jianantonic: (Seahorse)

April 24th, 1998. We'd gone out to a movie. We went out to lots of movies. We got home sometime in the early evening, maybe 8 or 9, and the house was quiet. I went upstairs and caught a glimpse into my grandmother's apartment. Something wasn't right. She was lying on the floor. Her eyes were closed and her lips were black.

"Marma!"

"Meg, get out of here. Mother's dead." My parents were in her kitchen, on the phone with the ME. I guess they'd only found her a few minutes before I got home. I ran down the stairs screaming and crying, to where Rafal was waiting. I sobbed out what I'd seen, and he held me. We went outside and walked around the neighborhood while I processed. He just listened to me talk about all the things that were so earth-shattering to me. I'd grown up with her. I was closer to her than any other family member. I just poured out my thoughts and sobbed while he held me and we walked slowly.

When we looped around the neighborhood and got back to my house, first responders were there -- I can't remember if it was ambulances or firetrucks or both, but the ME's car was parked on our lawn and they were just wheeling her body out. I didn't want to see that. We did another lap of the neighborhood. When we got back, the cars were gone. We went inside and I curled up in a fetal position on the couch in the TV room, still sobbing, while Rafal rubbed my back. Eventually, my mom came in to check on me. She and my dad had been too busy dealing with everything else. She was crying, too. She hugged Rafal and thanked him for being there for me. She left us alone. Rafal stayed with me all night. I fell asleep crying while he knelt beside me and comforted me. He never said anything like "it's going to be okay," because I think he knew I didn't want to hear that. He just listened to me process. He was exactly what I needed in that time. He handled it like a champ. It must have scared the bejesus out of him, but he never let on. We'd only been dating for two weeks.

I thought about how he was there for me in what had been my darkest moment to date, and how he had seen me at my absolute saddest, and how he had just been so understanding and so patient and sweet. I felt that because of that, he was perfect for me. I wanted him in my life forever, and this felt like the sign that he would be. As time went on, and I would question our relationship, thinking I might want out, I would think back to that night, and how he was there for me, and talk myself out of it. With the way he treated me in that moment, he'd bought himself admission to the rest of my life.

This sounds like a pretty unhealthy way to look at it, and maybe it was. Remember, I was 14 -- my 15th birthday was the day of the funeral. But also, I think it was fair. How someone treats you when you need them the most, when you are at your worst, is a true indication of their character. It's not that I used this one display of kindness to tether me to a relationship I ultimately didn't want; it's just that it always came to mind when considering his character and my future with him. It wasn't the Ace of Spades, but it was a powerful trump card. Still is. Whenever I think of him, this night is always a part of the picture. He was my first love, my first...other things...stories I may or may not decide to record as I continue this process...but he will always be the gentle, loving boyfriend who cared for me perfectly when I absolutely needed it the most. I am so grateful he was with me that night.

jianantonic: (Seahorse)
One of the absolute highlights of my time in Virginia was spending last Friday evening in Lexington at my uncle Kent's house while he told stories and answered questions about my grandmother and her mother and grandmother. Allan, Laura, Toby, and Allan's kids all sat with us while Kent held court. I learned a lot about the strong women in my family, and it was great to get Kent's perspective on Marma. He didn't want us to record him, which is a shame, because already a lot of the details are a little fuzzy, but the main points stuck with me. Marma was amazing. The women before her were amazing. I'm proud to have their DNA.

One thing I had asked Kent about was the courtship between Marma and my grandfather. I knew only that they'd met when she was 13 (and he was 21!), but not when they got married or any other details. Apparently they were mutually smitten, but both families were opposed to the match. My grandfather, Cap, was an alcoholic, and Marma said she wouldn't marry him until he'd been sober for a year. That day came in 1936, when she was 28 and he was 35. How much of the previous 15 years they spent actively courting is not certain, and I'm not sure when she gave him his quit drinking ultimatum, but I think the whole story is fascinating.

