Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So long.

My grandmother, Norma M. Crandall, passed away yesterday morning at 5:30 a.m. I'm ok. I feel worse for my mom, you should read her blog here. Hers is the most important thing to say about it.

My grandmother lived with my grandfather in a big, old house with a wraparound porch surrounded by trees in upstate New York. It snowed and snow piled up and we sledded, and there was a fireplace. I remember bouncing in the seat with anticipation on the hours' long drive to Sidney as the land got bigger, spotted with the shapes of cows, and the towns got smaller, sometimes shrinking to just a row of mailboxes on the side of the road. Much of what I was looking forward to was seeing her. When I showed up she lit up, and the quality of her voice lifted, and she hung on everything I said, and I knew she felt the same about seeing me.

The experience of feeling so unconditionally appreciated is one of the greatest gifts grandparents give. They give you toys, yes. But when my Grandma and Grandpa showed up unexpectedly during a summer vacation in Maine, the toy they brought me (a brown bear) was only as important as having come from them.

My grandmother was smart, and creative. She worked as a drafter for Bendix Aviation, having a degree in Mechanical Engineering. As my mom wrote, Grandma has a patent for a helicopter grip that is still in use. I looked it up on Google records; there's even a picture of her original drawing submitted with the patent application. She used the same skill with drawing to hand-letter the granddaughter clock my Grandpa built for us. If you look closely at the curling leaves that ornament the clock face they subtly form the shape of all our initials. I didn't get to know this side of her as well. But kids are perceptive, and looking back, I remember the way her voice and her demeanor would change when she talked to me not just as a grandmother but as a person. Today I realize the sound and the color were hints of how sharp she was.  

(A strange legacy, but I remember her explaining to me why people got headaches, about blood vessels in the head. I've always had headaches, so this is something I remember every time I've had one since. I also remember her laughing when I asked why there was a magnet in the shape of a "Stop" sign on the refrigerator. It was to remind Grandpa not to eat too much).

The reason I associate my grandmother with her voice is that I didn't see her much after the two of them moved to Florida 20-something years ago. However, the times since that I called (rarely) or she called my mom, who then put me on the phone, her voice raised to meet me in that familiar way. She still hung on my every word. The last time I ever talked to her she told me that I, too, sounded just the same as she remembered me.

Some things do not change. It was a long time ago, but the memory of my grandparents' house in upstate New York is indelible, pristine, perfectly encapsulated, and my memories of her remain there. It was more than just a house and she was more than just a voice on the phone. What I can return to any time is the indescribable feeling of her and of them that filled that house, my impressions of the kitchen and the dining room, the fire and the stove, the sawdust in my grandfather's workshop.

I also think it's very important to say good bye. And it's true, the last ember in the fireplace in the old house has gently winked out. The last pile of sawdust is swept away and the bright wood in the scraps of the toys my grandfather made me will also turn darker; their perfect edges will soften. The lights in the windows will go out, quietly for the last time. But tomorrow is going to be something else, Grandma, indeed. 

For my mom.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this wonderful and very real tribute of Grandma. I could feel the years peel back as I read it and all that feeling of family came wafting back again. I love you, Mom

Elly Lou said...

That was beautiful. And I'm so, so, sorry for your loss. And your mom's. And I'm so grateful you shared this.

Eric said...

Mom, thank you for taking me up there so many times during those years. Elly, thank you as always for reading!

Tom G. said...

That was a beautiful post, and a wonderful tribute to your grandmother. My sister spent a few years living in Sidney. I feel that if I close my eyes I can picture the scenes that you paint as if I was there.