Friday, March 20, 2015

A Tribute to Grandmother Hazel

On February 11, 2015, Anna June lost her great-grandmother Hazel Robbins. She died peacefully with my mother at her side. Our family lost its matriarch, and the world lost an outstanding human being.

I've been trying in my mind every day since then to write this post, and every day I have felt like it's not the right time. Maybe I'll feel more like it tomorrow. Maybe there will be some distance to where I won't cry so hard or miss her so much. How could I cram my whole lifetime of loving my grandmother into one blog post?

But today is her birthday, so I am finally posting, as the only type of birthday gift I can give her now.

It's kind of funny - every Christmas and birthday I struggled to find something perfect to give her. What could one still want or need after you've reached a certain age? She always acted like we gave the perfect gift, even if it wasn't. I gave her a green polka dot teapot once - she collected them, green was her favorite color, and the polka dots would remind her it was from me. I gave her a big straw hat to keep the sun off her face while gardening. She loved plants and had about a hundred in pots at one time. She hated the bamboo that grew uninvited behind her house. There was a black cardigan, because she was always a little chilly. I gave her a nightgown that she really liked - and I got one very similar because it looked so cozy. I wore it last night. I wish I could be out searching today for a last minute thing she would really like.

Speaking of gifts, I've been seeing little reminders here and there all through the house. A bracelet she gave me years ago that I've been meaning to have repaired, AJ's pink sparkly purse, a favorite hairbrush, a figurine, the scarf I bought with my birthday money from her.
She was doing so well at my birthday and Christmas. She came to the parties and looked fantastic. But a couple of weeks later, her heart beat was incredibly slow. Doctors installed a pacemaker and by their accounts, she was doing as well as could be expected. But her kidneys were barely functioning. She suffered from nausea and pain. After a couple of tries at rehab, she returned to the hospital for one last time.

I remember in 1995, I had just gone off to college at Emory University. Grandma suffered her first heart attack. She had not yet retired and was still young. I felt so upset and scared, not able to come home and help or visit, although she pulled through just fine. She lived for 20 more years. That's a testament to her determination and will. She wanted to be there for her family.

She had a large family. Grandma was married when she was 18 to her first husband, C.P. They had my mom when she was 20, and then Chip and Heidi followed. Then, C.P. died unexpectedly of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a disease that was not treatable at that time. Later, she married my Granddaddy Elwyn, whom she met in a doctor's office waiting room. He had two children from a previous marriage, Vicki and Larry. Together, they had Scott. It was a yours, mine and ours situation, to be sure. She claimed all of us, though. All told, there were 6 kids, 15 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. Before she died, she also got to know about the 3 more great-grandchildren who are on the way (All boys - none are mine, in case you were wondering). I said recently that I don't know how heaven works, but if their former spouses are up there and everyone's reunited, it might be a little awkward!

In preparing for the funeral, we went through lots of wonderful photos and it brought back so many good memories. I remember Grandma taking us out to her mother's house (my Nana) in Shelby County. She took us for ice cream so many times! She came to baseball games and other important events. We'd spend the night with her sometimes, exploring the cool books and toys she still kept around for us. She let me talk on and on about everything and nothing.

When she broke her leg last year, I had the privilege of being her Friday night helper while she was living with my parents. I know she was frustrated by having to use a wheelchair, then a walker, then a cane. But she told me that she was glad that she had gotten to know Anna June so well during those weeks, some of them overlapping with AJ's summer break. AJ watched TV with her, read to her, played cards with her, and just visited with her. That was, of course, her favorite thing. I got to hang around after AJ's bedtime and we watched the Hallmark Channel together.

When we asked about it, she loved telling us about her family history. We asked her more often about food. She was an incredible baker, and I don't know if she was more known for her perfect homemade pie crust (especially for chocolate pie, or chicken pie), or her caramel cake. She baked a heck of a pound cake, too, which is my favorite. Mine is never as good as hers. I'm pretty sure she discovered the recipe for corn casserole in a magazine, and it's now part of our family's canon of sacred holiday foods. She gave me instructions on how to fry okra, and once I nearly burned the house down trying it, I decided to leave it to the expert.

When I think of a stereotypical grandmother, mine certainly comes to mind. She was born to be a grandma, that's for sure. When I got to be an adult, she finally confessed that she didn't like to be called "Grandma" but would have preferred "Grandmother." It was too late. My cousin called her "Muh" (short for Mother, what she heard her mom calling her) and it caught on with the other, younger cousins. She didn't always like to meddle in our business, but when asked, she gave wise counsel. She gave me one piece of advice that I remembered and, incidentally, followed. She told me she thought that everyone should be married for five years before having children. I think that's pretty wise.

She really did like my husband, which was a comfort to me. He always helped her whenever she asked. He was one of her go-to guys for technology, so he helped when she asked with her computer, her television, and her phones. He gained grandparents when he married me; while his were so far away, he took care of mine. Grandma would call me up, and then after chatting for a few minutes, she'd confess she had really called to talk to Ben. She'd repay him by having us over for dinner. She tried so hard to cook things he liked - she treated bratwurst like it was a Milwaukee delicacy, and she liked it, too, serving it often when we came over. 

We never visited enough. We never called enough. She always worried about us. But she was always proud of us, too.  She loved hearing about our latest accomplishments, whether it was in sports or school when we were kids or in our careers as we grew up. Most of us children and grandchildren went to college, which she never got to do. We all work hard, which is certainly something that she demonstrated for us.

She suffered from arthritis, and more significantly, Type II Diabetes. Now, at last, she is no longer suffering. She is in absolutely no pain. During the days right after she died, AJ kept saying, "I miss Grandma," and all I could say was, "I do, too."

I do know this - love is not a defined quantity. All we can do is take the love she gave us and multiply it. Tell your family how much you love them. Bake them a cake. Give them a hug. Water their flowers. Call them up and check on them. Listen to them and shake your head if you have to, and say, "Oh, me..." if there's nothing else you can say.

Happy birthday, Grandma! I love you.


Mom said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I'm glad you are able to articulate things I am not. I miss talking to her every day. I love you.

Everyday Fashionista said...

Hi Laura! I am so sorry that your Grandma is no longer with you. My grandparents always lived in different states, and I wish I could have known each of them better. I'm sure you are so grateful for all the time you had together. It sounded like she was a truly remarkable lady, and if you ever want to pass on that caramel cake recipe... Thinking of you.


Laura Gallitz said...

Thanks, Michele. I am very, very grateful that we were able to spend so much time together but I do wish there had been more.

Laura Gallitz said...

Thanks, Mom. I love you, too.

Ginger said...

She was a wonderful aunt and I loved her like no other. She always made my favorites when I came to visit - fried okra and squash, butter beans, cornbread, and of course her famous caramel cake. I think it was the best! I would always call her to ask for the recipe but really just to talk to her. She meant the world to me and I was very lucky to be her niece. I was thinking of her this morning as I was putting on make up - thinking how beautiful she was and so very sweet and good to me. I miss her.

Laura Gallitz said...

Yes, she always made it an occasion whenever anyone came home. And I can only hope that my skin looks half as good as hers did. Hugs to you!

Anonymous said...

This is really, really lovely, Laura. I just can't get my head around the fact that Hazel is gone ! My deepest sympathy to you all. ( and, I love you !)

Laura Gallitz said...

Thanks. I love you, too.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that a beautiful picture of Hazel!! ( It's a beautiful picture of ALL of you. One of my very favorites, ever ).

Laura Gallitz said...

Thanks. There are lots of good pictures from that party. I am sure we had other 4 generation pictures, but that's the one I found the easiest and quickest.