always fifty-five

my Nana when she was only sixteen

To me she’ll always be fifty-five. Isn’t that odd? When I was a certain age, my Nana was fifty-five. And no matter how much older she got, she was somehow still fifty-five to me. Now she’s died and memories of her are swirling round my brain, but there’s still a part of me that thinks of her as being fifty-five.

It’s too easy to say trailblazer, but that’s what she was. She got a PhD in sociology (ABD, but still) when that just wasn’t done…being a woman and all. She quipped her whole life that she married my grandfather during the war, when the only young men available were cripples and preachers. I know I shouldn’t say cripples, but it was her word. Seems weird the very thought of editing her at this point. Like the least I can do is actually use her words faithfully.

So she married a preacher, and they pastored quite a few Methodist churches in West Texas back in postwar America (the one he started in Midland, St Luke’s, is one of the biggest in the region). They’d do a stint for several years in some tiny place and then when everything was relatively stable, they’d be sent on to the next community that needed a church. The funny thing I remember being told was that my Nana didn’t silently grin and bear it when things weren’t to her liking.

When she was displeased about some aspect of being a small town preacher’s wife, she was very vocal about it. I could say it was some sort of Texas thing, but from my perspective it was so much bigger than that.

She loved baseball. She was a fan of the Dodgers until they left Brooklyn. Then she had cable television early on, and we spent summer evening after summer evening watching the Cubs. I’d somehow forgotten how I became a Cubs fan. It was entirely a result of those nights at her place in Kerrville, where if I had the audacity to ask what was on, there was always only one answer. ‘Baseball.’

Full-stop.

Baseball.

You know, I could spend the rest of my time here talking about my grandmother and how she spoke her mind. How beautiful her life and even her death were. Yet here I was last night after spreading her ashes in the Guadalupe River, and my niece and I sat together watching baseball. She asked me questions that I asked my Nana. To be candid, questions about baseball weren’t much appreciated, but she’d tolerate them. Begrudgingly.

My niece might’ve had a bit easier time of it. I was likely too eager to make this odd, antiquated game appealing to this little girl of the twenty-first century. But she was genuinely interested. I explained the count, and then spent most of the rest of the game quizzing her, ‘What’s the count?‘ Her brain is always working and she likes having a task. She got the hang of it early on, and thrived on answering each question correctly.

Some Bavarians (not all of them) have a phrase that’s called a Schöne Leiche. Translated literally, it’s a ‘beautiful corpse’, but that’s not at all what it means. If someone had a great life and their family comes together to celebrate rather than mourn, the party afterwards is said to make a Schöne Leiche. That’s certainly what we had.

I’m carrying it with me out of here. I refuse to let it go.

11 Comments

  1. A beautiful tribute. And what a moment to share with your niece. Isn’t it strange but fulfilling to feel that proverbial baton pass? To facilitate the sharing of what was your present as history with the knowledge that you’re creating someone else’s present? I love those moments, despite the death that precedes them, because it perpetuates someone’s soul and – more importantly – the love she left behind.

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  2. This made me smile, Ken. My Nanny was a Padres fan, but baseball was frequently what was on.

    I miss her so much still, and it’s been almost 10 years since she left us.

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  3. I loved this. You knew I would, though, right? Just beautiful. (As was she. What a great photo.) Your grandmother is lucky to have you, with your writing skills, to remember her so. A you-blog-day is always one of my favorite days. These past couple days have been standouts.

    I remember my grandmother with David Letterman and with acting. David Letterman, because he used to make her laugh so, so hard (she was an infamous insomniac, like I am, and got most of her sleep on her living room chair…she was well-acquainted with late-night television and would have just LOVED Jon Stewart) and acting because, in her sixties, after never having done it before, she auditioned for a part in a play I was in, and got it, and I was lucky enough to be able to act in a play with her, playing my grandmother on stage. She was so full of life and love. I miss her so much.

    I’m so glad you’re getting to spend time with your nieces and nephew. Your time with your niece watching baseball is going to be with her forever, you know. You made some important memories last night. You win uncling. Most definitely.

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  4. Thank you for sharing something so beautiful. I love the concept of the beauty of a life well-lived. I hope I have someone like you to memorialize me when I’m gone.

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  5. I only met her once but she was clearly a person of strength and clarity of purpose. It is nice to come from families who blaze trails in their time. I have some of that GRAND history too. I can also see the conversations about baseball…..a wonderful family tradition. So glad you made it here.

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    1. I’m simply going to thank all of you for your comments. It really means a lot to me that this touched so many people.

      In this blog’s short history, I’ve now written several memorial tributes. Please, don’t anyone else die for a while. My mourning muscles have been taxed enough for the time being.

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