I was not the grandson my Grandma Betty really wanted.
That’s not to say she didn’t love me, or that she even particularly disliked me. Grandma and I, especially between about 2005-2008 or so, were the very definition of friends. We went on road trips together. We helped each other out with the unpleasant crap in our lives just by keeping each other company. We tried and succeeded 95% of the time to be amiable.
But the fact of the matter was simply that we were two very different people who shared an irritability and general owliness that could, at times, be a bit of a subdued powderkeg.
I’m going to back up a second and iterate that I loved Grandma Betty, and I admire her dedication to certain things. She had an absolutely amazing work ethic, and her frugalness is a bit of an inspiration in an era of over-indulgence, of which I’m particularly guilty. She lived simply, she cared deeply, and she always handled her business. Even in the end years of her life, when her mind was starting to go a little bit, Grandma tried to keep her bills and medical needs in order, and even if that wound up being a nightmare sometimes for the family (she insisted over and over again she needed to get down to the DMV for new tags, even when she’d been called and told she had permanent plates), it is still something I respect and admire.
But Grandma lived and breathed in a different world than me. She was raised on a ranch, living her days here in White Sulphur Springs. Certainly, she traveled to a few others places, but traveling with Grandma always felt a bit like she was being pulled back by a great big rubber band around her waist. This place was her home, her sanctuary, her fortress against a changing world she stubbornly refused to understand. Here, she fought against using computers or anything more complex on her land line than the answer or hang-up buttons. Cell phones and computers were nearly magic to her, and I can’t think of a single time in the last twenty years she knew how to operate her various cars’ radios, often times just leaving on whatever the grandkids had put on simply because she didn’t know how to shut it off. I never saw her pick up a book, and until the last few years of her life, she never cared much for television.
She loved local sports. Loved ’em. Cheering on the football team was her idea of a party. Going and watching the basketball games? Slightly less so, but still her jam. She lived for her kids’ and grandkids’ games. I can’t tell you a time I’ve seen my grandmother happier than when one of my cousins was running a football into the end zone.
Compare that to me. I am a technophile. My dream of traveling the world spurs not just my day-to-day existence but the work I do. I’ve lived several different places across the US and I plan on living in more someday. In terms of sports, I was a complete disappointment on every level. There’s not a physical game I’m good at, and so Grandma never really had the same kinds of highs with me. Even my brother, who generally gave as much of a wet fart about sports as I did, was a hell of a baseball stud and she could root him on when he was managing the football team or playing in the pep band.
I was none of those things to her. I was a geek, and she was a woman to whom geekery was completely incomprehensible. I read and read and read, and apart from a token attempt to get my interest in some old Louis L’Amour books that gathered dust in her spare bedroom, Grandma just wasn’t a reader or a conversationalist when it came to fictional stories in general, save for the Westerns she loved on TV. I played sports solely to piss off coaches (that’s no exaggeration). She attended some of my extracurriculars, and to Grandma’s credit, she was great at trying to support me, even if what I was doing obviously wasn’t her cup of tea.
The most important divide, and here’s where we start to dive into Grandma Betty’s greatest and most terrible character fault, is this – I never really needed Grandma in a way that a lot of my cousins or family members did. Oh sure, I had a temper on me, and more than once I walked down to her house from my parents to sleep off my mental poison. There were times I’d get so mad at my family I thought about running away, and she was there to patiently take me in, let me blow off some steam, and then talk me back down in the morning.
But apart from that? I didn’t get in trouble with the cops. I didn’t need money from her. I didn’t need to store stuff at her place, or crash at her house at any point while I got on my feet, or need her to take care of my kids. I was, pretty much, a boring, good kid who kept to himself. My grandma, on the other hand, was a woman with a very real psychological need within herself to take care of people. To worry about things.
I didn’t realize this until I was well into adulthood and beyong the point of being legally blind, but apart from when I was a very little kid, the happiest moments for my grandma when it came to the two of us were two-fold: one was when I’d travel with her to visit her nursing-home bound second husband Bob, a task few people really wanted to do for a lot of reasons. She was human, and having someone with her on those expeditions was something of a balm for her. Maybe that’s tooting my own horn but I do think it made it easier for her to have someone there with her, and she could rely on my regularly going with her. The fun we had on those trips was tempered by the situation – Bob suffered from a stroke and could be cantankerous at the best of times and downright mean to Grandma at his worst, as well as being wildly illogical at times and unrealistic as to his situation. But we did enjoy each other’s company, even if we drove the other a little bit nuts sometimes.
