Today my paternal grandmother turns 97 years old. She lives in California and I have not seen her since about 1987.
This is the last photo I have of her. She was 93 then.
My father a few months ago showed me photos of her now. She is gaunt and skeletal and I mentally cringed at the pictures. Her mind has left her, though she still eats, apparently, and the nursing home staff helps her get up and move about a bit. I am unsure if she can walk as she broke a hip several years ago; we thought for sure then that she would not live but she is certainly a fighter.
My grandmother, born in 1920, is 44 years older than I am. She was 21 (I think) when she had my father - the third of her four children. She and my father are the only ones left in his immediate family.
She was born the year women received the right to vote, so she has always been able to cast a ballot. I know she voted in the 2008 election - against Barrack Obama - but I don't know if she voted beyond that. I was surprised at her vote and comments about it because my grandfather was a staunch union man and quite liberal and I had thought she was, too. But you never know, I guess.
Grandma saw things happen that probably seemed like science fiction in her youth. Television, men in space, satellites, cellphones - the things we take for granted now (and many of which have become commonplace even in my half-century of life). Yet her love was reading, not TV or things like that. She enjoyed books and read hundreds of them every year for the longest time. I remember calling her before she couldn't hear me anymore and she'd almost always say, "Oh, I'm just reading a book," when I'd ask her what she was doing.
She was born in West Virginia. I suspect she had a hard life as a young woman, though I know little about it. She moved to this area with my grandfather after World War II. She and my grandfather, along with his two older sons and their daughter, moved to California in 1963, not long after I was born.
I knew her as a voice on the phone, someone who sent gifts at Christmas, and the woman my father called "Ma." I remember a visit with her when I was 7 or 8, another at 12 when we drove to California for a visit, and another when I was 17, when they drove across the country to stay with us for a few weeks. I saw my grandparents once more after I married. That was the extent of my contact with my grandmother, aside from phone conversations. I tried to call her frequently as I aged but our conversations were stilted and short. We did not know one another well enough to be friends. I have regrets about that, but there is nothing I can do about it now.
So happy birthday, Grandma. I know you have no idea it is your birthday, but today is your special day.