Saturday, March 7, 2015

Christmas and Winter, in Papa's childhood

PLEASE BE ADVISED: do NOT, repeat, NOT attempt to follow my father/your grandfather's more dangerous attempts at winter amusement. IF I or your parents ever catch you so much as thinking about attaching yourself to a motorized vehicle while you yourself are outside said vehicle, you will be in such very, very deep trouble.

Also, I believe that sort of thing is illegal, these days.

Even if it isn't, just DON'T.

Thanks. I do love you.

C: What kinds of gifts did your grandma make for you?
P: I don't remember. Socks. Oh, shirts. I remember one time she made me a t-shirt that was just the exact opposite of what I would have wanted. I don't think she had any idea that a boy my age could have any sense of fashion.
C: What was it like, and how was that different from what you would have wanted?
P: It was just a plain t-shirt. Uuuh-- what can I say. I would have had a button-up shirt if I would have had my choice. I just remember I wasn't very impressed with it. It was a shirt, though, that I could wear to school. It was one I needed, but didn't want. It was just very plain. I made some comment that I didn't need it or like it, and for some reason that didn't go over real well.
C: You played pass the button [at the Christmas parties]?
P: Yeah. They had a string they'd put it all around the room for the grandkids to hold, and tried to hide it from the person in the middle, and when they found the button, they traded places with them.
C: Were Christmas presents wrapped? If so, how?
P: Oh, yeah. We all wrapped our own presents for other people. There was a pile of wrapped presents for other people. Well, some were wrapped in just a grocery bag.
C: So, that IS a family tradition, then. [We have a running joke at Christmas that presents still in the bags they were bought in are "Starflower traditional wrapping paper." I find that Dad seems to be highly suggestible these days, so I am sort of wondering if this part of the conversation wasn't more influenced by his memories when he was a dad than from when he was a kid.]
P: Well, most of them were wrapped. I remember H saying that he wanted to stay up and help wrap.
C: So were your presents from Santa wrapped, or not?
P:  Some of them were wrapped, and some of them weren't.
[Since I have clear memories of my parents saying that Dad's family didn't wrap presents from Santa, and Mom's did, I will be checking this one out with Mom and/or the uncles.]
C: What was your best Christmas present ever?
P: Santa Claus had brought a rifle, a cap rifle, and you had to put a cap in at a time, and you shoot it, and it was-- I remember that, I really enjoyed it. We'd go out in the haystack, and we'd have war with each other. I don't remember if anyone else got one, but I remember it was mine, and I really liked it. You took the cap out and put it in the chamber, and pulled the trigger, and pop!
C: I remember you said you had Lincoln Logs. What other kinds of things did you have?
P: Yeah, and, oh, we had American Bricks, they were always a favorite. Instead of building houses, we would build tanks, or at least I would, we would build war pieces, throw one at each other and that was shooting.
C: Were they like like Legos?
P: Yeah, but not as tight.
I could build a tank by putting two rows together, and build my own army by making war pieces.
[Link to photographs of American Bricks over the years:]
C: Did you have toy cars, trains, or wagons?
P: I don't remember specifically. We could build all that stuff with our Legos. That was by far my favorite toys that I could remember.
C: Did they have wheels?
P: No. They didn't need wheels. We could drag them along the ground.
C: Did you go sledding in winter?
P: Yeah. Let's see if I can remember. Seems like we went to Presto Hill a few times. A lot of people went there, Presto Bench. Not even sure how to pronounce it, Presto Bench was how it sounded to me. [Presto Hill's much-neglected Facebook page:]
I remember having a sled, with runners on it, and the runners were several inches below the sled, and held the sled above it.
I don't know what else to say about it.
We tied the sled to the car a time or two.
C: That sounds dangerous.
P: I think if you're going slow enough it isn't dangerous.
Oh, I don't think it was that dangerous.
My dad wasn't reckless or anything. I mean, it was country roads and stuff.
I mean, one of the things we would do is hang on to the bumper, and slide along on our shoes.
C: Oh dad! I'm glad you're still alive!
P: I don't think it was that dangerous. I mean, I don't think he ever got out of second gear, maybe not even first. I mean, what was he going to do, back up and run over you? You were already on the ground-- it wasn't like it was that far to fall.
C: Did you do this on your family car, or other peoples' cars, too?
P: Oh, just family car.
Oh, I think maybe my brothers did others' cars, too. I think wasn't uncommon to see a car coming and latch on and sled for a while.
C: Did you build snowmen?
P: Yeah, and snow forts. Well, I remember when we had a big heavy snowstorm, the wind would come along and pack it, and I could walk along and it would be thick enough I wouldn't break through. And sometimes I could dig under it, and at least when I was small, I could have walked on it. I mean, we would build snow caves. We probably only did it when we was small-- probably only did it once or twice.

N.B.: This isn't an exact transcript. I type pretty fast, but not quite as fast as my dad talks, and I've found that interrupting him to catch up often means that I loose the end of a story. I WILL find that voice recorder--eventually-- and in the mean time, if you want the original transcript instead of the cleaned-up one with my best reconstruction of the conversation as I recall, just email me and it's done.

