This is not related to bicycles, nor is it about transportation. In fact, it’s not really about anything but me and my family and maybe the reminder that life is so, so precious. Pardon the self-indulgence.
That’s my grandma. Even though I took that picture last spring, I think it’s the last picture I have of her. The look on her face is quintessentially Grammy: the “I think what you’re doing or saying is totally ridiculous but I’ll humor you anyway” sort of look she got when she thought something was totally preposterous. In this case, that look was because of the selfie approach to picture-taking (though even she had to admit that it sort of worked;)
I miss that look. Grammy died this weekend, the day before James and I were going to see her, the day I’d sort of thought would be the last time I’d see her. I’ve been telling people–perhaps you are one of them, dear reader–how excited I was to see Grammy when James and I went to California, how it might be the last time. I’d sort of imagined this as my time to say goodbye. And to miss her by a day seems too cruel.
She’d just turned 96 and it’s not like her death was particularly surprising; she had a long, mostly happy life, a life surrounded by family, a live of travel and Tahoe summers. I’m sad not for her but selfishly for me, for the missed chance to say goodbye.
My brother and I often joked that Grammy was the nicest bigot we knew, and for sure she was often intractable in her thoughts. She was also unfailingly generous, so proud of her family, and the strongest, feistiest old woman I know. What follows, something I wrote back in the day when I had a livejournal (remember those?:) is I think the most fitting tribute I can think of. Thanks, Grammy, for everything.
I am continuously adding to my mental file of who and what I want to be like when I’m old. If I were telling you about it, I’d usually just say “I want to be like [insert any one of the people I admire here] when I’m old,” but what I really mean is that there are one or two specific things about that person that I want to try to emulate.
I mention this because recently, I was surprised to discover that my grandma is one of the people I want to be like.
You have to understand that I spent much of my adolescence in what I think is probably the typical fashion: hiding away with my brother, talking about why my family was so ridiculous. At first we centered on our parents, then expanded to the entirety of Dad’s side of the family (the side with which we were much more familiar and thus much more prone to pick apart), then rested comfortably on a few select cousins, only to spin around again, mix it all up, and decide that my grandma–sometimes racist in that endearing old-woman way, definitely set in her ways, woefully unable to navigate the world of email or even technology at all–was the one conniving behind the scenes of it all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandma and my family, I just spent a lot of my junior high and high school years focusing on everything that was wrong about them, everything that I wanted to do better.
So to realize that I want to be like my grandma in a lot of ways is particularly groundbreaking for me.
This is what I like about her, and this is what I want to have: tenacity. Before we went up to Tahoe a few weeks ago, just the two of us, she confided that the last time she was up there, she could feel the altitude affecting her heart. She’d been unable to go swimming (this is the woman who I think has gone swimming in Lake Tahoe every single day she’s been up there since she was born), unable to walk to the store, even unable to take the 5-minute stroll down to the beach to see the sunset. All she could do–which really, she was totally happy with, as hideously confining as it seems to me–was stay at our cabin and read.
This time, though, she was on the offensive. The day after we got there, she walked with me down to the end of the driveway and back. Next, it was down to the communal mailboxes and back. Down to campfire and back. Every day, she walked a little more. It wasn’t much, but dammit, she was going places. And about halfway into our trip, I convinced her to go down to the beach with me. I’d bought her a new bathing cap hoping to entice her into the water, and I drove us both down there (as much as it breaks my heart to drive a distance it takes 5 minutes to walk) so that she could at least put her feet in the water and see the mountains over the lake. When we got there, of course, she couldn’t help but try swimming at least a little bit. (Don’t worry, I made her promise not to have a heart attack.)
Anyway, to make a long story short, she swam that day–and then the next day, she swam even further. And that’s what I really admire: sure, she’s only the most marginally active as she’s ever been up there, but no matter what, she was trying every day. She wasn’t discouraged by the fact that she could barely walk a tenth of a mile at first; she just got up the next day and went a little bit further. That is what I want to be like when I’m old. Regardless of my fake hips, my reconstructed knees, my ankle that always gives me trouble when the weather changes, my arthritis, my aging bones and muscles, my whatever-can-go-wrong, regardless of how little I can do compared to how much I can still remember doing when I was young, I want the spirit that compels me to be out there trying. I never realized my grandma was like that, but it turns out that she is one stubborn old lady–and dammit, I’m going to be like that too.