I just found out my Great Grandma died two years ago

I just found out my Great Grandma died two years ago
Sandia Peak Sunset. John Fowler. https://www.flickr.com/photos/snowpeak/11361194135

Yesterday morning I woke up thinking about Sandia Peak, pecan Sandies stored in a tin, bread and butter pickles that I called “Grandma pickles,” the giant red arrow landmark, and the sweet smell of an Albuquerque morning.

It’s been years since I’ve been to Albuquerque. I think I last visited in 2007, as part of what I think was the last family vacation I had with my family. All 6 of us kids. In subsequent years my brother and I had summer classes for college that prevented us from going.

There is a picture of me with the four little ones, all in a row, holding hands. Great Grandma had a fun backyard that had two levels. The grass was always prickly though, dormant for the hot summers. The fake green grass on the back porch was worn away, revealing red terracotta tiles underneath in patches. Vines grew on the adobe walls of the yard. I grew up chasing and being chased by my brother around the birdbath in the center of the lower level, where there was a rain gauge that was rarely full, and if so, only by the sprinklers.

A large tree shaded the front yard. Her kitchen was underused–Great Grandma never liked cooking, and after Great Grandpa died, she mostly subsisted on TV dinners or eating out, using her oven to store paper plates so she wouldn’t have to use the massive top-loading dishwasher that took up a chunk of the kitchen. She still had the old step-stool/high chair that all of us kids used to give us a boost around the dining room table, where we ate sandwiches for lunch. She asked me once why I didn’t like eating the crust–the consistency was weird, but in my limited vocabulary, I told her it was because it was brown, and she said all the kids say the same thing.

The front living room was for entertaining, and crossing through to the kitchen and the family room, where we usually sat around and talked and played, where her old TV still had knobs and did not work with a remote control–but it was color! Petrified wood adorned the fireplace; wood she and Great Grandpa and her two sons collected from one of those roadside places, I think. There was a dark wood bar with black leather, and a light I liked to turn on once in a while that spun and projected color circles–very 70s. The walls were either wood panel, or red velvet design wallpaper. I loved to rub them. In 2007, I was right–it was the last time I would get to rub them. To see and observe everything.

She and Great Grandpa bought me my first red Radio Flyer trike. Great Grandpa helped dad put it together. I loved that thing, and would pedal at top speed around corners and tight spaces and never crash. I am looking for one for my daughter, because I suspect she will like it, too.

When I was younger, they’d won a giant stuffed bunny for Easter from their Elk Club–the news clipping mentioned that they were giving it to me, their great granddaughter. I remember fighting over it with my younger brother once, and it ripped–and disappeared.

There is a picture of me in a bonnet and Easter dress in their back yard, standing up and holding two eggs; dad always kept a copy of it in his wallet–when he thinks of me, he said, he thinks of me in that picture. It is sweet, but it also is telling–I don’t think I was supposed to grow up and be independent. He liked me at that age because I liked everything he liked.

I don’t know what Great Grandma thought of dad. I know that she and Great Grandpa often had mom and her siblings over all summer–I remember pictures of dirt bike racing and the swimming pools. It probably gave them respite from the abuses at home at the hand of their mother. Her son’s wife. I vaguely remember a photo announcement of their engagement in the paper, with a picture of the party. Great Grandma was very tactful in everything she said, so when she was mildly critical of her, when she showed me that clipping, I knew there was much more left unsaid.

Maybe she knew of the abuses. Maybe not. But I suspect she did. She certainly knew that when mom moved out at a young age, her mother would not let her talk to her two younger siblings. Kind of like what happened to me. Each of the three of them struggled afterwards with the typical struggles adults with childhood trauma have. I won’t tell the stories of the other two as they are not mine to share, but I know my mom made the mistake of marrying my dad–going from one abusive situation to another.

Great Grandma still loved Mom, even though her mother still wouldn’t talk to her. She loved Mom, even when her own son, when he was dying, never got to read the last letter she sent to him.

I was told not to tell Great Grandma what happened when I too got disowned. “It would kill her,” this relative said.  Because it happened again. Because Mom allowed dad to disown me.

I couldn’t figure out how to keep in touch without divulging bits and pieces, and her finding out second hand that I was disowned because my parents know nothing about me. So I never wrote to her again. I wanted to send Christmas cards, but I always chickened out.

I regret it.

I woke up yesterday morning, needing to Google her name. Maybe I can figure out how to take a trip down to Albuquerque with my husband and daughter and show them everything. The playground near her old house, before she moved into assisted living at 97. The red arrow. We could take a tram to the top of Sandia Peak. Go to the Old Town and buy something from one of the artists on the sidewalk. Maybe it will help give me memories of Albuquerque that aren’t tinged with anxiety and fear and walking carefully around my dad.

And then Great Grandma could see her great great granddaughter.

I found her obituary.

She raised a family in the Great Depression, survived the deaths of her husband and her two sons, survived breast cancer, and lived alone until 97, when she injured her back taking out the trash. She went for walks every day.

Now she is gone. Two years ago, not long after she turned 103. And I only found out yesterday, because, you know how you forget, and then think you told somebody something, and just don’t bring it up again?

Thank you, Great Grandma, for the wonderful memories. I hope you and Great Grandpa can see your feisty, smart, and kind great great granddaughter from where you are. Thank you for loving Mom as much as you could. And us great grandkids, too.


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