The End of the Story

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

Grandma with We Can Do It poster Grandma as she wanted me to remember her–and as I choose to remember her

Every story has to end, even one as long and epic as Grandma’s. She made it to her 98th birthday–barely; she died at 1:10 am. But she made it.

Since she was 98, her passing was neither tragic nor unexpected. But it still hurt, and it still hurts. Yes, she lived a long, full life, but without her, the lives of those of us left behind aren’t quite as full.

I can’t write any more, so I’ll leave you with the eulogy I wrote for her. It’s not the finest piece of literature, but it’s hard to polish writing when you can barely see it through tears. And it sums up a lot of what I feel. Here it is:

Naomi Kimball Harris, my grandmother, has been a part of my life for as long as…

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Time to Start Thinking About These Things

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

Grandma with bouquet Grandma with her bouquet–the photo that started our impromptu modeling session

I haven’t posted much about Grandma for the past few months because my visits to her have generally been heartbreaking. Every Wednesday, I bring a new bouquet to brighten up her room in an assisted living facility. When I arrive, she’s almost always lying in bed, listening to an audio book but unaware of its plot or title. She tends to be weak and disoriented, asking the same question over and over. I don’t like to dwell on the image of the lost and feeble shell that’s taken the place of my once-vibrant grandmother.

This week was different, though. When I brought my fresh bouquet to Grandma’s bed for her inspection, she sat up and said, “Take a picture of me with it!” So I did, but she wasn’t done. She ordered me to take pictures of her with…

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Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

grandma-and-ruthie-birthday-2016

My aunt and grandma recently celebrated their birthdays, which fall within two days of each other. (My aunt was quite the birthday gift for my grandma!)

I can’t say how old my aunt is–literally; I’m not sure exactly since her age froze in my mind when she was about 45, and she’s content to leave it that way. But it marked Grandma’s 97th year on Earth.

I look forward to posting the photo from Year 100!

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Unexpected Turkeys

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

Turkey tracks The mysterious tracks

I emerged from my grandma’s assisted living facility last week, blinking in the unaccustomed sunshine. It had been a routine visit; believe you me, when you’re visiting someone who’s 96 years old, the lack of surprises is a good thing. But surprises were yet to come…

Startled, I peered down at the tracks in the snow just ahead of my boots. “Are those TURKEY tracks?” I asked myself, incredulous.

If they were, this turkey apparently owned a vehicle and intended to depart, so purposefully did the tracks march toward the parking lot.

I was just about to convince myself I was mistaken when I looked up. Lo and behold, there was indeed a turkey, posing like it owned the assisted living facility and all its environs.

Lone turkey in parking lot The turkey surveying its domain

It wasn’t long before several other birds joined this Avian Noble, and they proceeded to strut…

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Bittersweet return

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

A few weeks ago, my brothers made the trek from Chicago to join me and the rest of my father’s family in visiting Gessner one last time. This beautiful old farmhouse, named for the road near which it stands, was the place where my grandma lived for over forty years and where the three of us had spent much of our childhoods. Now my grandma’s fragile health has forced her into assisted living and the house, now empty, has to be sold.

Fortunately, my brothers and I were able to use this reunion to re-live long-cherished memories and lay claim to artifacts from our childhoods. Here are some of the highlights of that last, bittersweet visit.

My brothers, sister, grandma, and I are standing in the kitchen where we've eaten so many meals together. My brothers, sister, grandma, and I are standing in the kitchen where we’ve eaten so many meals together.

My brothers re-enact the ill-advised WD-40 fight they'd had on Gessner's porch when they were in second grade. While the fight left THEM unscathed, my grandma, who was babysitting us, was understandably traumatized. My brothers re-enact the ill-advised WD-40 fight they’d had on Gessner’s porch when they were in…

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The Ring That Returned

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

Grandma's high school class ring, which she now wears on a chain with her favorite necklace. Grandma’s high school class ring, which she now wears on a chain with her favorite necklace.

