I want to write this story as a blessing for my maternal grandmother. She turned 100 years old in June, 2007, and for a long time I have told myself I should be recording her and her stories. I wish I had. There were so many of them. All of them were laced with love and acceptance.
Oh, yes, she can be very stubborn, and well deserved, I might add. However, she has lived her life being the kind of person not many could compete with. She minded her own business and was never a gossiper. She worked very hard as a Registered Nurse for well over 50 years, and raised 6 children while doing so. I can remember getting a little twist on the back of my ear if I misbehaved…that, or a pinch on the back of my arm…Ouch! That really wasn’t so bad, as a matter of fact, I know it only took her one time for me to straighten up at any given moment. She has osteoporosis, and sometimes walks with a cane which makes her even more adorable.
My granny has always been a Christian and enjoyed helping others. She would volunteer down at the church’s local thrift—or free clothing for the needy—shop. I remember going to church with her sometimes and she always loved to spend her time with the children there. As I got older, I enjoyed a few Bible studies with her, but those were few and far between. She never really preached to people, but her Christian beliefs were intricately entwined in her very essence. She definitely wore Christianity well.
I remember when I was around 14 years old I stayed the night at her house one weekend and she totally caught me off guard. I was a somewhat modest child that shied away from nakedness and didn’t like to dress in front of anyone. This time in particular, my grandma was taking a bath and she started calling out my name. “Tammy! Tammy! Could you please come here a minute?” I panicked because I didn’t dare go in there—afraid of what I might accidentally see. She was about 69 years old at the time. I figured she must have forgotten to take in a towel, so I grabbed one from the linen closet and barely opened the door to drop the towel in. She said, “No, Tammy! Come in here, I want to show you something!”
I was really freaking out by now. What in the world could that be? So, I went in, head down, not making any eye contact. Then she said, “Look!” I looked up and there she stood in the tub, stark naked. She said, “I just thought I would show you what you have to look forward to when you get older…” She was using her hands to point out parts of the body she was explaining. “Your skin begins to sag real bad, your boobs are no longer up here, they are down here. Your belly begins to hang down and you lose your body hair! Not to mention all the wrinkles!” I remember getting so embarrassed…I never told a soul about that because I didn’t know how to take it. Years down the line, I found out she had also done the same thing to my sister. Must be a family tradition, huh? Looking back now, I find it very amusing and very much my grandma. My sister told my mom about it right when it happened to her, but she and my mom were always able to talk about anything and everything. I always felt I had to hide everything. I didn’t know how to talk about stuff like that. I think because she was a nurse for so long, she didn’t want me to grow up and be afraid of the human body as it aged. It must be the caretaker side of her.
About a week prior to her 100th birthday, I sent an email to News 10 Good Morning (Sacramento) to see about getting her birthday announced on the air…That’s when I thought it would be a good idea if one of their weatherpersons would do a story regarding something my grandma had taught me about. Around 12 years ago, I was driving down with my grandma, and one of my kids, to my grandma’s brother’s funeral in Brentwood, CA. She started telling me a little about the scenery. One story in particular has stayed with me always. It was about the levee systems. She said when she was young the river waters would come down and flood the lowlands all around until people built levees (and dams) to contain them. The amount of flooding, of course, depended on how much snow fell that winter. As an adult I still found this amazing because even though I knew levees were manmade, I never really thought about their significance. There are levees everywhere. It almost seems like they are indigenous to rivers and canals. I just thought it would be a good news story, however, about a week ago I received an email from Gregg Lalka, a News 10 weatherman, saying he was very interested in this story and that he wanted to focus it around my grandma if she were available for an interview. What? I hadn’t intended for it to go that far. My grandma’s mind isn’t as good as it was back then.
So, I began trying to come up with a way to see if my grandma was able to do this. She has never been the type of person to be in the limelight in any way. At her birthday party last month, the newspaper reporter was asking her questions about the secrets to her life longevity and instead of answering him she would just shrug or giggle. She either didn’t understand him (this is what I believe) or she couldn’t hear him. I think the fact that he was a stranger didn’t help matters at all. A couple of years ago, she came down with the shingles and ever since then, she hasn’t been the same mentally. I didn’t know that chicken pox could come back to haunt you, unexpectedly, years (decades) later. She was misdiagnosed and had to suffer through the most painful part of it without medication. It was awful. If you don’t know about them, I would recommend that you check it out on the internet because you don’t want to see a family member go through this and be misdiagnosed. My mom finally decided to change doctors and get a second opinion and this doctor knew immediately what was wrong, but the worst of it was already over. To this day, she is numb on the upper left side of her head and itchy, and I believe it did something to her neurologically as well as mentally. They have great medication if it is caught in time. I don’t think my grandma will be able to make the interview, but I still hope he does the story.
Years ago, before television and radios, family stories were passed down from generation to generation and I think people were able to have a much better sense of who they were. Communication was big and very customary for them. It’s so easy to get lost in this world today. I value my family and I wish I knew more about my ancestry.
Read Part II