Category Archives: family

it’s complicated

once a week i pick lillee up, take her to our favorite coffee shop for hot chocolate, hang out and chitchat with her for an hour, and then drop her off at her morning preschool.

lillee always wants “candy on top” of her hot chocolate lid. truthfully, her cup could be full of dirt and she’d never notice, as long as there was candy on top. she starts ordering it before we’ve even gotten out of my car.


lillee in action

about a month ago, a new barista took our order. when lillee asked for candy on top, the barista looked at me sweetly and told lillee that she should “ask your mom if that’s OK.”

lillee scrunched up her face at the barista and said, “that’s not my mom.” then she turned to me and thought for a few seconds. she finally said, “who are you?”

good question. lillee was trying to do the math on how we ended up there together, which makes sense because she’s four. she’s just figuring out that her grandma penny is the same person as my mom – she’s only beginning to put those kinds of things things together.

i could have given lillee and the barista the long answer. lillee’s mom, karla, was my foster daughter – she was eight when she moved in with me, eleven when i adopted her, sixteen when i had major medical drama and she left home. we had a difficult relationship for many reasons: we’re very different people, kids generally end up in foster care because their biological parents aren’t meeting their needs very well and she had six years of that, and her teen years were especially rough (imagine that).

karla and harvey

karla and harvey

it was a pretty terrible time to be either one of us, but looking back at it i know that sixteen year-old karla made a good decision to leave corvallis and go back to humboldt county. she finished high school and started figuring out the kind of adult she was going to be, while i focused on my recovery. we grew apart during those years, and even though she’s now back living in corvallis (with her fiance and their new baby), we don’t spend time together. but my mom has a close relationship with karla, and she spends time with lillee. a year ago i started meeting up with them when my mom would have lillee for the day, and i always had a good time. when my mom found a summer preschool program for lillee, i volunteered to do the morning driving. lillee and i got to know each other better, and i really loved helping her transition into school. plus she’s just a cool kid. when karla signed her up for head start, i asked if i could still drive her to school once a week.


cosmo, devin, karla, gwen, and lillee

so that’s why lillee and i were standing at the counter ordering from the new barista, with that “who are you?” hanging in the air. instead of saying all of that, i looked at lillee and said, “i’m kriste.” lillee turned back to the barista and said, “that’s kriste.” obviously.

a few weeks back when i took lillee to class we ended up walking with her teacher to meet the bus. i introduced myself to her teacher as lillee’s aunt, because that feels like shorthand for our relationship. lillee looked at me like i was nuts and said, “you’re not my aunt. you’re my kriste.” and that’s how she introduced me this morning when one of the kids in the bus line asked who i was. “that’s my kriste.”

grandma penny, lillee, and me

grandma penny, lillee, and me

ms. york

pre-2009 i was not a violin virtuoso, so the damage my stroke did to my control of my left hand is an inconvenience and even a source of amusement at times.

i had not been training for a marathon when i was diagnosed with my brain tumor, so losing my ability to run didn’t force me to re-examine my identity.

i never was much of a fan of the circus, so my constant vertigo doesn’t deny me my dreams of life on a tightrope.

my double-vision hasn’t robbed me of a gold medal in the olympic biathlon.

but you know what i was before the medical drama of 2009? i was a good teacher. i was ms. york, and that meant something.

2nd grade

the last day of my last class at loleta elementary

to finance the second year of my master’s degree, i applied for a position as a graduate teaching assistant in the speech communication department at osu. i was relieved when i was hired, but even though my friends and family were enthusiastic nearly to the point of giddiness about my return to teaching, i wasn’t. now, after the end of fall term, i can see why. i was scared. scared that i wouldn’t still “have it.” scared that i’d have to figure out how to be a person who used to be a really good teacher. because i don’t know that i could have survived that blow to my identity.

lately i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about teaching and classrooms and identity and authenticity. i’ve been “percolating” this post for months, but i haven’t been able to get it right. so i’ll take my own advice and get it down without worrying about getting it right.

several months ago, one of the professors on my thesis committee told me that i should read a hidden wholeness by parker palmer. i tracked it down and read it on the train to seattle a week later. dr. anderson was right – it was exactly the book i needed to read on that exact train ride. it got me thinking about when in my life i’d felt the most authentic. to me authenticity is that place where the circles that make up the venn diagram of my life overlap, and trying to expand that overlap is how i define living a more authentic life. as i read palmer’s book i kept hearing the phrase “room five” in my head. room 5 was the multiage classroom in jefferson, oregon, where i taught for the best part of my teaching career. life in room five wasn’t all fun, but while i taught there i got to spend the majority of my waking hours being myself. and sharing space with other people who were being themselves.

