A year ago two days ago, I heard my Nan's sing-song laugh for the last time. I will cherish that last conversation, as short as it was.
A year ago yesterday, I had just turned in my very first grant in my new job and I had a strong urge to go to my Nan NOW. I have always had a disturbing intuition about those things related to life, and the feeling had started with our last conversation. I looked for a last minute flight, telling my mom I did not want to wait until Nan got out of the hospital. We needed to go. By 11pm, things had turned and then turned again, and we had booked a flight and then re-booked it for the second flight out in the morning. It was a race against God and Nature - one that we were not meant to win.
I'm good at not winning races, in case you've noticed =)
Anyway, that day, hubby dropped us off at the airport after more of a nap than a night's sleep. We both fought to keep ourselves composed throughout the trip. As we flew into Albany, a streak of pink appeared in the sky. By my calculations, that was probably about the time Nan was taking her last breath. Mom smiled and pointed it out, since Nan's nickname was "Pinkie" back in the day.
We continued to "fly" when we got to Albany, not ready to make contact with any of our family, not wanting to know. There we went, in our little tin-can of a rental that smelled horribly of smoke, speeding in the traffic and around trucks on the 2 lane roads through the Vermont back country. It was raining. I dropped Mom off at the doors, just in case, I thought, she could make it in time. I somehow knew I wouldn't. It's been a pattern for me...
Anyway, I want to focus on the strength. Nan struck me as an incredibly strong woman. She raised 5 kids and like a dozen grandkids. She taught us how to swim, slathered us with sunscreen, and made sure there were always popsicles in the freezer in the summer. In the winter, she once snuck me out onto her back hill when I was sick, just because she knew it'd be the only time I'd get to sled that year (Mom figured it out when she saw my rosy cheeks). She rarely showed any emotions other than positive ones. Laughed a lot.
I remember, though, the day Grammy died. Amazingly vividly, in fact. Dad had taken us into the field behind Nan and Pop's to tell us she was gone. I walked back in the house and Nan was crying. She was wearing her sunglasses inside (something she tended to do until we reminded her). I think that's one of the only times I ever saw her cry. There was strength in those tears, too.
She taught me that there is a bond between Mother and Daughter that makes us stronger. Mom and I managed to pretty much hold it together for each other when one of us needed a little extra... heck, Mom and I managed to live together as adult women, with our husbands, in close quarters, for like 8 months. If that ain't strength, people, I don't know what is!
I remember Nan's hands. They were strong, smooth, bedazzled (hm, is that where I got my love of jewelry?), and wrinkled up in a particular way as she smoothed her hair out just so, or patted the table and then my hand or magically unburned my favorite peasant shirt I had just burned with the iron, or fixed dropped eggs on toast (like no one else could or ever will be able to, in my opinion), or grabbed me out of the ocean as I tumbled after getting hit with a particularly unforgiving wave, or held onto the ladder as she slowly eased herself into the pool (ohhhhh! she would exclaim - I think we all mimicked her at some point), or reached for the pool thermometer to tell us it was a balmy 70 and we should jump in or pushed the water so we could have a whirl pool faster, or made up one of the pull out couches (in summer) or upstairs beds (in winter) so we could have a sleep-over...
Yup, strength. She had us all fooled. She trucked through Boston like 10 years ago - I had to stop and get a brace for my swelling knee, but Nan? Nan was fine. Come to my wedding? You betcha - dance with me? Of course, even though she thought it was silly. Let anyone on to the fact that she'd end up in the hospital while I enjoyed my honeymoon? Nope. Nan never seemed to get sick. Even in her final days, she had everyone fooled. They had no idea it would be so sudden. But that was her way...
I miss our workday calls immensely. I often wonder what the weather is like up there or how Emmie is or what her friends or my other family members are up to. I sometimes now even still reach for my phone, as if I am going to call her. I still walk out of work almost every day, phone in hand, as if I am going to call her on my way out the door.
I remember the games of Rummy, the way she'd turn around to throw something away in her kitchen, how her kitchen never seemed as small as it really was when she was in it, how she always had something to give each of us at Christmas, the way she'd call Pop "Jeromie", the way her swim skirt would float as she did her exercises in the pool, the way she patted her hair to see if her curlers were dry yet, the beauty parlor sessions in her kitchen, the way she'd stand at the bottom of the red carpeted stairs and gently call your name to see if you were awake when you needed to be, how a bathroom break settled all quarrels between grandkids, how she had a home remedy for everything - often ice or a hot washcloth, the way she'd sit with her legs crossed and her hands dangling down, bent toward the earth at the wrists, the trips to Seward's and Friendly's, the shopping trips, the hugs, and the "Love, Nan" written on my last birthday card.
So, a year ago tomorrow, I wrote that I hoped all blogs go to heaven. I am sure they do, at least to Nan. Us redheads have a special bond, one that I will feel and appreciate for the entirety of my life. So Nan, I hope to continue on in your work, making the lives of my loved ones and all around me a little easier and nicer with my presence and talents, appreciating my strength and the strength of the women in my family, so I can truly fulfill the nickname given to me the summer we discovered we had the same haircut and pink plastic frames...