August 7, 2009 by Marj Hatzell
I met my dad yesterday. Mom didn’t have the heart to enter that dreary, empty house. It was so strange, walking through that back door one more time. Everything was the same but…it was so different. The ugly seventies shag carpet. The fluorescent light that once kept her “babies” alive. The knotty pine paneling. I immediately felt a sense of comfort wash over me. Even though I was dreading the task at hand, I felt safe. Safe and loved.
As I wandered from room to room I soaked in everything I could muster. I smelled the familiar smells of Dial Soap mixed with mothballs and Estee Lauder. Grandmom never went anywhere without spritzing herself with a few ounces. Her “Frivolous Faun” hair had long since returned to grey. Correction: White. Pearly white. Gorgeous, pearly, curly white hair. Her skin, although ninety-three, still looks smooth and creamy. Even her wrinkles can’t dampen her vibrant personality. When they took her out two weeks ago she yelled at them to put her RIGHT BACK IN THERE. She had Mother Angelica to watch and Lawrence Welk reruns were coming on later that night. A few days later, when admitted to the nursing home, she fought with my mother. She INSISTED she could walk right out of there and could feed herself, thankyouverymuch. This she said as she missed her mouth with the spoon, slumped over in her chair. To the bitter end, this proud woman will be as independent as her failing body will allow.
Every creak in the old floorboards was familiar. I passed the three-foot-tall Jeebus statue. I passed the equally large Mary statue. The pink bathroom was exactly the same. The bedrooms, although void of furniture, the same. Comforting and sad at the same time. I felt at home but it was so empty. Too empty. No Grandmom. No stories about when she was a little girl. No chastising me for not sitting properly or for wearing a shirt that shows everything. No reminders that I was GrandDad’s favorite (I am sure she told everyone that) or that he loved red heads, like my mom. My mom who looks exactly like him.
I passed the room where I got dressed the day I married my beloved. I wish the mirror I peered into to fix my veil was still there. When I entered my grandparents’ bedroom I saw the goldmine: boxes and boxes of slides. Every picture my grandfather had taken for thirty years. I am praying my uncle will do something with these, if not I am going to take my time and get them all converted to digital. Bug Boy was getting restless but I had to get it over with. I had to make peace with it.
I sat in front of the boxes and read the labels. Christmas 1967. Fall 1972, Christenings. Weddings. Trips to Rome. Grandkids and Greats. They were all there, right up until that day in 1984 when I walked into the house after school just in time for Mom to get the call about her father: He’s gone. As I pulled slides out (and was careful to put them back exactly as I found them) I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. Each and every picture of his children in their Easter and Christmas Attire, standing on the same steps. Then the pics of his eight children with their own babes. Christmas, Easter, Communions, weddings. It was an honor, a privelege, a custom to stand on those steps. Then the grandchildren were grown and it was their weddings I was looking at. And then they stopped. 1984. He was gone.
Bug Boy and my dad chatted and sat downstairs, looking at my grandfather’s trains. Dad was always supposed to get these. Instead, he’s giving them to his grandkids. That’s the kind of guy my dad is. Give and give. Never mind the get part. My grandparents were kinda like that. Do for others. Don’t worry about yourself. Think of others first. I put the boxes into my car, went into the house one last time to look. I said goodbye. Silly to think that way of a house and inanimate objects ( I totally won’t miss the large statues, they scared me as a child because they stared right at you I SWEAR!). But not so silly when you think of what they represent.
I am going to go see her tomorrow. I want to hug her and smell Estee Lauder (no matter how many times I complained that she was wearing too much) and her dial soap. I want to show her pictures of her “Greats”, as she calls them. I want to remember her happy and feisty and spunky, because mom says I am like her.
If I can be ten percent of what she was, I’ll be proud.