room 5 didn’t spring to life fully-formed like an elementary athena. it was actually part of a chain of things that continues to be created today. my parents have played a big part – sure, their logic and consistency haven’t always made my day, but they made for a childhood where i felt safe and capable. as i’ve gotten older i’ve realized how fortunate i was to feel safe and capable as a young person. i aspire to do what i can to give those feelings to my students.

feeling safe and capable - thank, mom and dad!

feeling safe and capable – thanks, mom and dad!

my childhood neighbors, the charnows, did this amazing job of treating me as a friend without making me need to be more mature (or themselves less mature). it’s hard to describe, but it’s been the way i have built relationships with young people starting with the 3 charnow children, who were born when i was in elementary school.

living across the street from these fine people made such a difference in my life.

living across the street from these fine people made an enormous difference in my life.

when i was an undergrad, i worked at an infant/toddler center. my bosses were merilee and janet. they taught me a lot about child development and communication with parents and families, and also recognized that my instincts with kids were pretty good. their confidence in me helped me increase it in myself. as leaders they worked from the strengths of their employees – i didn’t realize that they were doing that until much later in my work experiences. i started babysitting for janet’s daughter, zari, and in the process became great friends with both of them. my life would be a very different place without the infant center.

merilee left notes like this around the infant center.

merilee left notes like this around the infant center.

and the lives of the people in my classes would also be very different if it wasn’t for my parents, the charnows, and the infant center. I built up some habits and instincts which have influenced the way i approach teaching and classrooms and work.

i started my elementary school teaching experience in a little rural school in kneeland, california. i student-taught in a K-3 multiage classroom, under the guidance of susan adams and her classroom assistant, jim cress. their classroom was a community, and i was fortunate to have it as a model early in my teaching career. i walked in the door every day and knew that would get to laugh and think and be seen. the mrs. adams and jim that those students knew were who they were in their whole lives – those were not invented school personas. they set a tone of appreciation in that classroom, and i am so grateful to have been a part of things. it changed me.


my first teaching position was as the only 4th grade teacher at a small rural school in humboldt county, california. i started teaching as soon as i graduated from college – i was 24 or 25 (about the age that my first students are now – so cool). it was a pretty hard-luck school in a hard-luck community – there were a lot of families living in poverty, a meth problem before very many folks knew what that was, and a lot of parents who hadn’t felt successful in their own school experiences and weren’t sure how to interact with the school system to support their children. of course these didn’t apply to all families, but i found myself drawn to the families and students who most needed my help. i realized that we all wanted to feel safe and capable, and that i could find things to like and respect about anyone who crossed my path. when i modeled that, my students did the same thing. it was awesome. i loved that school and even though i was excited to move to oregon, i was so sad to leave loleta. 

i doubt it

then kegan demant friended me on facebook. it hadn’t occurred to me that facebook would end up bringing the loletians back into my life. when i saw kegan’s name and realized that i was going to have a way to know those former students as adults, i was thrilled. most friend requests started with something like, “you probably don’t remember me, but i was in your 4th grade class.” don’t remember you? i’ve never once been friended by a former student i didn’t remember. i think that comes from the charnows – paying attention is the way to make your world meaningful. there’s always something important going on if you’re paying attention. and from the infant center i learned to focus the majority my attentions on assets not deficits. and susan and jim’s big contribution was that everything was improved if kriste and ms. york were really different names for the same person.

egg drop

when i start communicating with a former student, they inevitably ask me what they should call me. my answer is that they can call me kriste or ms. york – i answer to both. i still call my beloved high school english teacher “mr. pickering.” and he makes fun of me about it.

lately i’ve had an incredible surge in the ms. york department – yesterday a woman i work with pointed this out and wondered if the universe is trying to tell me something.


this summer i finally got around to asking a young woman from loleta about her younger brother, who kept me on my toes (this is a compliment) when he was a 4th grader. turns out that he’s an inmate at san quentin – not exactly what i wanted to hear, but i got his address and wrote him a letter. he wrote back right away, and getting an unprompted letter from his 4th grade teacher blew his mind. his letter was great – i could certainly still see that spark in him that i loved when he was a kid. we’ve written about a dozen letters since then, and he’s gradually painted a picture for me of his teen years and prison and the people who have impacted his life. i really am enjoying getting to know him again, and i’m aware that as ms. york i have a huge amount of credibility with him. i’m not trying to save him or convince him of anything – i’m really just enjoying the give and take of our correspondence. and maybe i remind him how it was to feel safe and capable – he hasn’t had much of that in his life.

