The earliest memory of grandma is her and grandpa taking me to Comiskey Park for the first time. Grandpa drove, and I was in the back seat. She kept telling me to look for the lights, because that would be the first thing you would see as we drove up the Dan Ryan toward 35th Street. Sure enough, there it was, big as life!
She was a witness to an interesting slice of history. When she was born, the idea of women voting was wholly new. She never did miss an election, and often harped on me for not making voting a priority. When she was of age to go to college, there were far fewer opportunities for women, not that the family cuold have afforded it. She married young, and started a family, and learned the skills that a lot of women learned: typing and filing. I have often felt that this was the biggest crime. She was a very bright woman, and I think would have excelled in a college setting. While she often said that she had no regrets about her life, I often thought she was born a generation or two too soon. She never rally acted like an old person.
No one could cook like grandma … except maybe my mom … until I learned that my mom learned a lot of her cooking from grandma. She made some of the best pancakes and ribs (not at the same time) as I’ve ever tasted (Mrs. Vasilj’s ribs were the only ribs that ever made it close).
I remember visiting grandma at work … Arrowhead School in Palos where she worked for many years as the principal’s secretary. The school is closed now … a park district property, but she stayed in touch with many of the teachers and the principal there. I learned a very important lesson: school secretaries are the single most important people in the building: bar none. Custodians are a close second, but the secretaries run the place. For a future teacher, it is an important lesson.
Of course I am sad that she is gone. In reality she has been gone for several months. The last time I communicated with her she undoubtedly had no recollection of who I was, though she acted like it. That was about three weeks ago. On Saturday, I was contacted by mom, and told that the nursing staff had given her very little time. I saw her yesterday. She was comatose and feverish, breathing in gasps from the diaphragm. The body continued, but undoubtedly anything that really made her grandma was long gone. I could not help but think of the irony: her husband, my grandfather was on his way to work, took a drink of coffee, and never stopped falling backwards as he died from a massive heart attack. Grandma’s death was the opposite: prolonged and slow. Grandpa got the better end of that bargain.
My worry now is for my Aunt who has never really lived apart from her, and my father, both of whom have been dealing with this rather roughly.
Several years ago, she started cleaning things out and giving things away to people whom she felt would appreciate the gifts. There were two such gifts that I got. One was a baseball autographed by Bill Veeck. It had been one of my grandfather’s prized posessions, and if I may sound conceited, there is no one she could have given that ball to for safer keeping, as it is the pride of my small collection. The other was a book “Dirty Harry” ….. which she would read to me countless times as a kid (this is the story about a dog who constantly gets dirty, not a San Francisco cop toting a 44-magnum). She signed it to me with love, from grandma. I will soon be passing that on to Scott and Patti to read to their little Madleine Maeve, though I think in the coming days I will sit down and read it one more time.
I will be taking the day of the funeral off, but will work through the day of the wake. I asked my parents if there was a need to have me down there so early, and they agreed that there was really no reason.
As always, I appreciate the kind words of support