(I’m the blonde in the picture BTW)
I probably won’t be able to get to Pennsylvania for my grandmother’s funeral, but I was able to say good-bye before she passed away in a hospital in the Missouri countryside. Since I’m a writer I feel that maybe she deserves a eulogy written by somebody who’s not a hillbilly yahoo like a lot of that side of the fam, but I also don’t intend this to be some heartwarming tale of lies about her either. I want her to be remembered as she was. Faults and charms.
I wasn’t raised too closely with my dad’s side of the family, but they have their ways at times. Grandma didn’t care for pleasing others. She was as ornery as they come. Would drive all of us nuts.
Losing her means I’ve run out of grandparents. I’m 36 years old and it’s pretty cool to have stretched it that far, that she lived this long. She made it to 84 (an age I hope to never face. Give me 70 years at most and I’ll be fine).
Edna McCloskey, maiden name Cottner, had the sweetest, most loving mother ever known. My great-grandma Cottner, her mother Mary Alice, was my best friend when I was 6 years old. She was so kind to me and so darling… so encouraging. Always.
She lived really far away but we talked on the phone all the time. She always accepted the charges and listened to all the nonsense my little brain let fly from my mouth. We grew so close this way that it was like she was sitting in the room with me.
Her daughter on the other hand, Edna, my grandma, had a lot more spice in her. I guess that’s the best way to put it nicely.
My mom always said: Kindness must have skipped a generation in Edna’s case. My grandma could be tough as nails and it often felt like she was spitting them when she spoke. But my relationship with her fluctuated through the different phases of life almost as much as my weight (and I’ve had 3 kids).
When I was really young I knew her as the mean old lady who smelled like crusty bread and lard. Her attitude was salty and stuck to you no matter how confident you were. She hated my mom. She and her husband, the grandpa I’m named after, tried to pay my dad not to marry my mom even though mom’s family was more well-off.
Maybe they knew that my parents were no good for each other. That they’d both drag everyone through hell being married. I knew it as soon as I understood what marriage was, but it took my parents a long time to realize it. Eighteen years of separating and reconciling. It was like World War III in our house at times, but we all got through it.
As I got older I saw a different side of my grandma that I wanted to explore. I started writing her letters and we became pen pals because she lived in Pennsylvania where my dad grew up. We wrote back and forth exchanging pleasantries when I was about 9 years old. Mainly simple contents.
This lasted for a couple of years.
How is school?
How is the farm?
How’s everybody doing?
What’s the weather like?
It was nice to connect on this basic level. I warmed to her knowing that she cared enough to waste a stamp on me.
She came from a very different time, I knew that. She was a hard old farm woman. Despite that, I wanted to know more about her. To go beyond daily life and find out what her favorite color was, her favorite food. I had this gnawing desire to learn which season of the year was her favorite.
My mother’s mom loved knowing me and letting me know her. I craved that on the paternal side. So after many letters, I finally sent grandma Edna one full of these prying questions. She never wrote back.
It broke my heart for a while.
I though I had done something wrong. Or that she didn’t love me enough to really let me know her.
Years went by. We didn’t visit. She never visited.
My parents were going through a rocky patch, complete with my dad moving our for a few months, so maybe that had more to do with it than my barrage of questions.
A few years went by and the awkward teens kicked me hard. I was a pudgy tomboy with a mother who knew nothing of fashion or femininity. This was obviously clear when we all traveled to Alabama to visit one of my dad’s brothers who had moved down there. He had taken grandma with him, but she lived in a trailer on his property because nobody wanted to live with her. Or maybe it was that he had just remarried and had a slew of step-children to adjust to with his own kids.
Grandma was a cranky old lady who never hesitated to say what was on her mind. She liked things her way and she would put it that way. She didn’t see the point in sparing anyone’s feelings and mine were definitely not spared on reuniting.
My sister and I had both gained weight thanks to the public educations system’s curriculum of sitting for hours everyday and feeding us pizza and hot dogs for lunch. I was at least an active kid who played any game or sport that kept me moving whenever I could. My sister didn’t fare so well.
