By many accounts, this has not been a good year for my dad. He started off the year watching his beloved KSU wildcats lose in the Fiesta Bowl and today, he will watch his 97 year old mother be buried. But if you see my dad in the next few weeks, he will be the same as he was when I was home at Christmas - mellow, happy, and ready to chat.
If you are a child and want to play Monopoly, just set up the card table and he'll join you. He'll go geocaching with you - if it's not too cold and windy, and he will have a story to tell. Always, there is a story to tell. No matter what you tell him, you won't rattle him. It's just not his style. My mom told me there was a fan of the team that beat KSU in one of the golf clubhouses my parents visited after the game who couldn't help but make nasty remarks to my parents. My dad just shrugged and told him "we've lost before, and we'll lose again".
Because that's my dad. And that's been my dad for 60 years, I suspect (I've only known him for nearly 40, and I have very few memories of those first couple of years).
It's been six years since my grandfather died. The moments of lucidity since then (and before) for my grandma have been reportedly few and far between. Alzheimer's took her mind, and eventually the rest of her body followed. I don't think she had any major health issue prompting her death, her body just stopped working. And of course, at 97, that's a pretty reasonable thing for a body to do.
NINETY-SEVEN. Just ruminate on that for a minute. That is a crazy age to live to. Yet, my sister and I have both admitted we hope we have a parent around when we reach sixty - and thanks to the way math works, that means my mom will need to live to 89 and my dad will need to live to 91. So, not quite 97, but still...
My grandma played organ, liked to sing a bit, and was a champion speller. She fussed over invisible dust bunnies, dyed her hair, and clearly felt like she needed to wear make-up. I have no idea if she agreed or disagreed with my grandfather's conservative politics because she was a lady, and ladies do not disagree out loud.
The irony of having just taught Helen a Peggy Seeger song about wanting to be an engineer and fighting for fair wages is not lost on me, as I type this. No, Helen, I don't want you to be a lady. But I think it suited your great-grandma.
My grandma didn't say a lot, didn't smile in photos, and should've stayed out of the kitchen. Her two kitchen legacies are the ability to turn tin-foil into gravy (how else to explain the similarity in taste?) and burning rolls.
Years ago, we were eating Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents' home. My brother-in-law put into action the tried-and-true practice of smothering the turkey and potatoes with gravy, because that? That would make everything taste good. My mom, sister, and I all stood there in shock, because we had spent so many years avoiding the gravy, that I think we had forgotten how powerful the stuff was. We have had more than one laugh reliving the look on my brother-in-law's face when he took a bite.
That same dinner, my grandma had put a pan of rolls in the oven. Mind you, these are just the store bought rolls that come in packages that essentially need to be reheated or browned a little bit. The rolls were done, and my Aunt came into the kitchen and removed them from the oven - right on time. I observed the bold act, thinking that for the first time ever, the rolls would not be burnt. Only, before my aunt could set the pan down, my grandma put them right back into the oven and admonished my aunt that the turkey wasn't done yet. And that pretty much sums up every cooking memory I have of my grandma.
She might be the one person for whom canned goods were truly a blessing.
In retrospect, I think her mind might have been leaving her even then. All those times my grandpa talked over her (and I assure you, my angry feminist college self thought this was awful) were maybe just cover for something my grandpa recognized that he was keeping from everyone else.
People who visited my grandma reported that she wanted to go back home to Mankato and years ago, she told me the same thing. Her mind has been in Mankato for a long time. My dad assures me my grandma is in a better place and deep down, I'm grateful that her body has caught up with her mind.
I hope my dad's year turns around. He deserves it.