a few months ago i got a friend request from a person with a last name i didn’t recognize. i looked at a few of her pictures and realized that it was one of those holy grail people i’ve always wondered about. i get choked up just thinking about it. then i found out that not only did i get to have her in my life again, but she was temporarily living with her brother and sisters about an hour away from me. so a week later i was sitting in a pizza parlor with the family. and the resilience of these people – they had terrible trauma happen in their lives, and have somehow remained absolutely delightful people. i even got to go trick-or-treating with this young woman and her two children.


loleta – the next generation

i left loleta to move closer to my parents into corvallis, oregon. i got my dream job teaching a primary multiage class (grades 1/2/3) in jefferson, a community that needed good teachers. my classroom was room 5, and it meant something to be from room 5. a new principal came to the school my fifth year teaching there, and when he announced that over the summer he would dismantle the multiage program, i knew that i needed to leave. i couldn’t stick around to see the culture of our classroom taken apart. i am still sad (and a little angry) that i couldn’t stay. i took a job in corvallis, which ended up being a blessing because when my trauma hit that next summer i had a support network where i lived which was critical to my recovery, and to my quality of life.

that year teaching in corvallis also gave me an important analogy for what i was doing in my classroom. a co-worker once accused me of “really encouraging” a student who was a first grader and the embodiment of delight. yes, i encouraged him. i encourage all of them. i think of my classroom as one of those cool rock tumblers that seemed to be running at the back of every classroom in the early-eighties. my job isn’t to make someone into someone they’re not. it’s to smooth some of the rough edges and polish them up. i was able to do some of that with the 3/4/5 class i taught that one year, and i really enjoyed spending the day with the characters who ended up sharing space with me there.

this represents how i feel about room 5.

this represents how i feel about room 5.

but man i have missed jefferson. this summer i started driving again, which meant that the 30 minute trip back there was something i could do. so i invited my sidekick mrs. (redding) schmidt to meet me at the mexican restaurant for lunch. we talked about authenticity, and she also felt like room 5 was the place in her life where she was her most authentic self. while we were chatting, a young woman brought us a basket of chips. it was katia! she was in the first group of students i’d had in room 5 for all three years. from facebook it looked like her teen years were going pretty smoothly. and then there she was, in the flesh. her younger brother, who was also a room 5 kid, came to meet her there when she got off work. which meant that this happened:

room 5 reunion

i guess that this post has taken me so long because i have a lot to say.

back to the present. now i’m teaching a recitation section of intro to public speaking. once a week a few hundred students, mainly freshmen, go to a mass lecture on theory taught by a professor. she supervises a group of GTAs and adjuncts who teach classes of 20 students twice a week. we get to do the practical stuff, and my class somehow synthesizes all of my interests and skills. i love it. i loved the way my students came together as a group in the fall. thinking about how that happened last term and in the dozen years of teaching before that helped me to be able to label my expectations for myself and my new class that met for the first time yesterday:

111 rules

during one lecture session last term, the GTAs gave short speeches to model the use of visual aids. i told the story about the only toy a student ever got back out of my epic toy collection. i brought the toy jesie swapped for it – next time i’m bringing jesie, who is now a high school student in corvallis. i asked my students to give me feedback about my speech. here’s one i loved:


during one of our last sessions, i pointed out that i have pictures of each of my classes and asked if i could take one of them. they humored me.

111 f13

in the last few weeks i’ve reconnected with one of the room 5 kids. tyson. as my friend deb told him, he’s a legend. i bet i’ve said his name hundreds of times since i left jefferson. we became friends on facebook a year or so ago, and it seemed clear to me that he was having some turmoil in his life. at the end of november i sent him a happy birthday message (he turned 18!) and we started messaging back and forth about our lives, until i did the math and realized that i could just drive to jefferson and eat a meal with him. so we made plans. it was fantastic to be able to sit at a table with him –  i was his captain of his fan club when he was 8 and i still am.

on her wall my grandma florence had the Y page from a room 5 alphabet book we made way back when – “tyson is yelling at ms. york.” here’s the illustration:


tyson liked the idea that we update it. my grandma would have loved it.

this time he wasn't actually yelling at me - maturity.

this time he wasn’t actually yelling at me – maturity.