The topic of alcoholism in our family came up a few times, and after storytime with Kent, my cousins and I were having dinner and reflecting. Laura said "I'll need to figure out a way to talk to Eleanor about her high risk for alcoholism when the time comes. I'll need to decide when that time is..." Eleanor is her 4-year-old daughter. Allan's 13-year-old, Priya, was there for this conversation. So Laura asked "Allan, how did you talk about it with your kids?"
Priya: He hasn't.
Meg: As you heard, we have a lot of alcoholics in our bloodlines. That means you are at a high risk for alcoholism, so you'll need to be mindful of your relationship with alcohol as you get older, if you choose to drink.
Allan: Done!

I wish I could get my dad talking about his experiences, and every once in a while he'll go on a storytelling bender. Occassionally, those stories are even good ones! More often than not, though, he wants to tell the one about the time he changed the license plate holders, or the time he had to return a pair of pants but didn't have the receipt. He did volunteer a few things about his childhood and his parents and grandparents, but mostly I don't really think he has much of an emotional connection to the past. He doesn't reminisce, and he doesn't do deep emotional connections with anyone, so any reminiscing would not include much about what the other people were like at the time, beyond the facts of their actions.

I would like to visit with my two aunts on that side of the family to get their versions of our ancestral history as well. Hopefully I can arrange that soon. I'm not as close with them as I am with Kent, but I think such a visit would be welcome on all sides. 
jianantonic: (Seahorse)
Possible TW for suicide and death.

NPR had a really interesting story this morning on one woman's choice to end her life, and to prepare her family for it.

Basically, the woman was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, and decided that when the disease had progressed to a certain point, she would end her life. She told her family as soon as she made her decision, which turned out to be a few years prior to her actual death. When she reached the point at which she was ready to go, the family gathered and had a celebration of her life, with her present. Then they gathered again, separately, as she ended her life a few days later. It's a really beautiful story, actually.

With Alzheimer's Disease in my family, it hits close to home. My maternal grandmother slowly slipped away over the last 11 years of her life. She had so little dignity in the last decade, and while her death was sad, it was also overdue and welcome when it came. I don't think anyone in the world would choose to live the way she did. It's just that by the time the disease has gotten to the point where life is no longer really life, the person affected doesn't have the capacity to bring it to an end. It's very sad, and the woman in the article addressed this issue rather perfectly, imo.

The article also talks about how her approach made the grieving process easier on her family. When Marma (my paternal grandmother) died, I was not expecting it and I was devastated. But after the shock wore off -- this was the first really close death for me to deal with in my life -- I realized that she HAD actually prepared us all, and exited on her own terms. Her 90th birthday had been two weeks prior, and her whole family had gathered for a large, but low-key celebration. We didn't know at the time she was saying goodbye, but I think that she did.

She died at home of an apparent heart attack. I found her in her room, on the floor next to the jigsaw puzzle she'd been working. I don't suppose she had it figured out down to the minute, but she was comfortable and ready. Our family priest came to speak with us the next day, and told us of conversations he'd had with her in recent weeks. She had told him that she knew her time was coming, and she was ready. I was able later to look back on conversations that she'd had with us where she was preparing us for this, too. I hadn't been willing to hear or accept what she was saying at the time, but she had told us that she'd been feeling weaker, and mentioned several times when she had thought she was dying. I took it as nonsense at the time, because obviously she hadn't died, but the point of it was that she was talking about it not with fear, but with acceptance. It wasn't an "OH SHIT" moment; she was telling us that she felt like she was dying, and she was prepared. It was hard to hear at the time, but I'm glad now that she had those conversations with us.

I miss her every day and wish I had more time with her, but I'm glad the time we had was full of wonderful memories. I don't remember her as a frail and broken old woman. She was a steel magnolia to the end.
jianantonic: (Seahorse)
I'm not sure what I believe about afterlife and spirits and communication with the departed and all that, but it sure seems like Marma is looking out for me right now. I think about her a lot, but last night I spent a longer-than-usual amount of time just sort of meditating on how awesome she was. Then this morning, I got an email from my uncle, who has been the executor of her estate, saying that the last of her bank accounts is closed and settled and that I will be getting my share of it in the mail as soon as I sign a form and send it back. It's $2500. Basically the exact cost of a top-of-the-line washer/dryer combo. That said, I'm not buying a top-of-the-line combo, but the timing was great. She died in 1998! Most of the inheritance stuff was settled back then, but this one last account has taken forever for some reason.