NB II: The pictures are from the Graphics Fairy. I have NO IDEA whether/how much they resemble the things they are meant to illustrate. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Watching in the Hour of Death

My grandmother, Tommy Leota Greenhaw, passed away this last November. All of her children and grandchildren were able to come out to be with her in her final days; the last time she was conscious, we were all (but one) in the room with her. At that point it was past two in the morning, and some of us had been traveling since mid-morning the previous day. Since predicting the hour of death is not an exact science, all of the gathered children and all but three of the grandchildren went back to their respective homes and hotel rooms to rest after she drifted off that last time. I and my two youngest sisters stayed at the hospital.

After that, Ivy and Day stayed in the room while I slept in the hall on one of those hospital recliners-- they aren't quite as comfortable as the overstuffed ones that a lot of homes have, but it sure as heck beat leaning my head against the wall while sitting on a metal folding chair, which was what I had been doing before one of the nurses offered to bring the recliner out.

At around six in the morning, Ivy came out and told me Grandma had stopped breathing.

I went into her room again, and saw that it was true. The three of us just stood there, chatting for a bit. Grandma's mouth was hanging open, as it often did when she slept, but of course trying to close it (which I foolishly did) did no good. There was a feeling in that room-- to me; you'd have to check with my sisters-- of relief, of happiness and even joy. After those first few moments, we pulled out our respective cell phones and started figuring out who had whose contact information, and started trying to get the news out.

Because both my older and my just-younger sister were pregnant at that time, they especially needed to be careful about pushing their bodies too hard. It was about an hour before everyone made it out to the hospital again. Klari took a beautiful photograph of the sunrise as they were driving out-- I've written to ask her to send a copy, so I may update this post with it later on. (Update: I got it!) Both babies have been born now; both were preemies; and both are now home from the hospital and doing mostly OK. It has been kind of a stressful year for our extended family.
Throughout that night-- the part of it when I was actually or sometimes just ostensibly sleeping-- I would periodically poke my head up and look over my shoulder, out the huge window at the end of the hall. There was this weird purplish light that kept faking me out into thinking that it might be the dawn, but it never was-- it was just an exterior light at the hospital, lighting up the steam from some exhaust vent and the wall behind it. After I came out of Grandma's room, after she died, I looked again, and then I could see that it was the REAL dawn, and it seemed like one of the most glorious I had ever seen.

This is the funny thing about death. It is pretty strange, and sometimes awful, but somehow along with those things, there can be parts that are glorious and redemptive and even funny. The only funeral I've ever been to that was truly depressing was a suicide funeral. Now, I readily admit that this is probably a function of the fact that of the 20 or so funerals I've been to, all but one were Mormon funerals*, but if you look at other cultures, you can often find at least hints of this brighter view of death there, too. (OK, in the case of the Day of the Dead, definitely more than hints.) What I have discovered over time is that the more experience I have with the dead, the less scary the whole thing becomes.

Anyway, that's why I volunteered to dress my grandmother's body for burial. There was a part of me that felt hesitant, but I was pretty sure I would be glad I had done it, and I was right. But that's a different story for a different day.

The photograph of Grandma-- sorry for the poor quality, but I really wanted to put some sort of illustration up-- is one I took just now of a print from several years ago, when Grandma came out to visit, and she and Mom visited Colonial Williamsburg together. To me, this is classic Grandma: she LOVED guided tours. I remember driving from Alabama to California with her and my older sister (who was then not yet Mrs. Weathercolour) in six days, and Grandma naturally assumed that we were going to stop both at the Petrified Forest (in New Mexico) and at Yosemite National Park, in California. And since it was her car and she did most of the driving, that is what we did. At the time, I thought it was a little weird to take the hours out of such a busy traveling schedule to visit places that I hardly knew about and didn't really care about-- but now I feel deeply grateful to have had the opportunity.

This last photograph is of the Sacramento River at sunset, taken from the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay. When I was out visiting Grandma for about a month-- mm-- seven years ago?-- she kept saying that we should make it out there, but we never did during that visit. I finally made it out on the very day I left California this last time. She was right again-- it was definitely worth the visit.

I will try to write more about Grandma herself later-- I realize this isn't much-- but I wanted to get this much up while it was still relatively fresh in my memory. I feel lucky/grateful/blessed that my youngest sister had come out about a week before Grandma died, when things were looking pretty serious, and that she talked to and especially listened to Grandma about what she wanted. It was my sister's listening and then advocacy that had us all there with Grandma, as Grandma wished, just before she died. It was, as I told that same sister this morning about something else, an honor to be asked and a privilege to do.

*Mormon funerals tend to be a little bit solemn but in general relatively cheerful and often quite uplifting. If you've never been to one, I strongly encourage you to go if you can-- crash one, if you feel brave enough. (I don't think anyone would mind, frankly. There are seldom complaints from any faith-- or even non-faith-- tradition about there being too many mourners at a funeral.) At the best funerals, I will usually both laugh and cry. Yes, I have opinions about funerals-- you would too, if you'd been to as many as I have. And now, to prevent this from becoming its own blog-post-within-a-blog-post, I will stop.