March 14th, 2002 by

My grandmother has been around for almost 95 years, and she has been a part of my life from the time she was feeding me until I was feeding her. She went to church every Sunday, raised my father to be a great man, and in my entire life, the most foul word I ever heard her use was “squatblossom”, when describing a neighbor’s kid who liked to pinch people and break things. Other than that, she’s just like anyone would describe his or her own grandmother. Textbook sweet old lady. She probably has more of my artwork than anyone else except maybe my mom. I spent a summer with her when I was about 13, and found myself in Dothan, Alabama with nothing to do but draw and paint. If I had known then how valuable that kind of relaxation was, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

She used to paint before she got all shaky, and we joked about her starting her pointillism period, or going full abstract. I can’t say she influenced my style, but she definitely influenced subject matter. She grew up in the country, had no use for technology, and was wired to find the beauty in the everyday. While I was still in my artistic infancy, and drawing things like fighter jets and dragons with flames shooting out of every orifice, she would point out the shape of a persons face or their eyes, or the light shining off of a lake. I would draw a beautiful sunset over a lake with jets flying by shooting missiles at dinosaurs. Eventually her input wore through my adolescent musings, and I started to take it a bit more seriously.

Mima got older (yes, I called her Mima, and it’s pronounced “meemaw”), stuff started wearing out, she was generally less sharp and coherent than she was before, and eventually moved out of her house into a nursing home when we became worried that she would burn the house down or something. She objected heartily and often, and it was hard to see her unhappy, but she got used to it. It was really a pretty sweet deal, from where I was standing. Someone comes in once a day to make sure everything’s cool, you have at least fifteen scheduled social activities a day if you want to go, the nurse brings you drugs, and there’s a kitchen that’s always fully stocked. It was a pretty nice place, apart from the smell. I would come visit every few weeks and bring her a sketch, a book, or something to eat. She’d sit and tell me the same stories she’d told me a hundred times, and I’d listen like I’d never heard them before. Okay, this is the part where I’m crying, so forgive any sentence fragments or misspellings. She’d ask if I remembered drawing the picture of the tugboat, and tell me about how she sat and watched me do it. After my sister had her second kid and Mima was too sick to go out and see him, I drew a picture of him for her and gave it to her last mother’s day. She was pretty proud of being a great grandmother, and carried that picture around with her for two days. She always loved my drawings of faces, so I gave her one of her great granddaughter to match it. She said they looked like they could come off the page and start talking to you, and occasionally, when she was having a particularly challenging day, she’d ask me who they were, or tell me that one of them was a picture of me. I got really good at smiling and nodding on those days.

Last fall, she fell in her room and broke her hip, as the elderly have a tendency to do. I went to see her in the hospital a day later, and was fully unprepared for what I saw. I was with my dad- thinking, “Alright, I have to be strong here. I’ve depended on him for all kinds of things, and now he needs me.” That all went swiftly out the window as soon as we got into the room. She was incoherent, had restraints on her arms because she kept yanking out various tubes, and was obviously very uncomfortable. I was pretty useless for about fifteen minutes while I cried and shook, sniffled and couldn’t really talk. The next two weeks were iffy, but she pulled through and eventually went back to the nursing home, where she was under constant care. She could walk, roll around in her wheelchair, and talk, but she was in much worse shape than before. She thought I was her brother sometimes, knew who I was other times, needed to be fed sometimes, and generally had very little of her mind left. The stories she told did change, however. She told a tale of a family of rabbits that lived in a tree under her bed, sang a song on a few occasions, and my dad told me she even barked once. It’s okay to laugh. My dad and I laughed many times during our visits with her. It beats the hell out of crying, which I am rapidly growing tired of.

Today my dad called and told me she had died. I can’t say it’s a surprise, but I can say with some authority that it sucks. We had the luxury of closure, and she was not really living where she was, but merely existing. So this isn’t a completely sad day. We all go through this, and we all look for whatever it is that we missed saying or doing. As the cliché goes, we have to remember the good they did while they were around.

Well, Mima, I guess the tugboat drawing goes on my wall for a while.

I’ll miss you.

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