my grandma florence passed away this morning. she was 93.
grandma florence (sometimes known as gflo) gave me many gifts. these are some that come to mind.
conversations at many tables
as a kid my parents and i regularly drove for an hour or so to my grandparents’ house in la mirada. we had many a thanksgiving and christmas meal there with my aunt claire and cousin mark. after my grandpa passed away almost 10 years ago, my grandma decided to move to corvallis, where my parents had moved a few years earlier. she sold the house on corley drive and downsized. i followed soon after. along with many other things, she gave me her dining room table. in corvallis we had many more meals together, on holidays and during my weekly lunch visits after she moved into an assisted living facility a year ago.
my cousin mark
my cousin mark is an only child on his mom’s (my aunt claire) side, and i’m also an only child. our moms made sure that we spent a lot of time together at our grandparents’ place. grandma and grandpa mostly expected us to entertain ourselves. so we rode bikes and climbed trees and raced matchbox cars and watched the twilight zone on KTLA. sometimes grandma took us to thrifty’s to get an ice cream cone and a coloring book. mark usually got mad magazine. i realize now that she also gave me as close to a brother as i’ll ever have and could ever want.
here’s one. in my family the tradition is that on your birthday you get to choose a restaurant and we all go out to dinner. for her 93rd birthday, gflo wanted to go to papa’s pizza – a spot more frequently the host of 9 year-olds’ birthday parties. she had 2 pieces of pizza that night – more than i’d seen her eat in years. while we waited for the pizza, mom opened up a pack of “birthday girl” conversation cards. gflo read the first one out loud:
her reply? “any man, straight to my bed.”
my grandma was pretty damn sassy. she usually played the straight man – she and grandpa had their routine down. she epitomized that quote that goes something like, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.” i remember a time that she was on a gurney in the ER a few years back. my mom and i were worried about her until we heard some dramatic conversation from two people on the other side of the curtain and looked to see her perk up and turn in their direction. she liked to gossip about the other people in the dining rooms of the two places she lived in corvallis. she was well-loved by the staff members of those two spots. she liked to give them hell, and they’d give it right back. several of those folks came out of their way to give my mom and me hugs today.
help buying my first house
my grandma and grandpa gave me a little chunk of money to help me put down a down payment on my first house.
when i was a kid, i wasn’t allowed to chew “sugar gum.” my grandma would tuck a stick of juicy fruit into anything she mailed to me. she continued this tradition long into my adulthood – when i was in college there’d be an envelope from her pretty much every week. and in that envelope there’d be a stick of juicy fruit and a chatty note (now called a “juicy fruit letter” in my family) about the weather and who she’d run into at albertsons and the phone conversation she’d had with her sister. i’ve carried on her tradition, except i tend to tuck a pack of poprocks in my letter. just trying to keep things fresh.
an appreciation for dessert
my grandma loved dessert. in the last few months, as she wasted away, grandma still cleaned her dessert plate. she kept chocolates stashed everywhere. i bet that 3/4ths of the current contents of her fridge is some kind of dessert. she couldn’t pass someone selling see’s candies or girl scout cookies without digging deep into her wallet. when i got out of the hospital, i had lost a lot of weight and needed to build it back up. i adopted my grandmother’s habit of always saying yes to dessert. i started making trifles – the perfect dessert for the non-cook because they’re about assembly, not cooking. now that i’m able to get to the gym, i say yes to whip cream on my latte. it’s what florence would do.
even when i was a pain-in-the-butt teenager, my grandma loved me. even when i stole a miniature jar of peanut butter from her, she was disappointed but she still loved me. even when i slept with two pillows, which drove her crazy for some reason, she still loved me. she was a calm, firm, and consistent presence in the first 38 years of my life, and that’ll be part of her legacy.
when i was working on relearning to walk, my mom and i would pay visits to my grandmother’s retirement lodge. the long hallways were equipped with excellent railings and if we avoided mealtimes they were usually empty. one time particularly stands out. i was just getting started walking with a walker (a loaner from gflo). mom held on to my gait belt, and gflo followed behind me pushing my wheelchair so i could sit down when i got tired.
my first tattoo
my grandma gave me a little bit of money for my 36th birthday. around that time, i realized that i’d wanted the same tattoo for half my life, which seemed like a long enough waiting period. i tucked the cash away, and when i got my tattoo in berkeley i used that to pay for it. i showed it to gflo when i got back, and told her the story about why i wanted that particular image, and she was delighted. so i told her that it was her birthday present for me. she got such a kick out of it. i remember we were sitting on her balcony, and she said, “when you’re an old lady you can tell people about the tattoo i gave you for your birthday.” and i absolutely will.
i sat for a long time with gflo on friday. that day she was fading pretty fast but was still able to sit in her chair. saturday she spent in her chair too, but when she was awake she wasn’t very lucid. sunday she spent in her bed, and monday she passed away. but on friday, my cousin mark called when she was sleeping. i filled him in on what was going on (he lives in arizona), and he said, “you should watch jeopardy with her.” leave it to mark to think of something great like that. and in a weird twist of fate, a guy i knew was a contestant that night. when she woke up i told her what mark said, and at 7:00 she was awake and we watched it together. 2 days later when i was holding her hand while she waited for morphine i told her how lucky mark and i are to have had her for our grandma. i’ll miss her but i’m so thankful for all of the years that our lives overlapped.