My grandmother passed away in March of 1980.
I last saw her on Christmas Eve 1979, after I trudged through the steady snowfall to deliver to her and my grandfather a freshly-made banana cream pie from the downtown Franklin’s Family Restaurant I was assigned to at that time.
As soon as the go-box containing the pie was flipped open, my grandfather audibly salivated, while she loudly reminded him of his “sugar.” Before I left them that night, he had devoured a couple of slices topped with whipped cream, while she droned on and on about how he’d have to correct his sugar levels.
And as I was leaving that snowy night, she gave me a Santa-themed music box for her then-4-month-old great-granddaughter, my daughter Peace. A music box that Peace displays during the run-up to Christmas to this very day.
When she was hospitalized that March, I was in total command of a kitchen that was under serious duress. That is, the customers seated from the lengthy waiting line were ordering faster than the patchwork of trainee short-order cooks could pump the food out. If I were to have walked away, the kitchen would have collapsed under the weight, and customers would have been wondering why they bothered to visit downtown Wilkes-Barre’s newest sit-down eatery. Needless to say, I stayed and saw that battle through to it‘s successful conclusion.
When they told me she had passed away, I was as horrified as I was guilt-ridden. But I also knew deep down that the many, many false alarms my grandfather had provided over the years had given me a false sense that she’d be alright. If I had a plug nickel for every time we made the last-second drive from Connecticut to Wilkes-Barre because it looked like “grandpop” was on his last leg, I’d now own most of what passes as valuable real estate.
I was a babbling, sobbing mess at her funeral, and I needed to be restrained at the Slovak Club immediately following her burial. I dunno. I guess it just never occurred to me that the passage of time brought with it the passage of those that meant the most to me. But the truly hard part of her passage was yet to come. What followed seems as inconceivable now as it was then.
Turned out, unbeknownst to all concerned, my grandmother was the glue that held this entire family together. And not long after she was gone, the family just kind of split into small tribes and drifted further and further away. I saw less and less of my aunts and uncles. I saw less and less of those relatives who’s relation to me escaped me, but never mattered in the least. And my 19 first cousins who were once as thick as thieves with me lost contact with me after what seemed like a fortnight or two.
These days, it takes me a second or two to recollect all of their names. These days, we say all of the right things when our meandering paths cross quite un-expectantly. These days, I suspect, we are all little more than footnotes in each others tattered scrapbooks. All of which pains me to some degree when I remember what once was.
During a bitterly-cold workday quite a few months back, the onset of borderline frostbite had me retreating to a local donut shop in search of a ready-made hand warmer…a large coffee. And when the lady behind the counter called me “honey,” I knew in an instant that she did not recognize me in the least.
So I said, “Maryann, it’s Mark. I’m Mark.” Although it took her a few, she smiled widely and seemed generally excited to see me again. After we shared the latest news and shared some niceties and all of that, we promised to “get in touch” after trading phone numbers. And with that, I headed back out into the cold and to this day, neither of us have made use of those now long-forgotten phone numbers.
One of my proudest accomplishments is the fact that my three kids are tight. Despite being reared in the same screwy household, they are three distinctly different individuals, yet three distinctly different individuals that that are practically conjoined. And my five grandkids always yearn to be with each other, if not, with their aunts, with their uncles and with both sets of their far-different grandparents.
And I’m sometimes reduced to wondering about what my grandmother’s iron-fisted influence meant to her extended family, and how her example might or might not apply to my extended family. If I suddenly drop by the wayside, will Wifey keep this family together? Or if something happens to her, will the whole thing splinter into familial nothingness with me at the supposed helm?
While I’m not sure about any of that, I’m quite certain that some of us will find out at some point. And I hope it all plays out far better than it did in the past. With all of that circumlocution having been typed, this completely needless exercise probably hinted at only two things.
1.) I still desperately miss my grandmother and what she meant to my then-family.
2.) You’ve got to be fairly aged and considering your own mortality to have written such an inward-looking, but backward-looking non-tome.
Anyway, if Liquid Nails were ever to be personified, it would surely go by the name of Rebecca “Reb” Kirwan.