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Eric: An unreasonably warm rain

It is a rainy day in New Hampshire. Rainy and unseasonably warm. Yesterday, I had been in Maine with my family, and my sister had been looking through the newspaper for the week's upcoming weather. "They say it's going to be unreasonably warm," she said, misreading. It got a laugh. Perhaps you had to be there.

We had gotten together the night before, because that's what you do when someone passes away. The family gathers. We felt oddly, more than anything. We had known that Grammie would die, sooner or later. She had been in decline, mentally, for many years, to the point where she couldn't walk or speak, though her body remained healthy. Healthy for a 96 year old, anyhow. It had turned into staying overnight, and then getting up the next morning and doing many things. For one, I hadn't had a chance to view the body. If I didn't attend to it that day, I wouldn't have another opportunity, and it was important to me.

That was yesterday. Today, it was raining. And it did indeed seem unreasonably warm.

Death is too much with us.


It was midday when I got pinged by a friend. Not the kind of friend who reads Livejournal, mind. Or at least, not my Livejournal. He didn't know about any recent events in my life, or the extended life of my family. He didn't read the Portland Press Herald either. He didn't see the notices -- not even the paper's story declaring my grandmother the "featured obituary of the day," which made us all pretty happy. He didn't read the actual obituary we put together, my mother, my sister and myself, bouncing wording back and forth...

Madeleine Ames Chicoine
WINDHAM -- Madeleine passed away peacefully Dec. 11, 2006. She was born March 26, 1910, the daughter of Forest J. and Lizzie (Mann) Marsh in North Gorham, Maine.
She attended schools in North Gorham and graduated from Windham High School in 1928. In 1929 she married Philip L. Ames of Windham. They eventually moved to Portland where they resided until Philip's death in 1960.

"Martin Nodell died," my friend told me.

"I know. I'd heard." I was a bit absent as we spoke.

"I thought maybe you'd write about it. You write nice remembrances."

"Do I?" I thought about my mother, my sister and I , talking about the right wording, trying to distill Grammie's life appropriately. Succinctly.

"Yeah. I mean, he was a big deal. I mean, he wasn't a big deal, but he should have been."

"This might not be the right week for it," I said, not wanting to seem insensitive.

"He created Green Lantern, you know. The original. Alan Scott."

I allowed as I did know.

"You know, you never wrote about Dave Cockrum either," he said. "That surprised me. I mean, you're such a Legion fan and all."

"It's been an odd time," I said. "I've been tired, and busy."

"Yeah, well. I was just surprised is all. I wanted to see what you'd say about them."

"Them?"

"Cockrum and Nodell."

"Oh."

"They deserve notice," he persisted. "Don't you think they deserve notice?"

Twenty four hours before, we stood in the family home on the lake -- the property I grew up visiting my grandmother on. It was bitterly cold inside the house, where the heat and lights were off, a mute testament to its unoccupied state. "It's colder in a barn than out," Mom said. I stood in the house while my mother and sister were looking over clothing. We needed to find something appropriate for Grammie. Well, they did. Dad was downstairs, putting the electricity on so we could get some lights. And I was wandering, a little bit. Looking around.

"Yeah," I answered in the here and now. "They deserve notice."

Madeleine was an energetic homemaker and dedicated gardener. Within her community she was a Cub Scout den mother, a member of the PTA and the Deering Band Mothers Club, and a founding member of the Suburban Club. Her children grown, she worked over the years as a clerk and manager at Len Libby's, Sears, and several other retail stores.

The Golden Age Green Lantern stood out, even among the lurid heroes of the Justice Society of America. His story was lush and rich -- Alan Scott, broadcaster, had his life saved by a magical lantern, carved from the stone of the Starheart into first an ancient lantern, then recarved into a train lantern by a man suffering from brain damage. Three times the Starheart burned. Once to bring death. Once to bring life. And once to bring power. Alan Scott was the recipient of that third fire -- a fire that became the light of the Green Lantern. He wielded that flame through a mystic ring that gave him almost unlimited power. Only the natural world -- in particular, plants and wood -- was impervious to the power of the Green Lantern.

I remember my first encounter with the Green Lantern. It was at my cousin Cory's house. He had a comic book which featured "two classic stories of the Golden Age Green Lantern." On the cover, the Hal Jordan Green Lantern was looking with shock and amazement at the scenes of his Earth-2 predecessor -- no doubt to remind the reader that yes indeed, this was Hal Jordan's comic book. We're just bringing you a different Green Lantern this month.

I was maybe five. Maybe six. I don't remember. I had never seen Hal Jordan before. I didn't bother to pay attention to the guy in the body stocking on the cover. Instead, I read the comic. Read about Alan Scott. Read about the Green Lantern. In the end, he'll always been the real one, to me. Oh, I loved the Hal Jordan Green Lantern. I loved the Green Lantern Corps, the neoLensman aesthetic brought to the concept's redesign in the Silver Age. Green Lantern was cool.

But Alan Scott was more than cool. He had character. He had texture. He was mysterious, and his ring was amazing.

