I have written on my blog before about my maternal grandmother. I am closer to her than I am my own mother, which is strange considering our past together. It was her poor excuse for a husband who molested me all those years, and I'm pretty sure she knew it. She did walk in on us once, and that scene is included in my novel Reverse Skate. She has probably pushed it out of her mind like most other things he did.
My maternal grandparents were my favorites, especially when I was younger, before the abuse started. They lived almost a thousand miles away from us, up north, where I first experienced snow. We were lucky if we saw them every year, usually every two years. Because of her husband's job, they could not travel down to Texas to see us very often, so we would pile into my dad's Malibu station wagon and make the trip instead, usually straight through. My dad stopped almost hourly to stretch his long legs.
My brother and I would ride in the very back of the station wagon, the sun beaming down on our legs, with the smell of my dad's pipe tobacco choking us. I guess he thought the small crack in his window was enough to ventilate the car. Definitely didn't want to let the cold A/C air out. I would play songs from my cassette player or try to connect with a station with my green transistor radio.
We would stop at a little cafe in Arkansas, outside of Little Rock, where a waitress in a white apron would tell me to eat my peas. The closer we got to my grandparents' house, the more excited I would get. She would be at work when we arrived, at a large department store, where she sold quality furniture at great prices to third generation customers. She was a great salesperson, who did not pressure people into buying something they didn't really want or couldn't afford. I would walk into the store with anticipation, looking all around, between the tall warehouse pillars and amongst all the fancy couches, chairs, and water oil lamps. And then I would see her, putting her cigarette out in the ash tray, waiting with open arms for a hug. "God love it", would be her greeting as she held me in her arms and stroked my hair.
My grandmother had beautiful, long fingernails that she always painted with White Snow nail polish. I would lay my head in her lap, and she would stroke my hair until I went into a trance. Her house smelled of Occur perfume, which she purchased from Avon for years. She would give me near empty bottles of Occur to take home, that I would literally sniff for months until the fragrance disappeared. My grandmother was the best hostess ever. Every Christmas Eve she would invite friends, family, and even people off the street into her home for a homemade buffet of everything you could imagine. This, after working a six-day work week. Wednesdays were her only days off. She would have a beautiful, 8-feet, snow flocked tree, hundreds of presents, lights, and festive music. She even wore hot pants under her evening gown that she would show briefly for a laugh. My grandma smiled all the time and never complained about anything, even though she had a rough life growing up.
My mom's dad died at 23 from his appendix bursting when my mother was 9 months old. My grandmother was pregnant with my uncle at the time of his death and told my grandfather on his deathbed that she had missed her cycle. Widows and single mothers were not looked upon favorably at that time. I often wonder if that's why she chose to marry again when my mother was eight years old. My abuser was a drunk and carouser, so much different from my mother's dad who was a lay Nazarene minister who probably preached against that behaviour.
Back then, I thought my grandma was old, even though she didn't act old. She was probably about the age I am now - 51. Each time we had to leave to go back to Texas or each time she drove away, I remember waving goodbye to her and thinking to myself, "This is going to be the last time I see her before she dies." In 1989, she and her husband moved to sunny Florida. She was now in her 70s, and again, each time I left their house to go home, she would stand in front of her house, and I would think to myself, "This is the last time I am going to see her alive."
And now, it is 2013. My grandmother is 93 years old and in hospice care. She feels like shit and still, never complains. She says, "I don't need anything. There are other people who need more." Up until last week, she insisted on going up and down the stairs to her bedroom in my parents' house. Now, she cannot. Her long, beautiful fingernails are no longer. Her hair is thin and she has no teeth at all. I stroke her hair instead of her stroking mine. She doesn't even have the energy to wave goodbye to me. I know the final goodbye is here, right now, looking me in the face. I have had all these years to be ready for it, and I am not.
When I go to heaven, my grandma is the one who I want to take me to meet Jesus. I know she will be there at the gate, waiting to give me a hug and say, "God love it."