Sunday, September 23, 2012

For Catherine

My grandmother died yesterday.  I’m Catherine Anne, her namesake.  It was peacefully – in her sleep.  I say that, but I wasn’t the one who discovered her.  I know that experience was anything but peaceful for my aunt Jane.  She would have been 90 in December.  She had an aneurysm somewhere in her abdomen.  It was known that she could go anytime.  Still, that moment is shocking…
There were taken in May 2012.  We got together before my
brother moved to Germany.  Somehow I knew this would
be the last time I saw here. 
My grandmother was spunky, unconventional, stubborn, and a bit eccentric even.  But she loved me.  Girls were rare on that side of the family, so on some level I felt she loved me more than the other grandchildren.  That probably wasn’t true but she got to buy me Barbie dolls and go to dance recitals.  She never did that with any of my cousins. 
Grandmother with four of her many great grand children.
She was born in Milledgeville, Georgia.  He father worked at the State Hospital there.  I used to call it the “Insane Society.”  The stories she would tell about the patients there….  She married a man who fought in WWII and was able to live all over the world as a result.  Not that was a glamorous life by any stretch of the imagination.  They were poor.  Raising four children in Ismet, Turkey post WWII……
They returned to Milledgeville and her husband died when my father was in high school.  She’s been a widow longer than she’d been a wife.  I don’t know much about that marriage, but I do know that Grandmother got enough of marriage and never felt the need to endure it again.  Her children, family and later her pets and friends were commitment enough. 
She too worked at the State Hospital (Insane Society).  She retired sometime while I was in grade school.  During those years she would fly out to visit us in Texas.  My friends thought she was a hoot because she smoked cigarettes and wore “Chick” brand jeans. 
It was during those years that most of the stories that are now “lore and legend” occurred.  Over three different summers my mother, Grandmother, my brother and I traveled and camped across the country.  Channel, if you will, the Griswolds.  Mom drove a BIG teal Cadillac.  She used this to pull a pop-up camper.  At the time I didn’t realize how ridiculous this must have looked.  Mom was about my age when she took off on her first cross country adventure.  I asked her not long ago how in the world Dad let her do that by herself, “Grandmother was with me,” she answered.  Tough as nails, that woman was.  Just like the movie, everything that could go wrong did.  And then things went wrong some more.  But we got to see everywhere from the Grand Canyon to the Amish country.  At night, while eating and recovering from whatever catastrophe that day had wrought, Grandmother would tell us stories.  She told stories of when she was a little girl growing up at the State Hospital; stories of the antics of she and her brother, Dan and sister, Marguerite; stories of living in Turkey, France and other places.  Even as an insolent teenager I knew these moments were priceless. 
During these trips she rode in a helicopter, danced like a monkey in front of people who kept staring at our campsite, flipped the bird to some campground owners in Pennsylvania and other things that I won’t say because she’s not here to explain. 
She LOVED Tom Selleck and Elvis Presley.  In her prime she could drink you under the table and cuss like a dock worker.  Even though she never weighed more than 100 lbs soaking wet, she was a helluva cook.  Her fried chicken can’t be matched.  Well, I guess her creamed corn can match it.  She made greens, cornbread and all the staples of the South.  She always had an affinity for animals.  Sometimes I think she liked dogs more than people.  Although for awhile she and Aunt Jane (who lived with her for the past few years) had a giant pot bellied pig and a cockatoo for a bit.  Truly, you can’t make this stuff up.  You would never ask her opinion if you truly didn’t want to hear it.  For that matter, anyone in earshot would hear it.
She loved my husband.  For some reason that I don’t even remember, David called her Martha.  And she let him do this.  No one else would have been able to do that.  Even when she was here for our last visit in May, she remembered that David called her Martha.  I know it’s because of his memories of her that when I get REALLY mad he’ll say, “Don’t go all “Milledgeville, Georgia on me!”
She wasn’t a religious person, but she was a spiritual one.  So I have no doubt where she is right now. 
If I had to sum it up, I would say that these are the most key things I learned from her.

1.       First, never EVER underestimate the tenacity and strength of Southern woman.

2.       Secondly, always have luck on your side.  Trust in a patron saint or other good luck charm to get you through.  I would swear that her lighting candles got me on dance team all those years.  I KNOW it helped my brother graduate West Point. 

3.       Thirdly, and most importantly – You can mix anything with orange juice. 
Heaven is a better place now that she’s there.  It’s certainly more colorful.  She had more people on the other side than she had on this one, so it was probably time for her to go - although it’s quite sad for me.  But right about now she’s sitting down to a meal with her parents, husband, sister and brother, a son who got there before she did and many, many other beloved family and friends.  They’re eating fried chicken, creamed corn and greens.  It’s a great party.  I can’t wait to get there!

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