A Mommy Blog About Raising Men, Not Boys.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Five People I Miss

On Memorial Day you are supposed to remember those who came before you. Specifically the war-dead, but in small towns you find that people tend to remember all of their dead. Graves that were gray and marked with cold stones all winter are dressed with flowers and flags and whatever else is deemed appropriate by the family. The visits to the graveyard are short but meaningful, and then your family goes on to go to the lake, the cookout, the picnic, or whatever event is scheduled to remind them of how very alive THEY still are.

I am 1000 miles away from all of my dead, but I think about them a lot. So instead of putting silk or plastic flowers on their graves, I thought I would tell you who they were and why I miss them, even the ones who were sometimes jerks.

I have thought a lot about the order in which to list them. Order can be very important. Is it more important to list them in order of how much I loved them, or in reverse order (sort of mean) or what. I decided on a methodical approach and am going to list them in order of death, regardless of my affection for them.

1. Robert Ellis Drake - my maternal grandfather. My grandfather was larger than life to me. He was kind, he was soft spoken and he was always interested in me. There was a gentleness about him that is difficult to describe, and in my memory he was wise and infallible. He probably wasn't, but I remember him that way. He built houses, he was a wonderful carpenter, he was the mayor for a long time, he worked the biggest garden you have ever seen (even as an adult I have never seen a garden as big as his was), and he was one of my great loves. The victim of small town medicine and the limitations of healthcare in the 70s, he died when I was in 1st grade. He took me to work with him once when he was the County Building Inspector. I don't remember much except following him around quietly while he talked to men who were building houses and he told them yes and no to various things they asked. But he took me to Just Rite for lunch, and we had cheeseburgers, fries and shakes. The night he died my parents took me over to a family friend's house while they went to the hospital. I remember exactly when the phone rang, it was a beige phone on a desk. My friends mom answered the phone and then set it down and began to cry. When my friend asked her mom what was wrong she just said "Oh I'm just feeling sorry for myself." and then she walked away from us. I didn't know what was wrong, I won't say that I did. But when I heard the news from my dad the next morning, all I could think about was that phone call, and the beige phone on the desk. And I was sort of upset that she didn't tell me right then. I guess my parents wanted me to go to sleep happy that night one last time.

2. My sister - Baby Brandon, also referred to in my family as "The Baby". My sister was born full term but dead, due to a placenta previa that went as wrong as could be. I never knew her of course. But I do hold the distinction of being the only person in my family who ever saw her. In the madness and drama of an emergency delivery where her own life was in jeapordy for real, my mother didn't get to see the baby. At the funeral home, my father asked me if I wanted to see The Baby and I said yes. So the funeral director walked me into a room with a tiny white casket. He opened the lid and inside was a doll dressed in white. Except that it wasn't a doll, it was a baby with darkish blonde hair and chubby cheeks. And she wasn't alive. The lid to a baby coffin doesn't open like a dutch door, as adult coffins do. It just pops right off, like tupperware. We went to the graveyard and the minister from the church I went to with grandma sometimes said some words and then they were done. A week later I went back to the grave with my dad, he was checking for a tiny marker that had been placed there, it read "Baby Brandon". My dad took a screw driver and chipped out a big chunk of the cement wall that marked the baby row (they have special parts of a cemetary for babies), in case the tiny marker was ever moved, he said. We both would know where it went. I haven't been back there since I moved to Florida. But I know for certain that next time I go, I will look for the chip in the cement, to see if I need to adjust the marker. (I have actually done it twice, having gone on occasion to visit my dead when I was alone and lived closer to home).

3. Daisy Eliza Barnett Pickerel - my maternal great-grandmother. My grandma Daisy was mean as a snake. She went more than a big nutty in her old age, but she lived to be 102 so that is probably okay. She once took a hammer to the ivory keys of my Starr mahogany piano. She smashed the ends of the keys and cracked the rest of them. She would get confused and throw things away. She called rubber bands "rubbers". She would get mad and onery and fuss about things. My uncle gave her a shot of whiskey in her coffee every morning to help her circulation. And she hated people who drank. (heehee, good for you uncle George). I have this memory of her as being an annoying old bat. Probably because I was too young to appreciate how very very old she really was. I can remember seeing a picture for the first time, of me sitting on a stool and her sitting next to me, and she's letting me iron. I was about two. The two of us have turned to the picture and we're both smiling. I'm clearly having a really good time. I wish I could remember her like that, but I just don't remember thost time. When I was a baby she came every day to stay with my mom, to help her with me and around the house. That tells me she was someone else before the frailty of 90+ years started to wear her down. She died on my birthday. My parents told me after my birthday party. I think I was not nearly as sad about it as I should have been. I actually think that sometimes I am sadder about it now, because I wish I had known her differently. Someone who lives 102 years probably has something interesting to tell you.