I thought we’d run out of stories, but I was wrong. I should have realized that anyone who’s been on this earth for 95 years, as my grandmother has, will always have one more story somewhere inside.

This time, it was the ring that raised the story. I was visiting my grandmother at her assisted living facility, and I’d finished filling her in on all the news of the day. I was trying desperately to come up with a new conversation topic, one that wouldn’t bring up the painful subjects of her failing eyesight or loss of independence, one that ideally would focus on happier times.

Then I noticed a glint of gold among the welter of long necklaces she loves to wear. “Is that your high school class ring on that chain?” I…

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Genetic Vanity

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

Sage is startled when he notices an onlooker. Sage is startled when he notices an onlooker.

I peeked through the bathroom doorway, observing my son Sage meticulously applying “product” to his hair and lovingly combing each gel-coated strand. I knew better than to speak; any interruption of his intense preening would result in a shrill and eloquent reprimand. I had trouble biting my tongue, though, when I had a sudden revelation: This wasn’t just a six-year-old with a slightly disconcerting hair obsession. This was a Family Legacy.

Sage carefully inspects his work in the mirror. Sage carefully inspects his work in the mirror.

My son was a miniature reincarnation of my grandma Naomi’s older brother Paul. Not only did Paul share a name with Sage’s father; he also shared Sage’s overwhelming concern with hair. I’d never met Paul myself, but I’d heard stories about him.

My grandma's brother Paul as an adult; note the still-immaculate hair. My grandma’s brother Paul as an adult; note the still-immaculate hair.

During the height of the Depression, my grandma had explained…

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The arrival of Skipper

The arrival of Skipper

One of Grandma’s stories found new life with the arrival of my son’s latest pet.

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

Sage contemplates his new roommate, Skipper. Sage contemplates his new roommate, Skipper.

Our household is pleased to welcome its new arrival, a betta that, after some intense thought on Sage’s part, has been christened “Skipper.”

He named his fish in honor of my grandmother’s spunky but long deceased goldfish of the same name. She’d told us how, when my father and aunt were children, her family was in the process of moving on a cold winter day. They stopped at a restaurant and didn’t think to bring in the bowl containing their pair of goldfish, Flipper and Skipper.

The family (or at least my grandmother) was horrified to find the water frozen upon their return to the car. They thawed it upon arriving at their destination but alas, it was too late for Flipper.

Skipper, on the other hand, was a survivor. Although he remained half-paralyzed and swam with the aquatic equivalent of a limp for…

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An afternoon at Gessner

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

My grandma’s been struggling with a host of physical and emotional burdens lately, but she’s nothing if not determined; she’s returned to her home, a beautifully refurbished old farmhouse called Gessner after the road it’s on. Paul, Sage, and I went to visit her there last Sunday.

Visits to Gessner always give me the slightly disorienting feeling of living simultaneously in the moment and in a memory; Grandma’s living room is imbued with the scent of lavender and the golden glow of her many lamps. Her house is full of memories, both hers and mine, and every object has a story.

These are some of the images from that visit. I wish I could preserve all the scents, all the sounds, all the stories. I’ll never be able to, but at least I’ve made a start.

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No going gently into any good nights

Moments of Unexpected Beauty

It’s been a rough year for my grandma; she’s dealt with pneumonia, the encroaching loss of her eyesight, memory loss, and profound depression. Even so, she’s a fighter; she will never go gently into that good night, and now she’s got the book to prove it.

I’d been working with her to collect stories about her youth and early adulthood, and I submitted one of the stories to an anthology called Poetica Grandmatica. This book is a collection of stories by and about grandmas in our region, and its sales raise money for charitable organizations. While the contributing writers don’t get paid, they DO get to attend the Author’s Tea. This buffet-style luncheon takes place in one of the co-editors’ beautiful Victorian home, and getting to attend it is worth every word of contributed writing.

Poetica Grandmatica had been an annual publication for the last decade, but this year is…

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