There was comic relief in those comics, too. "Doiby Dickles," a cab driver, palled around and cracked wise. I was never a huge fan of Doiby, I'll admit. But then, Doiby didn't come from Martin Nodell. He was created by the writer who worked with Nodell during Nodell's tenure -- a man named Bill finger -- and a subsequent artist called Irwin Hasen. When Nodell drew his mythic mystery man, he meant there to be mystery alongside the action.

My father, in one of our earliest discussions of comic books, knew from the Alan Scott Green Lantern. He remembered the Green Lantern Oath. I think it helped connect us in an early age. I think I felt like Alan Scott belonged to our family -- we remembered him. Not Hal Jordan. The real Green Lantern.

When Martin Nodell was pitching his idea for a new comic to various authors, Madeleine Ames, nee Marsh, was living in Portland, Maine, in the Deering neighborhood. She was raising her family and making her home. She seemed tireless to those who saw her. She was involved in her community, in her schools, in the lives of those around her. Having come of age during the Depression, she never wasted a thing. She was neat as a pin, a lover of life and of dance and of music, but always with a sense of decorum. Always with a sense of propriety. Her husband, my genetic grandfather, was Philip Ames -- a watchmaker.

Among the effects collected from the nursing home on Monday was a photograph of Philip Ames. It showed him at a worktable, looking up. It is essentially the only impression I have of him -- he passed away eight years before I was born. Hard at work, looking up to have his photograph taken. A kind face. A dedicated face. Along the bottom of the picture is a note in pencil, indicated it was taken while he worked for Carter Brothers, a jeweler in Portland.

Along the top, my grandmother had written, very precisely, "how I loved him so."

In 1969, Madeleine married Donald Chicoine of Livermore. Upon his retirement, and until Don's death in 2000, the couple traveled the United States and Europe, summered in the family home on Sebago Lake, and wintered in the home Madeleine built in Nokomis, Florida.

My earliest memory of the property I mentioned above was even older than that first time I saw a Green Lantern comic book. I was... man, maybe three years old? And I remember a piano.

It was a toy piano, of a style no longer made, but once desperately common. It looked like a miniature grand piano, and all the keys worked, causing tinny little notes to play. It was exactly the kind of toy piano Schroeder had in Peanuts. I loved Schroeder, with the kind of irrational fixation that three year olds get, and I had declared I loved "Beeth-oven," pronounced as it was written, which is to say pronounced wrongly.

At "White" Grammie's, there was that piano, and it was enthralling.

She was called White Grammie not as a statement on my Grandmother Burns, but because she had a white topped car. My sister, who at the time was very little herself -- I hadn't been born yet -- could only distinguish between the two grandmothers by fixing on that detail. The white car Grammie. White Grammie. By the time I could distinguish between words, it was a given in our house. There was Grammie Burns, and there was White Grammie. I'm not sure I knew her married name was Chicoine for quite a few years.

That piano stood out in my memory. It was distinctive and exciting to me, and I loved playing it. One trip to their house was bitterly disappointing to me, because the piano had disappeared. "Oh, we couldn't find it," I was told. It may have been so. It may also have been that White Grammie and Grampa Don simply decided that listening to five hours of a three year old hammering on the keys of a toy piano was too much to bear. In either case, it was much, much later that the piano would be found again.

I remember that piano, and I remember oatmeal cookies. Grammie always had oatmeal cookies. And I remember a series of candlesticks she had that had prisms hanging off them like icicles. Sitting in the window, they caught the sun. I remember lying on her carpet, not far from a Parcheesi set, looking at the pools of rainbow cast by the prisms.

And I remember Grampa Don, an amiable man with precise hands and a warmth of spirit. A man who used to craft little people and animals from seashells he would gather during their winters in Florida. A man who was quiet, but always so gentle and loving.

And I remember Grammie.

In a way, she defined dignity to me. A woman who always had control over her environment, Grammie worked hard to make it seem like she didn't need to work at all. Gatherings became catered affairs in Grammie's kitchen, always seeming effortless on her part. She could take little and make gold from it -- I remember treats she would make with the leftover pie crust dough she would roll out. She would bake them, seasoning and spicing them, and creating little cookies from those leavings called chiggers which I generally liked more than the pies themselves. Pies were heavy, and even though Grammie made a wonderful pie, those chiggers were like crisp heaven on a plate.

But no matter how busy Grammie had been, no matter how much she worked, she was always dressed impeccably. She generally had on jewelry or a brooch or a silhouette. Her hair was always perfect, as near as I could tell. She spoke quietly, but with firmness, and she expected to be heard and listened to. And you did. You just naturally did.

