The second I saw the name on the caller ID I knew what the call was about. I answered it anyway.
"[Minnow], it's Mom. [Uncle] just called to let us know that Grandma died a few minutes ago."
Even though it's been expected for a while, it's still hard to hear those words. My mother and I talked for a few more minutes, but then I decided I needed to get off the phone so I could call my kids and let them know. My ex-wife went and rounded them up, then called me back when they were all together so I could tell them over speaker-phone. It seems like such an impersonal way to spread this kind of news, but sometimes that's how things have to be when you're hundreds of miles apart. By the time my ex-wife had them all sitting there together, and I finally told them what was going on, I honestly think my kids were relieved to find out that it was my grandma (who we all knew was going to pass away) instead of theirs.
My grandmother was a very religious woman, and didn't want anybody to be sad when she was gone. She wanted her funeral to be a celebration of sorts. She was ninety-two years old, and lived a full life. Few, if any, of us will make it that far. I just wanted to take some time to reflect on some of the memories I have of her and share them here.
I visited my grandma a few times this year. Never for more than an hour or two at a time, but it was enough. I think. During one of those visits she told me, "I have nineteen grandchildren. Each one of them thinks that they're my favorite. And you know what? They're all right!"
She had several traditions that helped make us all feel special. Every year I looked forward to getting my birthday card from her. She must have paid a lot of postage, because she'd tape coins to the inside of the card, one of each kind for every year I'd been alive. For example, when I turned ten years old, she sent a card with a ten dollar bill, ten one dollar bills, ten quarters, ten dimes, ten nickels, and ten pennies. That was quite the haul for a ten year old back then. At least it was to this ten year old.
We always looked forward to spending New Year's Eve at her house, because we were the only kids in the world who were lucky enough to have a second overnight visitor from the North Pole. It wasn't Santa Claus though. He only came on Christmas Eve. But wouldn't you know it? There were always a few left-over toys and treats that needed to be taken care of, so Santa sent one of his elves, Johnny Green, to deliver them to her grandchildren on New Year's Eve. My parents would always discourage us from discussing what Johnny Green had brought us when we went back to school. They didn't want the other kids to have to feel bad that Johnny Green never came to their Grandmas' houses.
She had a large back yard, which was perfect for Easter Egg hunts every spring. There were dozens and dozens of colored eggs set out for all the grandchildren to go out and find. Some of them were just colored eggs. But some of them came with a cash reward. It was probably just her way of keeping the tradition alive as we all got older, but there were some competitive searches for the grand prize egg, which, if I remember correctly, was worth ten dollars. Several other "cash" eggs were set out that were worth anywhere from five cents to five dollars. It was easy for a kid to go home slightly richer than they'd arrived that day.
My grandma grew up in the Bear Lake area (in southern Idaho/northern Utah). We had a few family reunions there, but one summer she took just me and one of my cousins to visit Bear Lake for a week, where she took us around to show us all the places that were important to her. We spent time swimming in Bear Lake, water skiing behind her brother-in-law's boat, exploring the depths of Minnetonka Cave, diving off of rope swings into mountain lakes, shooting pool, and perhaps most importantly eating raspberry shakes. It was only a week, but it left a lasting impression on me.
I could go on, but I won't. I already feel like I'm rambling. I just have one more. I visited her last year, and she asked me when I was going to have another paper published so that she could read it. I told her I was working on it, and she said that I needed to work faster because she wasn't getting any younger. I'm happy that I got the chance to visit her a couple of days after defending my dissertation. Not only did I get to tell her that I'd passed my defense, but also that I'd had a paper accepted for publication. She didn't get to read it (or the second one that was accepted the following week), but she didn't want to anyway. It was just her trying to make me feel like the favorite grandchild.
I'm going to miss her.