I called my maternal grandmother yesterday to thank her for the very thoughtful birthday card she sent me.
It may be the first time I've called her in the year since I moved to Florida. When she answered I was surprised that she sounds old now.
Growing up I spent a lot of time with my mom's parents. My mom was an executive and traveled around the country a lot. Most of these trips meant that I stayed with my Grandma and Grandpa during her absence. When I was very young, I would spend the morning with a babysitter and then join my grandparents in the afternoon at the two-room school where Grandma taught 1st through 4th grade and Grandpa taught 5th through 8th. As I got older I stayed at the school with them all day, hanging out in the loft and reading or drawing.
At home with them, Grandma taught me to bake, crochet and sew. On trips to Walla Walla, Grandpa taught me to count and about the constellations. I recall many trips before the seatbelt laws came into effect where I laid in the back window of their Volkswagon Rabbit and gazed at the stars during the four-hour trip. We would take this same trip about once a month and then more frequently as my great-grandparents health failed. Driving through the Columbia Gorge holds countless memories for me and it is still a pleasant experience.
I learned to read early, thanks to my mom reading to me every night before bed and my grandparents doing the same when I stayed with them. My favorite book to have Grandpa read to me was "Nose Is Not Toes." Even now one of the first things he says to me is "Marisa, nose is not toes!" and giggles.
I learned to ride a bike thanks to my grandparents. They purchased a black and yellow boy's bike with training wheels at a garage sale and we began the process. I was horrified at first to have to ride a BOYS bike, but I got over it quickly. In later years I would have a bike at their house and the three of us would ride together. I was so proud that my Grandparents rode bikes at their age (I think they were probably in their late fifties or early sixties at the time).
I vividly recall the pattern of the linoleum on their kitchen floor. I remember the summer that they tore out the tree that had the three swings hanging from it's biggest bough and replaced it with a koi pond. The pond was finished just in time for my birthday party, and I was invited to swim in the pond with my friends before the fish were put in. I remember that my grandfather was an honorary member of the engineers club at Shady Dell, and they took us to ride the miniature trains often.
I was in still in elementary school when I grew taller than my grandparents. When I was in high school they moved from the house I had spent so much time in to one near some of my Grandma's siblings. Now our trips to Walla Walla were to see my grandparents, instead of with them.
About 5 years ago my Grandma was diagnosed with cancer in her abdomen. Right about the same time one of my very close friends who was only 25 was also diagnosed with abdominal cancer, but she was pregnant. My friend underwent mild chemotherapy and initially seemed to be responding well to the treatment. Because of this, I strongly encouraged Grandma to also have chemo. Sadly I lost my friend after 3 months of her battle, but Grandma went into remission. In the four years since she has 3 relapses and 3 more rounds of chemo.
I am suddenly faced with my grandparents' mortality. I am not ready. They contributed so much to my childhood memories and education, and I want them to meet my children and have my children have the opportunity to learn from them.
When they go I will not be ready, even if they are. I owe them an immeasurable amount of gratitude and can only hope that I have begun to express that to them in the time I have left.