Monday, January 19, 2009

Twenty Years Ago Today

My Grandmother

My grandmother died twenty years ago today. I was nineteen at the time, which means that I have lived more of my life without her than with her. That makes me sad.

I was incredibly lucky that my grandmother lived with us until I was fourteen years old. She was the one who was there when I would get home from school and who was there for most of the summer (when she wasn't staying with my aunt in Virginia). She was a true grandmother, which means she loved me unconditionally and expected nothing from me. My mother had rules about bedtime and baths and what I should eat, but my grandmother had none.

When I was in eighth grade, I took part in Solo/Ensemble Competition for band, which is when we would prepare, to no one's surprise, solos and ensembles for performance and rankings. Our school said we could only participate in three events, so I did a trombone solo, a baritone solo, and an ensemble with another trombonist and two baritonists. Then, we found out that, for some bizarre reason, the rules said no one could play in a duet. There were two trombonists in a duet, and the director put me in at the last minute to make it a trio. At the competition, I scored the top score for each of my performances, which meant I took four gold medals home. I was so excited that I ran home. My grandmother was the only one there. I started to pull the medals out of my bad, and she just took each one. "Another one? You won all these?!" Of course she'd be proud of me, and my parents were, too. But as a fourteen-year-old, I welcomed that praise and love. It made me happy to make her happy.

A few weeks after that, she had a stroke. She fell in the middle of the night and had to bang an old slipper on the floor to wake us up. She moved into a nursing home after that, which was hard. But I still saw her all the time. I stopped by before my high school graduation in my cap and gown to take pictures with her, and I would sometimes stop by before going home on my weekends home from college.

When she died, my parents argued about who should call. Well, maybe "argued" is too strong of a word, but no one wanted to do it. They knew it would be bad for me to take. Then even talked of driving to Houston to tell me in person. But my father called, and I broke down. Then I went into shock. I was able to drive home. My step-father and brother-in-law were coming out the door to go to Dairy Queen for ice cream. I said I didn't want any. My mother came to the door and didn't say a word. We just hugged each other and sobbed. I don't remember anyone talking after that. Even my niece, who was just two at the time, sat there next to her mother and watched. She knew something was wrong, and she hung back all night.

At 9:00 that night, my mother stood up and turned on the TV. Knots Landing was starting, and that was something we always watched together. We watched it in silence. I don't remember a thing about it. We just watched it. My sister and her family left when it was over, and the rest of us went to bed.

I was the baby of the family, and I loved being the baby of the family. I had a grandmother, mother, and sister all ready to take care of me and pay attention to me. I know I would have made her proud, but it would have been nice to have ben able to have shared everything with her. I may not think about her everyday anymore, but I think about her a lot. I like to think that she and my mother are togehter now with both of my aunts just cracking each other up.

There's that question that James Lipton asks after all of his interviews on Inside the Actor's Studio: if heaven exists, what do you want to hear when you arrive? My answer has been the same for twenty years, modified only by my mother's death eighteen months ago: "Welcome home. Your mother and grandmother are right over here."

I'll see them someday. But today, I miss them so much.


  1. Nels, this was a beautiful post that brought tears to my eyes. The anniversary of my own grandma's death is coming on the 26th, so I can relate to much of what you write here. Take care, and thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute.

  2. I'll bet your mother and grandmother are extremely proud of you--how fortunate you are to have had the experience of a loving grandmother. Even though she's gone, you carry her love for you in your heart every day.