In the paperwork that I had to sign, there is an itemized list of disbursements from Marma's estate. I was skimming it, and saw that under funeral expenses, the estate paid out all the usual stuff -- church, headstone, funeral home, organist -- but also $65 to Charlotteville Eye Associates and $3.98 to Hosiery Corp of America. Wtf? She was cremated before the funeral. I have no idea what these expenses are for or why they'd be in with the funeral stuff. I could ask my uncle, but for now it's more fun to just scratch my head and laugh about it. I mean, okay, maybe pantyhose were somehow needed, but why are we paying this panythose corporation directly and not, say, getting a pair at the drugstore? Mysteries of the universe...
I do remember that she'd had an eye exam right before she died -- she was bragging that when she went to renew her driver's license at age 90 that she could read all the lines without glasses, even though the DMV guy only wanted her to read the top line. Of course she read them all, because that's how she rolled. But anyway I'm not really sure how an eye clinic would have expenses involved with a cremation or funeral. Whatever. Not a big deal. Just weird.

Anyway, I'm shopping online for a new washer/dryer. The most important thing is that whatever I get comes with delivery and removal of the old one, because my laundry room is upstairs and EFF THAT. It seems there is a big price gap between the low-end and high-end stuff, with not much at all right in the middle. Combos I've looked at are either $2000+ or $899ish, and I'm not seeing anything in between. As nice as it would be to have a fancypants washer/dryer combo, I don't think I can justify spending an extra thousand bucks on it. I'm not sure the bigger units would fit, anyway. I have to be able to get it up the stairs and squeeze it into what is basically a closet for the laundry room. If you think there's a good reason I should shell out the extra cash for a top of the line vs. cheap model, please argue your case. I'll buy something tomorrow.
jianantonic: (Seahorse)
My nine-year-old (!!!) niece Lucy recently finished a school project where she had to write an essay about one of her grandparents. She wrote about my dad, and the details she included are just so precious. Precious that he thought it was important to share, and precious that she thought it should be featured in his life story. The first time he had soft-serve ice cream (1951, in a movie theater). The time his pants split on a date (playing tennis with my mom). How much a full bag of apples would weigh when my dad worked on the farm during the harvest (50 pounds). I love it.

I wrote Lucy a letter yesterday, and I started off by telling her how much I appreciated her essay. I then dove into family history. She likes history, but at her age, that basically means she likes memorizing the presidents' names and a few macro details of the past. I couldn't stop myself, though, once I got on the subject. She didn't mention in the essay that the town my dad grew up in is named after our family. My guess is that it didn't come up so she doesn't know. But I went on and on about how special it is that our family has such a rich history, and even though it's not all GOOD history (i.e. slavery), that doesn't mean it can't be interesting and fascinating. I don't know how much she'll care about it right now, but I told her some stories that I hope she'll think are cool, anyway. The main one was about her great-grandparents, Cap and Margaret. My grandfather was born in 1901 on the family farm, 14th of 15 children, and dropped out of school before high school (I can't remember if it was 6th or 8th grade when he stopped) to work on the farm. Marma was 7 years younger, but I believe they began courting when she was just 13. At least, that's when they met. I don't know for sure what year they were married but I think it wasn't until the 30's sometime. I should figure that out. Anyway, even though her husband only had a partial formal education, Marma went to college AND graduate school, earning her master's degree in a time when many women didn't go to school at all. I wonder if Lucy will understand just how exceptional that is.

Marma was a Latin teacher, and she didn't tell a lot of stories about her work, but I do remember the one she told about the time her school burned down. A student was leaning against the wall and noticed it felt hot. Turns out it was a fire. She never mentioned if anyone was hurt or killed, so I'm going to assume that everyone got out safely. (In the south, death is golden gossip, ESPECIALLY sudden and tragic death, and children are not shielded from these things. My guess is that if anyone had died, she would have proudly eulogized them for me.)

