the anguish I had to endure in order to complete that arrangement, and the consequential estrangement from my peers in the process throughout my late high school and college years.
Ultimately, I used the money to fund the construction of a custom electric guitar that I play and enjoy to this day.
The last time I saw Grandy was during Christmas this past year. We knew her heath was failing, but she still doggedly pursued social engagements. She was able to meet her first great-granddaughter, Eowyn. (The previous year, also.) Watching her hold my daughter was… bewildering. Her stern quality melted away. She was a warm mother, a side of her I never saw before until then. That seemed to be her legacy. She was a product of her time, but a transgressor, enough so to challenge the cards dealt to her. She triumphed financially and was generous in her old age to lend a helping hand to all her grandchildren, including my wife and I. I never told her that the $4000 she gave us as a wedding present, meant to pay our rent for four months, was instrumental in funding a trip to Norway, to help conclude research for my book, Spirit of Orn. And I wish I did.
Because she accepted the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins, I will indeed see her again, someday. But when I do, she will see me for the first time.