Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pat Curtis 1929-2011

My earliest memory of my Grandma is of her putting a towel down on the seat of her car (a Mustang, if I remember correctly) because my bare legs were burning on the hot vinyl seats.  It was the '70s, shorts were short, socks were long and everything seemed to be made out of vinyl.

I remember her getting me Cheerios down from the cabinet at her house because she didn't want me eating the dog biscuits that I could reach, so she helped me get something more appropriate (and just as tasty). I've got a lot of other snippets of memories from around the time I was three - about the age that Noble is now - of playing in her back yard with my cousins.  And family Christmas at her house.  And playing her piano - the same piano Kayci now practices her piano on.  And sitting at her table eating.  I remember playing at her house with soap operas on - Days of Our Lives - and of "helping" her in the back yard, which usually consisted of her giving me various errands and tasks to do ("there are some sticks on the ground over there.  Can you bring me all the sticks?") to keep me busy while she tried to get some work done.

But I have two memories of her that are my favorite.  The first is of driving down South Main where it intersects South Post Oak. There used to be a K-Mart there on that corner, and I remember passing by it many times with my Grandma (and of getting some portraits made there, too).  I have no idea where we had been, but we were on our way back to her house.  I was sitting in the front seat (remember - it was the '70s) and I remember her making up a song about my name.  And I remember her teaching me "The Ants Go Marching" - the same song Noble loves to sing with me today on our way to drop him off at school (and sung, naturally, in the same dramatic staccato as Grandma did).  And I remember her singing me a very silly song by Carmen Miranda called Cuanto Le Gusta.

And then there was the day I decided I wanted to go see Grandma, so I walked a block and a half to her house.  Unsupervised.  Unannounced.  We lived around the corner from her when I was three, and I distinctly remember walking down the sidewalk of my street, carefully looking both ways for cars (as I had apparently just been taught) and knocking on her door.  I remember her surprise when she opened the door and saw me.  I remember her calling my frantic mother and telling her that I was there and that I was alright.  And I remember her making me lunch.  Nobody ever made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich better.

I spent a lot of time with my grandma, and I loved every minute of it.  She really seemed to understand me when no one else did.  She understood that kids have a tendency to write on walls, so she gave my cousins and I a special place in her house  - the closet in "the childrens' room" - where we could write on the walls all we wanted.  My first knowledge of science was at Grandma's house when she explained how a potato would grow roots in a vase on her windowsill. She answered all of my questions, and I'm sure there were a lot.  I marveled at her paintings and loved it when she would read stories to me.  I loved hearing about all the wonderful adventures she had had (she lived a really interesting life).  She was adopted, and so I think she had a little bit of a different taste for life.  Everything seemed like an adventure.  And I think I got my love of adventure and mystery from her.

When I think about my Grandma, I think about sun brewed tea (lemon and mint), Avon and costume jewelry.  I think about drinking from the hose in her back yard.  And I remember her patiently reading every one of my Bill cartoons, no matter how dumb the jokes were.  I remember taking trips with her and Granddaddy to all kinds of interesting places - Teague, Richmond, West Columbia and all sorts of cemeteries all over the state (we used to love to see what the oldest grave we could find was).  I remember how beautiful and park-like her yard always was.  The day my sister was born in 1981, I recall a sunny May day picking dandelions in her back yard.  I remember the mint plants in her yard and her making mint jelly (which she vowed she would never do again).  And I think Grandma gave me the nickname, "Destructo."

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to have Grandma over to the house for a weekend and just sit and talk.  We talked about all sorts of things, but we really talked about family.  I grew up enjoying countless hours of sitting in her chair looking at old family photo albums.  I knew that she was adopted and that she was the keeper of our family knowledge, so it was important to me to sit down and get as much of that out of her as I could.  She brought the family Bibles with her and we talked for hours and hours about as much as we know about the history of our family.  I recorded those talks, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with my aunts and cousins soon.  It was a weekend I'll never forget, and one for which I will always be grateful.

The past three months, Grandma has been in the hospital almost non-stop.  She was finally in a rehab facility getting strong enough to go live my Aunt Peggy.  She was supposed to go home Monday.

I was supposed to have dinner with Grandma and my mom today.

Next week we were supposed to have our first family Thanksgiving in over 20 years.  We still will.

But Grandma died yesterday evening.  The last time I talked to her - last weekend - she sounded great.  She was feisty as every and looking forward to getting out.  In fact, she was trying her best to convince the doctors that she was strong enough to go home early, but she was frustrated because they weren't buying it.

She told me a couple of weeks ago while she was laying in her hospital bed that she was just tired.  She knew that she was still here for a reason, but she didn't know what that reason was.  It turns out that she was here just long enough to see her family come together again in way that hasn't happened in more than a decade.  Everyone is speaking to each other again and we all have new perspective.  Tempers have calmed somewhat and bygones are in the process of being what they are.

I wish that she could have been with us forever.  I wish that she could have watched Kayci and Noble  and Shannon's daughter, Avery, grow up.  I wish that Grandma would've gotten to see Kayci's first piano recital (and to tell her again the story of her first recital when she had to be escorted off the stage). I wish that she had gotten to see Noble grow into the mini version of me that she loved and understood.  I think they would've been great friends.  But they got to meet her, at least, even if they didn't get to know her.  They'll have a memory of her.  And for that I'm grateful.  I'm thankful for her life and for the intangible lessons that she has taught us all.

I'm going to miss her spirit and getting all sorts of crazy e-mail chain letters and hoaxes from her. I'm going to miss her cards.  I'll miss her asking about what the kids are doing.  I'll miss her stories.  I'll miss her breathlessly referring to me when I was a little monster.

Thanks, Grandma.  Say hi to Grandaddy for me, okay?

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