Monday, February 28, 2011

Waiting for Mourning

Jenny's mom served us graham crackers smothered in chocolate frosting for a snack. I wanted to ask her if she always got to eat like that, or if her mom was being nice because our Grandpa was dying.

Her house was the third place we stayed this week. On Monday, we were with Tommy's friend Conrad--which I hated, because it was two boys against me. On Tuesday, we went across the street to Gretchen and Cara's house. Cara and I pretended we were making Hershey bars using wet sand and her slide.

But Jenny's house was the best yet because she had all of the Barbies, even the dream house. Mrs. Remensberger checked in on us a few times. She stroked my hair and said, "Nancy, sweetie, if you want to talk about your Grandpa, I would be happy to listen." She smiled, but it was one of those fake smiles because she looked like she was about to cry.

I didn't want to talk about Grandpa. I just wanted to brush Barbie's hair and drive her around in her pink Corvette. I wanted Mom and Dad to be normal again, instead of gone all the time, visiting him at the hospital.

Grandpa's  lung cancer came because he smoked a pipe. Dad said he started when he didn't know that it was bad for him, and that smoking used to be something that everybody did. I hated the smell of that pipe, because it was just like burning spices and flowers. Dad said that when he was a little boy, he used to sit in the backseat of the car with Aunt Alice, freezing in the Chicago winter, waiting for Grandpa to light up and finally start the car.

Grandpa and Grandma moved out to Arizona a few years ago, to be close to us. Grandma missed Chicago, because she liked cities and culture, but Grandpa loved it here. He wore bolo ties and checkered golf pants, and picked tangerines and lemons off the trees in his backyard.There was a pool in his community, and when he took Tommy and me there, he waded in the water and gazed up at the sun, a soft little smile on his face.

That's before his hair fell out from the chemotherapy and he had to sit in a wheelchair when he got tired.

When Mom and Dad picked me up from Jenny's house, I told them about the chocolate graham crackers, and Mom said, "That's nice, sweetie." She didn't even talk to me about sugar and the importance of eating fruit and veggies, like she normally did. She just told me to go to bed, and that she would see me in the morning.

"Tomorrow is my birthday!" I reminded her, "I'll be ten!"

She squeezed her eyes like she was trying to hold back a sneeze. That's really hard to do, and it hurts. I've tried it many times. I don't think she was holding back a sneeze, though.

"I know, honey. Tomorrow you'll be in the two digit club!" She gave me a tight squeeze and said, "You're growing up so fast."

I don't know why grown-ups think it's sad when kids grow up. I've waited to grow up my whole life.

The phone rang early that morning. I sat straight up in my bed, and strained to hear what Dad was saying. All I heard was "Okay," and "See you in the morning," and the final click of the phone against the receiver. But I knew it. Grandpa had gone to Heaven.

He died. On my birthday.  Now the day was ruined---forever. I looked at the wallpaper, with its red, yellow and blue stripes. I picked out the paper because I was sick of the baby-ish Strawberry Shortcake, and Grandpa and Dad had put it up. That was only three weeks ago. And now he was dead, and looking at the wallpaper reminded me of him, made my heart hurt.

The bed I rested on used to belong to my Grandma Neuhaus. She died two years ago.  The end table, with the cigarette burn? That came from my Grandpa Neuhaus. He died when I was a baby.

No reminders. No crying. I just wanted everything to be normal.  I sat in my bed, and waited for morning.

Some of my friends have great-grandmas and lots of cousins. I would rather have that than some junky inherited furniture. Life wasn't fair.

The only grandma left was going to be really sad, and on my birthday. I heard Mom's footsteps padding up the hallway, and I knew that she was about to tell me. She was going to be sad, and Tommy would be sad and  Dad would probably cry.

I didn't want to hear her say it, but it was going to happen no matter what I wanted. I guessed part of being ten was not being a baby and crying about it. It was just a  birthday.

Grandpa and I would always be connected. My birthday would be his birthday in Heaven. When Mom came in, that's what I decided to tell her. Maybe that would make her happy. That's all I wanted.

I heard her knock on the door, and forced myself to smile when she sang, "Happy Birthday to you!"

This Saturday, March 5th, will mark the 26th anniversary of my Grandfather's passing. 

This is in response to The Red Dress Club's memoir challenge---to write a snapshot of a setting--specifically a room.

Constructive criticism is welcome. This is my first attempt to write from a child's point of view, and it was a challenge.


singedwingangel said...

All of my grandfathers were gone before I was born. My memaw died when I was 16. Ripped my heart out. I think those are our links to our lineage..

TKW said...

Oh, such a sad and vivid memory for you. Beautifully rendered.

Anonymous said...

That was beautiful, Nancy. Such a tribute. Writing through a child's eyes is a challenge, too, even if they were your own.
Very nice!

From Tracie said...

Seriously, Nancy, this is painfully beautiful.

My heart hurts for the 10 year old you, forcing yourself to smile and be happy for all the adults around you.

Writing form the child's perspective is hard, but I think you did a great job with it.

clearness said...

Well, you had me in tears sobbing so I'm pretty sure you did a fabulous job...but your next job is to make me laugh.

Nancy C said...

I see tense errors. Will correct.

Jessica said...

This was so well done, you did an amazing job writing as your almost 10 year-old self. You conveyed all you were feeling so effortlessly and brought back those feelings from losing my own grandfather. Beautiful.

Victoria KP said...

