My grandma died Sunday night. She was 91. Two weeks ago she had a stroke. We went down to see her in Columbus the next day. She showed signs of recovery and was moved to a rehabilitation facility last week, but we learned Saturday that she had pneumonia. That was that.
I'm thankful that I got to see her one last time and tell her how much I loved her, but it is not a memory I care to hold onto, seeing her weakened and struggling to talk, tubes attached to her paper-thin skin. Instead, I choose to think of her in that mountainside house in Brevard, N.C., where she and my grandfather moved to in 1984.
My grandparents were migratory. They met and married and had four children in Nebraska, moved to Illinois, moved to Kentucky, moved to Florida and then to North Carolina. We used to pack up the car, always on some bitterly cold morning during winter break, and drive the 10 hours south to visit and celebrate Christmas, leaving the frigid North Coast for the Blue Ridge Mountains. Usually, my aunts and uncles and their families would join us from their far-scattered homes in Florida and California.
We'd pick wild berries along the one-lane road and grandma would serve them with cream for breakfast, with granola and fruit and scrambled eggs and pastries. There was always pie. Boy howdy, she made good pie, especially pecan. Nobody will ever make pecan pie that good ever again.
One year, they watched me for spring break. It was the first time I ever flew on a plane. The idea of an 8-year-old boy flying alone today seems comical and maybe a bit negligent. It was a lot different in the 1980s. My parents walked me to the gate, they somehow arranged for people to take care of me on the flight and make sure I made my connection in Atlanta, and my grandparents greeted me on the tarmac at the Asheville Regional Airport. It was my first real adventure.
Grandma and I would reminisce about that visit almost every time I saw her in the last couple years. She had a slate board and chalk that I would draw on. She had Dennis the Menace books that I would read and then use as reference for my pictures. We went to the mall, and I got these little foldaway scissors. I shared a fondness for tools and gadgets like that with my grandfather, and my Christmas gifts from then on almost always included some multi-tool or pocket knife.
Just the other day, in my wife's craft room, I saw a pair of scissors just like the ones I had gotten all those years ago. They were plastic, but the design was the same. I hadn't thought about that in years. It's funny how memories work.
Grandpa died on New Year's Day 2005. Grandma had to sell the house she cherished in Brevard. It was the home they had stayed in the longest. She moved to Ohio with my one uncle and his family, who had recently moved to a suburb of the state capitol.
They would come up for Thanksgiving and usually for grandma's birthday. We celebrated her 90th the day after our wedding. She loved to have her family around.
We'll gather in her honor again next week for the funeral service. Then, she will make the trip back to North Carolina to be buried in the hidden away cemetery where grandpa was buried. Our child won't get to meet her, but I have stories to tell.