The second time Grandma was really content with me was when she helped me with rides or drives around town, something I’m not able to do by myself. I didn’t quite figure this one out until recently, but those trips weren’t for her. Not in her mind. The chance to help me out with something like going to the vet or getting groceries or whatever the case happened to be made her feel a connection with me she didn’t often get to have. I’m stretching there – she never said as much – but I think I’m right. She was a different person on those rides – happy in a way she generally wasn’t under other circumstances talking to me.
However, that came with an ugly price when it came to other family members. Grandma protected her own, always, and maybe sometimes when family shouldn’t have been protected. Sometimes blinders could go up, particularly when it came to her grandchildren, who she knew could do some serious wrongs and yet she still took them in, helped them out, and seemingly always took their sides until other family members interjected on her behalf.
It sounds odd, but Grandma needed that worry. She clung to it. If something wasn’t wrong, she’d invent something in her mind to worry about, and no amount of reassurances would convince her otherwise. It’s wrong to say that Grandma was blind to the drug usage, the alcoholism that fueled brushes with the law, or the general dickbaggery that comes with having so many family members. She was perfectly aware of what was going on and tolerated it because she thought by accepting those people in her life and taking them in no matter what, she was doing the right thing.
And at times, that hurt to watch. And it happened over and over and over again. I wish, just once, I hadn’t listened to her when she turned down my offer to stand up for her. I wish I’d done what I almost certainly would have done for anyone else and just gone full asshole on people. I didn’t. I watched, as she requested. And lo and behold, the age-old adage of “give a person an inch” kept coming true.
That was Grandma for you, though. She took care of us even when she probably shouldn’t have, when she should have thrown up her hands and said enough. She loved and loved and loved, for better, for worse.
The rest of this blog is going to be rather sort of scattershot. I apologize – it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m working on a huge undertaking that’s left me mentally exhausted. But I wanted to share some minor tidbits that maybe aren’t so minor to me.
- Grandma was ornery and frustratingly stubborn – unless you happened to have genitals and had “M.D.” behind your name. She was gaga over several of her male doctors, and would listen to their advice even when it went against the grain of her insanely hard-held beliefs. For example, her dislike of anything even remotely spicy went bye-bye for a day when her doctor in Great Falls recommended Chili’s to her as a place to eat. Another doctor here in town received a treat every day he was around unfailingly because she was such a big fan of his. Not another soul in town could claim that (apart maybe from my dogs).
- I don’t think I realized until I was fourteen or so that Grandma actually knew how to fart. In an elevator visiting family in the hospital, someone squeaked one out, and it wasn’t me. She looked down slightly, and this big, dopey grin spread across her face like she was a little girl again – and she giggled. Every time afterwards, and it wasn’t often, when I’d catch her farting again, she’d get that same grin and giggle fit. Seriously, it was adorable.
- When she had earwax, Grandma wouldn’t just jam her pointer finger in there like a normal human being. This is going to require a demonstration, so follow along at home. Hold up your hand next to your ear, your thumb splayed out, your palm facing forward. Now pop your thumb into your ear and start waving your hand down and up repeatedly. Again, this woman was damn adorable.
- Grandma was the worst driver I’ve ever known. Worse than me. She didn’t know how to turn on her high beams, and on a trip home from visiting an uncle in Livingston, I had to have her pull over so I could show her how to work them. This wasn’t when I was a kid. This was only about ten years ago. Same with her turn signals. She spent the better part of her adult life not knowing how high beams worked or how to kick on the turn signals in her car. She also never parallel parked, opting instead to just park on the street. I am utterly mystified as to how she passed a driver’s test.
- I will miss her baked beans and her mashed potatoes. I will miss her calling Yoda “Yoga” unfailingly and insisting he was a she. I want to forever remember being a kid and riding under the carts when she worked at Circle V or Mathis Food Farm. I want to remember the Christmas Eves I could spend at her house and learn to let go of the ones where I couldn’t due to other familial issues. I want this town to forever remember her as the one who took care of their elders in the nursing home and who always made sure their kids had an Easter Egg hunt at the park or at the hospital.
- Perhaps most of all, I want to repeat the words Ryan said to me when I asked him if he wanted to pass on a message to Grandma when she was in the hospital for her last hours here. He told me to tell her thank you for giving us the best mom in the world. This whole post I’ve stayed dry-eyed, but this one hurts the most to admit it. I wasn’t able to say those words. I choked. But Ryan meant it, and Grandma knew it in her heart, that she had, through her love and compassion, provided the world with an absolutely amazing daughter and mother.
I miss you, Grandma. And I love you. Thank you. God bless you.