I don't know much about my grandfather, because he died in 1971, 12 years before I was born. I know he was a smoker and lived the last several years of his life with crippling emphysema, which made him quite grumpy. Before that, though, he was active on the farm, a sharp investor, and worked for DuPont, which as I understand is pretty much what every young man in Virginia did at that time. His name was Bland Barksdale Massie, and I have no idea why he was called Cap, but he was. I'll ask my dad.

I wonder what my nieces would say about me if they were asked. I think they'd probably all mention that I love to write, and play bridge, and travel, and run...and that I have cool/crazy clothes. Hehe, I'd love to see what they'd come up with...
jianantonic: (Seahorse)
I'm not to the point yet where getting older myself is a concern, but the indirect implications are what bother me. I'm a couple hours away from 30 now, and as the baby of my family, to turn over another decade feels like the whole family gets pushed older, you know? Mom and Dad are 40+ years older than me. If I'm 30, they're 70something. My brothers are middle-aged (holy shit). Of course, all this is no more true today than it was yesterday or a few months ago, it's just a bit starker, I guess?

When I was younger, I used to be able to count on a stream of birthday cards beginning sometimes many weeks before my birthday. My grandmothers, nanny, great aunts, and other matronly caregivers in my family prided themselves on being ahead of schedule. When Virginia Page died last week, the last of my early birthday wishers moved on. There is almost no one left from my grandparents' generation; none of the family I have been closest to. No one remains in the generation above my dad on that side, and my mom has one uncle, the youngest, left from that family of seven siblings. None remain on my maternal grandfather's side. This isn't sad -- all these people would be disturbingly old if they were still around -- it just is. It sucks to say goodbye, and it sucks to miss better times, but I'm generally okay with the fact that people age and eventually die. Lots of people die before they get to age very much, so there's a bit of luck in making it this far anyway, but I guess what I'm trying to say is the thing I dislike about getting older/time passing is the increasing inevitability of the end. Not for me, but for those older than me, the ones I'm not ready to say goodbye to and start missing. I'm not terribly sentimental about birthday presents and cards and such, but this is the first year in my life when I didn't get one of those ridiculously early ones, and that struck me as a kind of subtly colossal change.

I did save the last letter Virginia Page wrote me. She knew it was the last one, and she was basically collecting her final thoughts on scrap papers, as she didn't have the energy to string too much together at once. I believe this was written on a piece of a page-a-day calendar. The front has an image of a mother hugging a child, and a quote that says "Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third." VP picked up from that on the back and wrote:

"But how difficult to understand all the time. One thing I do know, it has been a treat to have your notes and love and to watch you grow. Thanks for the gift of care and attention you've given me. Love, Virginia Page."

I'm so glad I took the time to be pen pals with her over these last few years. We're not related, but she is a true Massie family treasure, and I'm going to miss her like crazy. I'm glad, too, that she got to see me grow, twice as old as my grandmother witnessed. It was so special to me each time VP mentioned that I reminded her of Margaret (my grandmother and her best friend). There is no higher compliment, and I'm glad that 15 years past Marma's departure, those closest to her still find me living by her example. (She didn't say "fuck" as much, but she did teach me the "beans, beans, they're good for your heart..." rhyme. Scandalous enough for a Southern lady born in 1908.)

In so many ways, a person never outgrows being the baby of the family, but the next generation is filling in quite nicely, and I'm enjoying something of a position of wisdom and authority with my nieces and younger cousins. In fact, nothing has been more rewarding to me than playing the role of aunt. And I'm getting much better at it with each passing year. Aging is a mixed bag, I guess, but I'm still in the upswing, and I'm optimistic that I can continue to find examples of upswinging as I get older still. I'm not ready to think about everything that will come with being 40, but one thing I know will be awesome is that Lucy will be a young adult. I will take her on a trip for her high school graduation, and we'll share amazing life experiences when she's older that a 9-year-old can't really appreciate. I don't need to press fast forward, but I know that time in her life is going to be special for me as her aunt, and I welcome it. Emily will probably have a kid or two by then as well, and I'll be their aunt, too. And that's just fucking awesome.

