23 Years Later…

We were driving home from the state football game.  My brother was supposed to play in it, but an injury left him out for the season.  Despite that, we still make the four hour trip to see the team win the state football game.  We drove there and back.  We were about 30 minutes from home when my dad’s CB went off.  Yes, it was the era of the CB radio as a means of communication when traveling.  And his brother was trying to get in touch with him.  The message was weird – when you hit town, come over to my house.  So my dad dropped us off, and headed to see his brother.

Maybe 30 minutes went by when he returned.  He gathered us in the living room – and told us the news.  My grandpa – his father – died.  He had woken in the middle of the night, walked to the bathroom, got sick, headed back the bedroom, and collapsed in the hall. That is where the woman who my dad paid to check on my grandpa and cook him breakfast each day found him when she came to make breakfast. He went quick.

We all headed off to our respective rooms where we all processed the news in our own ways.  I sat on my bed in the dark and cried.  I was 17 years old. I had lost my grandma (his wife) when I was 10.  The idea that he was gone now too was just too much.  I was so very very close to both of them now.  These amazing people who I loved so very much were gone.

And while I sat there, my dad walked into my room, sat with me on my bed, and broke down himself.  We hugged each other and cried together.  I had lost the last of my favorite grandparents.  And he was now parentless.  The significance of that was never lost on me.

I found out that night – after the tears had stopped – that my dad was in charge of the estate -executor of the will.  He left soon after and came back from Grandpa’s place with what was to be his first act as executor – bringing me the bracelet my grandpa had given my grandma when she was 17 years old.  According to my dad, it was the first thing he was supposed to do if my grandpa died.  His dad never wanted it lost, so he listed it first.

That was the start of the bad time in our family.  The hiding. The lying. The deceiving.  His brothers and their wives were out to get the valuables, so did everything they could to make sure they got what was worth something. Even if that meant they hid it from my dad.  It was so very hard listening to my dad vent his stress from this task.  The fact his siblings were doing such horrible things – acts that, I know, had both grandparents looking upon the scene and shaking their heads.  Hell, I could see my grandma take off her ked wishing she could smack one of them with it.  Even I began wondering who raised these boys – because it wasn’t my grandparents.

I remember the night both parents came back from the great meeting of the siblings – a meeting where things were being divided and decisions were being made about the possessions.  They were quite upset.  It was a horrible night.  And an ironic one too.  While my aunts and uncles argued over the things worth the most money, my parents were snagging the things that held significance.  Pictures of my grandparents were being tossed into the “get rid of it” box.  My parents were appalled.

My dad gathered us around and handed out the things he made sure we received from the estate.  There was a doll of my grandma’s that was given to me as I recall when she got it – from a doll maker at a craft show – an anatomically correct male doll.  It made my grandma laugh, so she bought it.  And my parents made sure I received it.

“What happened to the rest of Grandma’s dolls?” I asked.

My grandma’s dolls.  I remember laying in her bed taking a nap when I was like 5, looking at her dolls and listening to her tell me the stories about them.  Who gave them to her.  Why she kept them.  I would look at them as I fell asleep – she had so many of them.  It was her collection.

When she and grandpa downsized and moved into a smaller place, she chose a handful of the dolls to keep and got rid of the rest.  And my grandpa made her a case for them – a case that sat on her dresser – where she could keep the small number of dolls she kept.  I remember always seeing it.  Until the day she died – and even after as my grandpa kept them with him.  They were her.

SO what happened to them? It was simple question.  But the answer – ah, the answer was no simple.

My aunt – my dad’s sister-in-law – had snagged them.  She had pulled out all of the stops.  She claimed I would wreck them.  I was too young. I wouldn’t honor them as she would.  You name it, she claimed it. In the end, my dad relented – and let it be.

I was so angry.  I was so upset.  They were my grandma.  They were a representation of what I lost – both of these incredible people.  My grandma who was a giver – a caretaker – one of the most compassionate, caring people I know.   She judged no one.  She preached acceptance and tolerance.  The last 5 years of her life , I remember she dedicated all of her time to making things that could be sold for a camp where kids with cancer could go during the summer.  She ran the VFW auxiliary.  She volunteered to work with mentally handicapped kids.  She was active in her church.  She was amazing.

And – these things that were so very important to her – that I know she wanted to go to her granddaughters – was being kept by my aunt because “I was too young”.  I was pissed.  My dad was pissed at the crap his siblings pulled.  But in the end, we all agreed  –  it was just stuff.

Over the years, things would come our way – things that were suddenly “found” by my uncles.  I have one of my grandma’s homemade wedding bands that my grandpa made her.  I have her class ring from high school.  All because my aunts and uncles believed it was “costume” jewelry.  Funny, they missed the stuff full of memories and focused on the stuff they could sell.  And we ended up with it.

I went out to get the mail today – and found a box.

The return address was from my aunt – my uncle (her husband and my dad’s brother) had passed in 2000 – a few months after DJ was born.  I did a double take.  Why would she be sending me something.

I opened it.

The letter on top summarized the contents.

“Dear Emmy,

Your grandpa always wanted you to have these, and it is time I return them to you.  These are your grandma’s dolls. I hope you remember the stories.  I hope you pass them to your girls as should happen.”

I almost fell over.

As I unwrapped each carefully wrapped doll, the memories tumbled back from where I had stored them thirty years ago – almost to the day that my grandma died.  Wow – until I wrote that, I didn’t realize it.  It was 30 years ago today that my grandma died.  I could even see where they sat on the shelves he had built for her.

I don’t know what prompted her to send them to me.  I called my dad right away – and together we were shocked.  My mom wondered aloud if my aunt was feeling guilty or trying to make something right.  I don’t care.  I am still in shock.  And as I went through them, I recalled that I still have the sister doll to one of them in the collection. I remember all this time later when she got it.  She bought me one of my own.  It’s amazing to see her doll and know my own is stored away safely.

I had long ago realized it was just stuff.  I had long ago been happy with the fact I have love from her in my heart, I have photos of her, I have the memories – the rest is just materials.  To see these things – to touch them – they brought my grandma – the woman who I loved so very much – back to me.  All that was missing was the rose scented perfume.

What a way to end the week.

I still miss them both so very much.  I miss my grandpa’s advice – his midnight phone calls when he was sick.  I miss my grandpa. Her hugs – her perfume – her.

Time passing doesn’t matter sometimes – where the people you loved so purely were concerned.

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