we’ve gotten together every week since then. it has been fantastic to have time to talk about the future and the past and the present – i think that it’s meant a lot to both of us. yesterday he headed to job corps in estacada, which i think will be a great thing for him. i’m looking forward to being a part of it, and glad for the time we had before he left.

then yesterday while i was waiting for a class i was looking through the contacts on my phone and saw a name and wondered if it was my former student noah’s mom. noah spent a lot of time with me when he was a first grader in room 5, and after i stopped teaching in jefferson. then i dropped off the face of the earth. i didn’t tell him what was going on because the plan was that i’d be back up and running within a month or two after my surgery. when that didn’t happen, i disappeared from his life and i’ve always felt bad about it. i wanted to explain that i hadn’t forgotten about him. and i missed him – i really enjoyed his company. we had gotten into a pretty great routine. so i texted this number in my phone and it was his mom! she said that they’re still nearby, that noah is doing great, and that he’s 13 and the oldest of 5 siblings. i asked her if we could get together this weekend. and then like magic i was talking to noah on the phone. i told him a little about what had happened and, empathetic and kind person that he is, he asked me what i’m studying at osu. i suggested that we catch up over lunch this weekend. i said that i’d take them all out, and he asked if it could just be me and him this time and the rest of them can come next time.

so good

kriste and noah circa 2009

so it’s a pretty cool time to be kriste. or ms. york. i answer to both.

ashes to ashes

i did not inherit my grandma's sense of style.

i did not inherit my grandma’s sense of style.

january 19th would have been my grandma florence’s 94th birthday. she wanted to be cremated, and her ashes had been in a box in my parent’s guest bedroom closet since soon after she died last march. my mom and i decided that her birthday was a good day to scatter her ashes – the next thing was to decide where. in 2010 we took gflo to our friends’ vineyard, harris bridge, to go wine tasting. it was a lovely warm late-summer day, and we sat on their deck while amanda played with their young daughter and nathan brought us tastes of the dessert wine they make. each time he came out with a bottle he’d ask us what we thought of the last one. gflo wasn’t a fan of sweet wine, and she let him know. so much so that last year when i mentioned to him that my grandma had died, he said, “the one who hated our wine?”

that's harris bridge in the background.

that’s harris bridge in the background.

gflo liked the idea of her ashes ending up in the pacific ocean, because that’s where my grandpa fred’s ashes were scattered by the fiendish-sounding neptune society when he died about fifteen years ago. the marys river (yep, no apostrophe) runs under harris bridge, meets up with the willamette near downtown corvallis, which empties into the columbia in portland, and eventually out into the pacific near astoria. mom researched local statutes about scattering ashes, which is an ok thing to do if you have the landowner’s permission. nathan and amanda were glad to have their vineyard be part of the story again, and mom and i made plans for the 19th.

"tyson is yelling at ms. york." possible gflo's favorite picture of me.

“tyson is yelling at ms. york.” possible gflo’s favorite picture of me.

time for a related story.

i moved to corvallis less than a year after my grandpa fred died, to teach a primary multiage class in jefferson. the kids ate lunch in our classroom, which i grew to really love. some of the most interesting conversations i’ve ever had took place when i was sitting in a tiny chair at a low round table with a few 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. one in particular comes to mind.

in my grandparents' front yard

you’re not seeing things. my grandpa is rockin’ a purple blazer.

the conversation was about grandfathers. i said that my grandpa fred had died (it was still recent enough that my breath caught when i talked about him). one of the kids asked me if i visited his grave. i got to, “he doesn’t have a grave, he was–” before it occurred to me that i had to finish the sentence – “cremated.” “what’s cremated?” asked one of the kids. i proceeded to explain in as little detail as possible while still being accurate. tyson, in the picture, shouted, “they burned up your dead grandpa?” yep, they did. another question, “what did you do with his ashes?” i said that they had been scattered in the ocean. tyson again – “they threw your dead grandpa off a boat?” yep, i guess that’s exactly what happened. and it was the first time in months that was able to think about my grandpa and laugh. thank goodness for second graders.

even if my legs were long enough, i would not have been allowed to have my feet on the table.

even if my legs were long enough, i would not have been allowed to have my feet on the table.

mom and i wanted to do something when we scattered gflo’s ashes, but nothing too fussy because she wouldn’t have liked that. i suggested that mom read the obituary she wrote (it was really for both of her parents, because there wasn’t one for grandpa when he died). she asked me to read the blog post i wrote about gflo. we decided to get a bottle of harris bridge wine so we could toast our mother and grandmother.

the "smokin' hotties" picture from the obituary my mom wrote.