The first thing grandma Edna said when we saw her for the first time after years of separation was, “My, you girls got fat!”
Throughout my teen years I struggled with than, not just my weight but that kind of ridicule and every time I saw her during that period it hurt more. I thought she was being mean on purpose. That she was trying to cut me down for some reason, because when someone treats you like that it’s hard to see it from their perspective. It’s difficult to stop and think, “Is this person trying to hurt me or are they pointing out flaws as a way to motivate me to do something different, better?”
I definitely don’t believe that is the proper way to motive someone, but my grandma told it like it was. She was harsh. She also wasn’t afraid to say the cold raw truth. She put it all out there in the most blunt, impactful way possible.
With someone like that you learn to either love it or hate it. Take it or leave it. And I left it at times, but I took it when I was up for the challenge. There was something about her that sometimes made you glad to prove her wrong.
She was a contradiction, for sure. She’d ask, “Why are you so fat?” but then try to feed you full of sugary sticky buns.
As she got older time softened her a bit. She survived her husband, survived breast cancer, and the loss of one of her children (he was an adult when his time came, but she still outlived him). She lived to see her grandchildren grow up. Witnessed us deal with our own issues: My divorce, different health problems and law issues with cousins, my sister’s infertility issues-which was never a problem for me.
I was the one with the kids. The crazy artist raising a bunch of sillies and I took them to see my grandma later in life. My father had decided it was his turn to look after his mom when the rest of his family had given up on her. He moved her out to the country in Missouri just outside of St. Louis. She even lived with him and his wife for a bit.
Our relationship had been rocky because he’s a bit of an old cowboy and he doesn’t know how to really love anyone or be there for them unless it’s convenient to him. But we were doing really well for a while. My having a couple of cute kids he wanted access to helped.
It was nice to go out and see grandma, great-grandma Edna to my kids. She saw that I had grown up, that I thinned out and took care of myself once I was in full control of my life.
She praised me for it, that I was doing what she always wanted me to. Now I realize that she didn’t know how to guide me properly. She wanted to help me through adolescence but she didn’t know how.
Sometimes, often times people don’t know how to put things the right way. Not everyone is a writer, or a thinker. I’m both. It’s like a curse. I had to remind myself that when she said hurtful things it wasn’t meant to hurt but to help me change and I could either take it or leave it, and that was that.
So my grandma had a great relationship with her great-grandchildren. My children. Through that we also grew closer.
I think she saw how forgiving I can be and how loving I am. She saw my resilience and she admitted admiring it once. Not in as many words, but in her own way.
Even so, she still drove everyone nuts. She traumatized my dad’s wife (who is closer in age to me than him and has never felt like a step-mother to me) until they put her in a nursing home, something I am very against.
I moved in with my maternal grandmother to help take care of her before she died over a decade ago, I didn’t have the ability to do so for grandma Edna, and she probably would have driven me nuts.
But going to that nursing home humbled her. Her eyes glossed over, dazed ahead until I brought my kids to visit. She always looked half-alive when we got there but by the time we left her gaze was dancing with love.
That was all that mattered to me. Regardless of what we dealt with in the past she always did what she thought was best and she deserved love from someone who wasn’t going to hold anything against her. Maybe I do hold a little bit of it inside, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have mentioned it.
Grandma Edna was ornery as can be, but she was also strong. She was tough. She was a survivor. She didn’t let anybody give her crap.
I think maybe I have a little more in common with her than I knew.
No matter how much I’ve been through I keep going. And that’s something she always did. She never caved, or on the rare occasion that she might have, she did it because she knew she had to.
I was sure that she would outlive all of us, just out of spite. They say, “the good die young,” and she was living proof.
She was 84 years old, just shy of 85. She probably would have made it another decade or two if someone had told her that she couldn’t. If someone had told her to go ahead and die, she probably would have lived longer.
I am glad that we had time together in her later years. I got to know a gentler side of her. My kids miss her terribly. Parts of me are going to miss her too, but I know that’s life. You have to take it or leave it.