4. George F. Pickerel - I can't for the life of me remember what the F stood for. Frederick? Frederick is likely. I can't remember why I think it is, though. My Uncle George was a confirmed old bachelor of the old fashioned sort. He liked the arts, he was a stylist who used to gamble in Cuba during the Batista days, he worked at 20th Century Fox doing the hair of people like Harriet Nelson (he knew tons of Hollywood gossip), and when I was little he worked at Blocks or Ayres (big dept stores) doing fashionable hair on older ladies who called him Mr. George. My Uncle George would take me to see any concert I ever wanted to see, any play, any musical. I saw Camelot with Richard Harris 3 times. We went to organ and piano concerts. He even took me to Clarinette concert once, it was the son of someone he knew. My Uncle George was interesting, and he'd tell me dirty jokes. He owned a huge farm when I was really little, and one of my clearest memories is the time I spent the night there. It rained, and the sound of rain on his tin roof (or whatever metal it was) was completely dramatic. I couldn't go to sleep, and he came in and found me crying in bed and asked me what was wrong. I told him that it was too quiet there, that I coudln't hear my dad talking or yelling at the cats and that I coudln't hear any cars. He smiled and said "Well I can go yell at your Grandma Daisy, will that help?" My Uncle George always had Land O' Lakes brand ice cream in his freezer and his kitchen always smelled like bleach because he cleaned with bleach all the time. He wore a toupee that he made and styled himself. When he died my grandma took the wrong toupee to the funeral home. She took the one he had set out to dry, having been washed. However, it was unstyled. So in his casket for all eternity, glued to the top of the head of a VERY vain man, is a flat hideous mess of hair. My mother and I were cracking up/pissed off through the entire calling. George would have hated it but if it had happed to someone else he would have thought it was a riot and told the story endlessly.

5. Clarissa Faye Pickerel Drake - my maternal grandmother. My Grandmother was just a wicked old broad. She drove fast, was a bigot first class and was exactly educated enough to be annoying as hell because she never actually knew what she was talking about - but she certainly THOUGHT she did. This isn't the person I miss, though. Because very few people are all bad or all good. I once read a quote that "the men who ran the gas chambers were kind to animals and loved their families." Well, my grandma wasn't THAT bad, but it's true, there was that side of her. There was the other side though, the side that I miss and that I wish my own children knew. It is the grandma who had hot chocolate going on the stove (the kind you make with mild and cocoa powder NOT instant mix) when I got to her house after school during the cold Indiana winter. She also would always have multicolored marshmallows to put into it. Each color had a different flavor. She would take me to Dairy Queen on summer nights, driving me down a steep hill that I LOVED to go down so that I would lose my stomach and laugh and laugh. She made the best persimmon pudding in the world and she could make angel food cake from scratch without a recipe - lickety split like you never saw. She and Uncle George (her brother) once took me on a train ride down into Kentucky and back. She took me to the movies once - to see FLASH GORDON. I'm not sure she appreciated the QUEEN soundtrack. Staying all night at her house meant watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and ice cream with chocolate syrup before bed. She'd wash my feet before I could get into her fantastically crisp, starched white sheets. Her radio had a timer on it, and she wrongly thought it would help me sleep. Instead I would lay in bed listening to the hits of the 70s for one hour, until it CLICKED off, and then I could roll over and go to sleep. She snored like CRAZY - the loudest, worst thing you have ever heard. Church on Sunday meant fun lunch afterward with all of her friends. And I could have an ice cream soda if I was good. It's this grandma, this version of who she was that I miss.

You never knew any of those people.....they fade from me more every year even though I remember them fondly. But the truth is you do know them. Because you know me. And they made me who I am. The things that are good about me, the things that are bad about me, are things I brought with me from the time I spent with these five people. Regardless of how painfully short that time was.


Frank said...

When telling people about how classy and educated my wife is, I always tell them about her Great Uncle George and how he's the person I thank for a big chunk of her wonderful personality. I never met the man but I have known him for the nine best years of my life. Thanks, George.(I did meet Faye right before she died, though.)

april said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

april said...

I know that it wasn't your intention, but i cried. I think that it sad when the people we love most are gone before your children know them. I wish that i had been given the chance to know these people.

Odd Mix said...

What a touching memorial that was. The Baby really choked me up.

For a while we lived next to a cemetary. It had a special section for children. People would leave toys and other momentos with the flowers on the graves. I could not even look at that section - I still find it hard to think about. Loosing my children is my greatest fear.