So, hello there, 30. 
jianantonic: (Seahorse)
I had a very vivid dream last night that Marma was the daytime caretaker for my nieces.  I would come home from work each day and she'd be playing with them, and then I would take over so she could rest.  My brother and Rachel weren't *out* of the picture, they just weren't really in this dream.  It made sense in my sleep.

Of course, Marma died in 1998, and my first niece was born in 2004, so she never has met them.  But the pictures in my dream of them all playing together are pseudo-memories worth cherishing.  Marma loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren so much, and I know she would take great pride in these three girls.  I don't know what I believe regarding souls and afterlife, but I do believe that in a very real and more-than-symbolic way that Marma is a part of me and our family still.  I want to believe I'll have real interactions with her again one day.  I want to believe that she will know the grandchildren that came after she passed.  It was a very sweet dream.
jianantonic: (Default)
I'm incredibly busy this week, with little time to stop and exhale, but I wanted to do a quick update before too many details slip away unrecorded.

I went to Seaside this weekend.  Hung out Friday night, ran six miles on Saturday, and played some darn fine bridge on Sunday.  5th overall and 1st in X on a team of entirely new partnerships (and fantastic people, I might add!).  I feel really good about that.  Beat the Lusky team by 20 in the final round.  Lots of good bidding problems from that day -- I'll do a separate bridge post with those if folks are interested.

Today and tomorrow I have WW training most of the day.  Learning computer things, and basically getting more involved in that job.  I like it.  My colleagues are such great people.  Everyone is genuine and friendly and caring...I think it comes from all experiencing the shared struggle of weight challenges.  

Last night I had a dream that Bess started talking, and one of the first things she said to me was "I love you."  When she said it, I absolutely wept.  I was just so overwhelmed with love for that little girl, and her big sisters, and all the other little ones in my life.  I miss my nieces, and my little cousins, and Jack, and I'm anxious for my other local friends to expand their families (if that is their desire) so that I can have more little people to love and dote on.  I know this sounds strange from the woman who once so vehemently declared hatred of children, and I know this major shift in attitude will only egg those on who say I will one day change my mind about motherhood, but even though I've gone from "get that thing away from me!!" to "aww do you mind if I cuddle your infant and smother it with kisses?!" my attitude about parenthood is firmly unchanged.  It's just not something I want at all.  I know there's something really rewarding about the love between parent and child, but I'm honestly perfectly fulfilled with the love I have for my nieces -- even though I know they're too little to understand how much they mean to me, or for me to mean all that much to them.  

One of the things that sticks out from when my grandmother died, more than any of the pain or sadness, is what my aunt Coo said to me.  "Meg, you were so special to her.  You have no idea how much she loved you."  It's true.  I didn't know.  I knew she loved me, but I didn't realize just how meaningful getting to grow up sharing a home with her was.  I'd like to think I didn't take it for granted, but I certainly didn't fully appreciate how special it was to have that situation, and such a loving environment with parents and grandmother all under one roof.  I know it's rarely so harmonious for others.  I can't pretend to know what the love of a child or grandchild must feel like, but I think it's safe to assume, at least among Massies, that it's a pretty intense feeling.  Probably stronger than love of a niece or nephew -- and I honestly cannot imagine that I'm even capable of loving anyone more than I love those kids.  So now that they've come along, many years after Marma's passing, I am starting to wrap my head around my aunt's words to me.  I'm so glad she gave me that to think about.  And I hope one day my nieces understand just how much I adore them, but I doubt they ever really will, and that's okay.  

