loving a broken fridge; lessons from my grandparents.
Over Memorial Day weekend, my partner, James and I headed out of town for our anniversary. After an afternoon of treasure hunting around SLO, we went back to our hotel room at the Madonna Inn to relax for a while before our dinner reservation. We sipped champagne and watched the history channel like the romantic fools we are. During the program, a commerical came on for a DVD collection of WWII footage. Sitting on the couch in our hotel room, I am suddenly overwhelmed by flickering memories of my grandparents.
The very last memory I have of my grandfather occurred during the summer of 1999. He and I were sitting at the kitchen table while my grandmother was making breakfast. He was telling me a story of some trouble he got into in his youth. The funny thing, is I cannot remember the story he was telling that day because what happened next had such a great impact that the memory created will hold such a large space in my heart that the original story no longer matters.
In the midst of his story, he paused and looked over at my grandmother who was humming while she cooked. They gazed at each other the way young lovers do. She broke the gaze first and went back to the stove. My grandfather continued to stare at his wife with a half smile and finally breaking the spell, he said to me, “Isn’t she the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”
“Yes. Yes, she is.”
“Oh, stop it you two,” my grandmother giggled and went back to humming.
This memory easily leads the natural progression and soon I am remembering my grandfather’s funeral. It was his Navy uniform that my grandmother first fell in love with when they met in Chicago. During his funeral, she held it together like the remarkable woman she was until the Navy came out for his burial. In seeing her cry, I realized that was the first time in my life I had seen her cry out of sadness. She was a gregarious lady who was always laughing. Sometimes pure joy would bring a tear to her eye but never had I seen her allow sadness to take over the way that it did when they moved my grandfather’s casket into the marble wall.
“This is what I get for only loving one man for my whole life,” she said to me later in the limo.
In the hospital, when the color was leaving my grandfather’s skin and the heart monitor stopped its rhythm, my grandmother held him in her arms rubbing his skin to try to make the color return. She was always trying to fix anything broken to those she loved.
My grandfather was in Chicago for his Navy training prior to meeting up with his ship in New York. The story that I remember as to how they met took place in a Woolworths. He walked up to her and said, “I would like to walk you home,” and she responded, “But I just got here!” My grandfather, always the wiseass, responded, “You can come back.”
A couple of weeks later, they were married.
When my grandmother married my grandfather, she left everything she owned behind. She first traveled with him to New York to meet his ship and then onto Long Beach to meet his ship again before it set sail to the Pacific. She stayed in Long Beach until he returned from war. My father was born in 1945 and she named him after her husband, Martin. However, when my grandfather’s ship returned from war, my grandmother ran aboard with my father in her arms. The men on the ship, called my father, “Skipper” and to this day, close friends and family still call him Skip.
In 1956, my grandparents built a pharmacy in the small Southern California desert town of Calimesa. Sadly in 1958, tragedy struck my family as both my 3 year old uncle Brian and my great grandfather James both died suddenly.
Brian died at the age of 3 from injuries he received in a fire that destroyed their home. The hospital was able to keep Brian alive for several days following the fire but too much of his body had been burned for long term survival. My grandmother never really got over the loss of my uncle. My uncle Brett was born a few years later. She was protective of him in a way that only a mother who has experienced loss can be. For example, for Brett’s last year of USC medical school, my grandmother moved to East L.A. to be there to support him as he finished his studies. That kind of self sacrifice was just who my grandmother was as she was the woman whose family came first.
Strange things happen when someone you love is preparing to die. My uncle felt that he needed my grandmother’s permission to purchase a new refrigerator for her house and as the final days approached, this became more of an important issue as if she died before he got an answer, would he be defying her wishes if he was to replace a broken fridge with a fancy new one?
For the Christmas before she died, my partner, James had arranged a trip down to visit my grandmother. We sat around looking at old photographs and my grandmother would tell us stories about some of the pictures we were looking at. It was such a wonderful experience that I would not change for the world. To me, that was the goodbye I needed with my grandmother. She was still her happy, optimistic, witty self. She also gave me her blessing for my relationship as she was never one to keep an opinion of love to herself.
In a way, James is my refrigerator.
Sitting on opposite ends of the large L shaped couch in our hotel room, I look over at him and he smiles a warm smile back at me. I couldn't think of a better broken appliances to be stuck with.