Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Legacy - Maternal Grandmother (Part 2)

My husband and I parked along the road in front of my grandmother's house. The yard was wrecked. Various uncles and cousins were already toiling, trying to clear out the basement.

The area smelled of sewage, river, and mud. It was early November, 1985, and the worst flood in the history of Roanoke had happened a few days earlier. After taking care of our own flooded basement and waiting for debris to be cleared from the road, we'd driven up to help.

This was the third (or maybe fourth) time the basement had flooded. These were not little floods. My grandmother's house was oppose the Roanoke River, and when the waters rose, get out of the way. I remember these floods as a jumble. The last one, I know I stayed outside and picked up trash. I remember one flood that took out all of our toys and comic books - my uncles, my brother and I had hundreds of comics stashed in a big dryer box under the stairs. Some probably would have been worth money today, but they were all tossed after a flood.

By 1985, I was 22 years old. I was worried about my grandmother after this flood. She'd been a widow for nearly a decade. She was 62 years old when the Flood of '85 hit. That seemed old at the time (doesn't now since that is my husband's age!), and she wasn't bouncing back from this incident. By Christmas, she was saying she didn't want to decorate. I couldn't imagine my grandmother's house without Christmas decorations, so in mid-December, I bought one of those small pre-decorated trees and put it up for her, placing it on the piano. It wasn't very big, but it was Christmassy and had lights. She didn't object.

The city began talking of making a greenway along the river so that there would be no homes to flood. My aunt bought the lot next to my grandmother's homeplace, a few blocks away but far enough from the river that it wouldn't flood. She built a nice little ranch and moved my grandmother in there. My grandmother sold her home. I thought it would be bought by the city and torn down, but it is still standing.

My grandmother's house today from Google Earth. I feel certain the black light post was there
when she lived here, and possibly the bush under the window on the left. The porch saw a lot of play from us kids.

After my grandfather passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1976, my grandmother was left to raise her youngest two children, both boys. One was a teenager and the other a preteen.

Other changes occurred about this time, too. When I was 13, my parents deemed me old enough to keep my brother during the summer, or stay home by myself if I were ill, unless I were running a fever. I saw less of my grandmother as well as my young uncle, with whom I was quite close as a child. They both drifted away from me, something I guess happens as we age and grow. We visited on the holidays, of course, but my memory of my grandmother in my teen years only has one standout. When I went to the prom my sophomore year with a senior, I made the young man drive out of his way so I could let my grandmother see me in my prom dress. My mother told me the next week that my grandmother had told her she'd cried after I left because I'd taken the time to do that.

My grandmother's move into my aunt's home also was a big change. It was no longer Grandma's house I was visiting, and I never felt as comfortable there as I did in the home I remembered from childhood. Grandma continued to keep children, babysitting my aunt's son, who lived with her, of course, and my other uncles' children as they came along. She was always nurturing someone.

When the telephone service changed so that she was no longer a long distance call for me, I began calling her frequently. She always had time to listen and talk. Many days I wish I could pick up the phone and call her.

When my mother died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer, my grandmother lost her eldest child. I cannot imagine what kind of grief she suffered with that loss. It had to be heart wrenching and painful for her. Unfortunately, I was grieving, too, so I wasn't much help. Grandma was 77 when my mother died.

Her last couple of years were spent at Richfield, an assisted living facility. I dutifully visited nearly every weekend, sometimes eating lunch with her. I do not like such places but I loved my Grandma. Later, her sister, Aunt Susie, and her sister-in-law, Aunt Elsie, also moved into Richfield, all on the same floor and in the same area, so I visited with all three of them. I think it helped them to all be together.

A series of small strokes sent Grandma to the hospital, and she died in June 2007. She was still talking during my last visit with her. She told me she'd seen my mother several times, and my grandfather had come and sat on the edge of the bed and told her everything was fine.

I have many other memories I could write - licking the beaters when she made cookies, the time I fell on the stoop and knocked out a tooth, the day I made her laugh by tracing her varicose veins in her legs and then looking up at her and solemnly pronouncing, "Grandma, you're cracking up!" My best childhood memories were made at Grandma's house.

I loved her very much. Below is the poem I wrote when she passed away.

Your lap was the safest place in the world.
Hurts were smoothed away with your kisses
And your hugs as you engulfed us
With your love.
Pulled close and rocked hard, we listened
To your heart beat and your voice
Singing “Daisy, Daisy” as our tears
Vanished like fog in sunshine.

Your heart beat with love
For your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
There was no transgression you could not forgive.
You soothed brows and bolstered self-esteem
And you seldom asked for anything in return.
Your life was hard but you always sang.
Even near the end, you heard music.
You made fried apple pies and macaroni and cheese
With equal amounts of joy and tenderness.
Those are spices no one could add but you,

Though you are now in a better place, safe in Heaven
And strolling along glided streets with Grandpa
Holding your hand
You remain still here with us, held close and fast
And with each beat of our hearts
We will remember your love.


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