Anyway, sappy sappy sappy...my grandmother was awesome, my nieces are awesome, I'm really lucky.  That's all.
jianantonic: (Default)
I think about Marma every day, but especially on April 11th, her birthday.  My father's mother would be 104 today.  This morning, I have been reflecting on how much she loved her family, and not just grandchildren but siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins several times removed.  Every day I would charge into her apartment demanding her attention in the form of a card game or a back scratch, and she was always willing to oblige, but I always had to wait my turn.  She was usually on the phone with some family member, and she wasn't cutting that conversation short for me.  I'd deal out some games of solitaire on the other side of her kitchen table, while she sat across from me talking, but mostly listening.  Maybe it's because she was mostly deaf, and she was faking her way through much of the conversation, just saying "mmhmm" sporadically.  Certainly a possibility, but I think mostly she was just listening.  She was so interested in the minutiae of everyone's lives (she was a southern woman, after all), and genuinely wanted to know how your day was and what little nothings you've been up to since the last time you spoke with her -- which was probably no more than a few days ago.

She had stacks of papers next to the phone, and a ball point pen, which she would doodle with while she chatted.  Doodling is perhaps too strong a word -- she drew circles, and traced them over and over again.  That's it.  She never wrote anything or drew anything else...every piece of paper within three feet of her phone was covered in thick blue circles.  Once I reached the age in school where I was regularly taking notes, my papers became covered with circles, too.  

When she finally got off the phone, she was all mine for the afternoon.  We'd play cards for hours, and then we'd go to her couch, where I would lay with my head in her lap so she could scratch my back while we watched TV.  Family Feud and The People's Court were our favorites.  

I wonder how Marma would feel about Facebook.  On the one hand, I think, she'd be pleased that we're able to so simply keep in touch with family members far and wide, and I know she'd love being able to see the pictures from our daily activities and anything else we may post there -- but on the other hand, I don't think she'd see the point.  She'd be disappointed that we don't call each other more, especially now that long distance charges are a thing of the past.  She is not the type of woman who would be happy to have a cell phone because she could talk anywhere -- that wasn't her style.  She wanted to devote her full attention to her conversations, and she would consider it rude to try to have a conversation while grocery shopping.  

I do think Marma would be pleased with our family, though.  How the Massies so strongly identify with our Massiehood, and each other.  The only great-grandchildren she knew were Ryan and Maggie, the oldest of their generation of Massies, but now she has thirteen.  She would be so proud of every one of them, too.  I think about how much I love my three nieces, and how it just swells my heart to be around them.  Marma had four children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren in her time, along with scores of nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews, and I know she felt the same way about each and every one of them as I do about my nieces.  What a huge heart my grandmother had.  

Marma

Apr. 4th, 2011 11:43 am
jianantonic: (Default)
It's been 13 years now since my grandmother died, but her best friend, Virginia Page, is still alive and maintains a close relationship with our family. VP is in her 90s, sharp as ever, and more or less healthy. She fell and shattered a hip back in December, and I spent a lot of time with her while she was in Charlottesville at the rehab hospital. Since then, I've been sending her postcards from my travels and keeping up with her by mail. She always writes back when I send her something, and she always tells me how proud of me my grandmother was and still would be. There are few things that warm my heart more than this.

April 11th would be Marma's 103rd birthday. She was an amazing woman who lived an amazing life and was ready to go when she went. I can't say that she died too early or really in any way regret the conditions of her passing, but I think of her every day and I will miss her as long as I live.

Marma lived here in the mother-in-law apartment in my parents' house. Because I called her "Marma" and not "Gramma," I didn't realize that I had two grandmothers and that she was one of them. I just thought she was this friend of ours who lived here. I was probably five or six before I figured out that we were related. She was 5'3, thin and bony, and as wrinkled as an old woman can get, but she never looked old to me. She was my number one playmate, and I can't count the number of times she crawled around on the floor with me playing "cats." There's not much to the game -- you just act like a cat. Meow. She also played catch with me in the driveway most days, and was always up for a card game.

She died just before my 15th birthday, and lord knows I've changed a lot since 15, but Marma is such a huge part of who I am today -- no other person has ever had half as much influence on me. Because she was there from the day I was born, I took it for granted that I had this awesome relationship with my grandmother. But it didn't take me long to realize just how lucky I am to have had her in my life like I did.

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Meg

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