the “smokin’ hotties” picture from the obituary my mom wrote.

on her birthday, we brought gflo’s ashes to harris bridge in the snazzy quilted bag we got for that purpose last year on mother’s day. january 19th, 2013, was cold and cloudy, but at least it wasn’t raining. we unpacked her ashes, brought along the wine, and walked up to the bridge.

photo (4)

mom opened the plastic bag inside the box, and let gflo’s ashes fall into the marys river. she read the obituary and we drank a little wine.

see that lighter bit of the river? that's her ashes. it was kind of amazing to see.

see that lighter bit of the river? that’s her ashes. it was amazing.

we walked down to a spot along the river, and i read my blog post. there was more wine drinking, and less tears than i would have expected. i think that my mom and i both feel really thankful to have had gflo around as long as we did. grandpa too. they were pretty damn cool people to know.

704730_663819169210_348130196_o (1)

i’m looking forward to wine tasting at harris bridge on a warm day this summer – i’ll sit on the deck and look out at the marys river, and raise a glass to my fabulous grandma florence.

photo (2)


on the occasion of my 3-year anniversary – 3 years since the day this picture was taken:

i thought i’d answer a few questions that might come to a new reader of my blog and possibly even a longtime reader.

where did the name “tumorfest” come from?

“tumorfest” is the name my friend madalaine gave to the drive that she, my mom, and i took from arizona to oregon. on the first anniversary of my tumor surgery, i was in hawaii and got my phoenix tattoo. for the second anniversary, i wanted to throw a party to get folks from different parts of my recovery together. tumorfest was the logical name. the second tumorfest was this last week. august 7th.

who made that rad tumorfest logo?

the logo came to me in a dream. i drew it and emailed it to my buddy noah (son of madalaine). he does graphic design, so he whipped up the logo. the colors are from my plaid rocking chair.

you used to have a lot of migraines. do you still?

gary, me, mike

i started getting migraines in elementary school. as a young adult, they became more frequent, and before my medical drama i was having 4 or 5 a month. they almost always were on my left side, behind my eye. which is where my tumor was/is. since my surgeries, i haven’t had a single migraine, not even a headache. a silver lining.

where were you when you had your stroke?

my stroke happened after the tumor surgery, so i was conveniently already in the hospital.

how did your stroke happen?

the tumor was too large to remove completely, so dr. spetzler de-massed it. the area where it was collapsed, which pulled on structures it was attached to – that was the bleed – a hemorrhagic stroke.

what is your secret chicanes wish?

my wish is that ellen will discover this blog and have me on her show to shower me with rad canes. this wish is complicated by the fact that i have no desire to be on television.

what are you going to be studying when you start at osu in the fall?

i’m starting a master of arts in interdisciplinary studies. i’ll be integrating three fields (mine are sociology, english, and speech communications) to create my own program of study. i’ll be looking at how writing personal narrative in a group can be used to heal trauma. basically the writing part of  digital storytelling.

do you still collect canes? how many do you have?

there are 14 canes in my hall tree. i inherited a few from my grandma when she died, and i’ll continue to keep a lookout for cool canes. you should, too.

now that you aren’t walking with a cane anymore, shouldn’t you change the name of this blog?

i named the blog “chicanes” because of a line from an ELO song (“can’t get it out of my head” – a little tumor humor). and i stand by my tagline – “if you have to walk with a cane, you might as well have some rad ones.” that’s just a fact.

it looks like your life is really good. should i go and have a stroke so that i can be cool like you?

yes, my life is really good. but i strongly suggest that you avoid having a stroke, if possible. pretty much everything i do is hard. but i don’t mind the hard work – “i’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive.” there has to be an easier way to have a cool life like me. to get started, i’d advise you to look for silver linings, to notice all of the things around you to be grateful for, and to put good into the universe – it comes back to you.

gifts from my grandma

my grandma florence passed away this morning. she was 93.

my grandpa fred and grandma florence

grandma florence (sometimes known as gflo) gave me many gifts. these are some that come to mind.

my mom and aunt claire with g&g at their surprise 40th anniversary party

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.

soon after she gave it to me, i put gflo to work polishing the dining room table.

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.

mark and me in the olive tree in our grandparents' front yard

fantastic memories

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.

my mom took me and gflo winetasting.

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.

juicy fruit

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.

me loving life in front of my grandma's rose garden

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.

amazing that in my late 30s i shared many meals with my parents and both my grandmas.

unconditional love

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.

a spotter

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.

mark and kriste and their fabulous grandma florence