You did a wonderful job writing from a child's perspective. I got a little teary-eyed and was hoping this was a fiction piece rather than memoir.

My brother-in-law lost his mother on his 16th birthday. It makes celebrating a tough--even many years later.

Ms. Moon said...

I think you did really well with the child's pov.

Jenny said...

What a beautiful, poignant story.

Anonymous said...

My heart hurts for the 10 year old Nancy. So sorry that you will always associate your birthday with his passing.

As always, you nailed this prompt.

Ash said...

"I've been waiting to grow up my whole life."

It's all captured in that one sentence - your innocence, your maturity, your awareness. So good.

I love the thought of a Heaven Birthday, even though I am so very sorry it corresponds with your own Earth Birthday. Your mother singing speaks volumes as well.

So beautifully done. Opening with the graham crackers and frosting placed me firmly in a child's perspective without all the extra chatter that some might feel the need to use. Very, very well done.

I actually read this yesterday just as my day ran out of control. It stayed with me Nancy. I caught myself really paying attention to what my Oldest sees. What his memories will be. Thank you.


Galit Breen said...

Oh such a sad memory. Beautifully done! You captured that betwixt and between tween voice- so mature, but still a kid. This was a great read!

Erin said...

OMG Nancy! I love this! Written perfectly from a 10 year olds perspective! You immediately transported me back 28 years when I was 10 and my grandmother died and 3 months later my dad! Its amazing some of the details we remember from a day of such sadness! And on your birthday!!!! I hope you have a wonderful birthday with a special moment in rememberance and love for your grandfather!

The Empress said...

The importance and presence of grandparents, cannot be overstated.

I miss my grandmother, her pure love, every day.

Lovely post.

tulpen said...

Dang. Reading stuff doesn't get me weepy very often.

I wanna go hug your ten year old self... and a Grampa.

Am off to work in a bit. Gonna hug some old people.

Anonymous said...

Amazing post. I'm so sorry that this happened to you on your birthday. I can imagine that was very hard to deal with as a kid.

Elaine A. said...

I find it interesting that it was the day you turned 10. Like you were no longer a child (that's kinda what 10 means to me!) and then you had to deal with his death all at the same time. Poetic, yet heart-breaking. I'm so sorry. xoxo

Cristina said...

amazing job writing from a 10 year old POV.
and what a sad and beautifully written story. I'm all chocked up.

Jack said...

I liked how you wrote it as a ten year old girl. I am partial to grandparent stories and have blogged about all of mine.

I think that they are great.

Anonymous said...

I loved the line about waiting your whole life to grow up, I felt that way too. I got emotional when your Mom sang happy birthday. This is a great retelling.

Off topic: the "booger" story in your About Me made me laugh out loud. Your family sounds like they rock.

Kris Mulkey said...

Your story brought tears to my eyes. I felt like I was in your room with you. Great job. (TRDC)

JDaniel4's Mom said...

Deciding to share your birthday with you grandfather is really special. I love that you saw it as he birthday to heaven.

Erin said...

wow. I'd never have suspected you had trouble with this if I hadn't seen your tweets about it...I think you did it amazingly well.
My dad's dad smoked a pipe and died from lung cancer, too. His name was Kermit. This reminded me of him. But he died when I was only 3, so....

I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like to associate death with your special day. You did an eloquent job of it here.

Renee said...

Such a sad way to greet a birthday.
But making it his birthday in heaven?
A beautiful tribute.

Cheryl said...

Two technical things I loved about this: You foreshadowed with that first line, then came back to it. Exactly what I meant by saying you don't have to write a story in order. Bravo! Then, you tried a different POV. Which is always a challenge. Bravo again!

The story flowed well and I loved the details that showed your age. And wanting to be grown-up and realizing that's it's hard.

One tense issue: All of your story is in the past, except for the graph about your friends having great-grandmas, etc. It should be "had" and "have had."

Anonymous said...

I thought you did a fantastic job of capturing 10 year old you, which is so much harder to do then one might think! I too thought that the progression of you processing the ruination of your birthday FOREVER and processing this 'growing up thing' was really well done.

MultitaskMumma said...

Your childhood perspective was captivating and heartbreaking.
Being that girl who just wanted a happy birthday but having sadness surround her must have been so hard.

only a movie said...

Really nice job. And it is challenging to write from child's point of view. You did it well.


Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

I want to give this kid a hug!

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. This was so wonderfully written that I don't know where to begin.

First, I loved how you wrote it from a child's perspective. It was unique and made the post even more tragic.

The line about wanting to grow up...that one hit me hard. You put so many childish dreams, hopes, wishes, expectations in one single sentence.

And "sharing" your birthday? My throat closed up.

I can't even imagine how difficult it was for your mother to sing when her heart was breaking. That unselfish love comes through in the last sentence.

Spenc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spenc said...

Oh the sweetness of a child's mind "My birthday would be his birthday in Heaven." So touching. My grandpa died when I was 8 and I was not as excepting, I wanted to know when he was coming back from heaven.

Yuliya said...

I loved this. I just caught on your last few posts, I just love reading you.

And as soon as I read that it was going to be your birthday I knew what was coming next. So sorry for you.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Nancy... even twenty six years later, I am so very sorry for your loss.

As to the piece itself, I love how you manage to convey your ten year old self's POV without making it seem juvenile. We are complex people, even at ten, and you show that beautifully.

Anonymous said...

Came by from TRDC. Beautifully done.

dek said...

Everything about that piece was amazing.