During these years and times, Dave Cockrum was working in comics. In fact, he was directly responsible for two out of the three biggest success stories in the comics of the seventies, eighties and beyond. He was working at DC, redesigning the Legion of Superheroes, and following his designs over the next several years the Legion went from a backup story first in Adventure and then a sideline to Superboy and into the single most popular comic being published. Until the eighties and the heydey of the Teen Titans and the X-Men, the Legion ruled the roost, and it was largely the new costumes that Cockrum (and to a lesser extent, Mike Grell) put the team into. He took them out of their Adventure-era sixties jumpsuits and costumes, born of the Jet Age and swiftly becoming dated, and ushered them into an era of plunging necklines, nearly nude women and pony-tails. His costume design for Phantom Girl remains the best she has ever looked. His design for Lightning Lad is still the costume most associated with the character -- the costume that appears on the new cartoon series today.

Some of the designs he made for new Legionnaires never got brought into the comic book, though. Instead, they came with him when he crossed the street and helped design the all new X-Men. Characters like Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus were wholly created, visually, by Cockrum. He was the first artist on the new X-Men, outlasting his co-creator Len Wein (who left the series after just an issue and a half) and collaborating with Chris Claremont, the writer still most associated with the Mutant team.

Between the Legion and the X-Men, Cockrum was strongly responsible for some of the most popular comics of the past forty years. His designs made DC and Marvel countless amounts of money. His costume and character designs fueled merchandizing that still goes on today.

"You know," I said to my father, as I looked through the cupboards of the house, just yesterday. "There should be oatmeal cookies in the cupboard."

There weren't, of course. Grammie hadn't lived there for many years. As she had gotten older, her body had remained healthy but her mind had slowly slipped. Dementia, it was called -- not Alzheimer's, or so I have been told, but I couldn't tell you the distinction. While Grampa Don was alive, he could help keep care of her, even as she declined, but when he died almost seven years ago there was no real way she could continue to live on her own. It couldn't be done. So her children found the very best homes available -- places where real love and affection went into elder care. And they stayed involved in her life. My Aunt Dona, who lives in California, flew out several times a year and spent all the time she could visiting. My Uncle Alan saw to her needs, and my mother saw to her affairs.

During the time, other folks lived in and stayed in the buildings on the property. When my sister and her children moved east, she lived there for several months while getting her new home squared away. My whole family goes there during the summer, to enjoy the lake and the company. What food was in the cupboards were artifacts of those visitations. Dog biscuits (most of my family is beholden to dogs) and staples. Crackers. Sugar, sealed away against the elements.

But no oatmeal cookies.

"I guess she hadn't had oatmeal cookies here for a while anyway," I said. "Even when she was here. I don't think she got out to the store much when she still lived here."

"Don't worry," my mother said. "I kept her in cookies."

As a lifelong Democrat, Madeleine had a strong commitment to charities and causes dedicated to relieving suffering and uplifting the human spirit.

Martin Nodell was largely forgotten. I'd seen many publications claim the Green Lantern had been created by Gardner Fox or Alfred Bester (who did create the Green Lantern Oath, or so they say). Or Bill Finger, who certainly gave him his voice, though the creation was really Nodell's. Or else they mention John Broome and Gil Kane or even Julie Schwartz, confusing Hal Jordan with the creation of the Green Lantern. Nodell was an afterthought. A footnote. The kind of fact people like me came up with so we could sound superior on Internet message boards.

But Nodell was perfectly happy with his role in comic book history. He did conventions as late as last year. He had left comics early on, and had gone on to do commercial illustration and advertising. It was later in life that he really realized that an entire subculture revered his contributions, and he gradually embraced that subculture and enjoyed his part in it.

Dave Cockrum wasn't forgotten, but he wasn't remembered as he should have been. The Legion renaissance was credited primarily to Paul Levitz (and later to Levitz and art collaborator Keith Giffen, who did another redesign of the 30th Century in the 80's, and then an ill-advised grim and dark redesign in the late 80's moving into the 90's). The X-Men, even though Cockrum was the principle artist for several years before and then after, were really credited to Chris Claremont and John Byrne. (Which is a real shame, as that credit fed Byrne's legendary ego -- and for my money Byrne was never as good a draftsman as Cockrum.)

But Cockrum was a dynamic force in comics all the same. He adored them. He ate and drank them. The night he passed away, he was wearing Superman Pajamas and sleeping under a Batman blanket. In an odd synchronicity, he was to be cremated while wearing a Green Lantern Tee Shirt. Cockrum legitimately loved comics, in all their manifestations.

Nodell died because that's what happens to 91 year old artists. Cockrum died much much younger, at 65, due to complications and health problems stemming from diabetes.

Madeline Chicoine, my grandmother, was 96 years old, going on 97. I don't know if she ever actually read a comic book in her life.

But she understood heroes. And she understood that we have to carry heroism in ourselves, every day. She gave substantially (not that she had tremendous resources to begin with) to charities. In particular, she supported Opportunity Farm -- a home for at-risk children who have nowhere to turn. She couldn't bear the thought of kids having nothing and nowhere to go, and she felt passionately that they needed to be given a chance. She was the sort of person who would cry while watching the news, because she couldn't bear to think of such suffering. But she never felt that suffering just had to be endured. She believed -- she truly believed -- that each and every one of us had the capacity to relieve the suffering of others and make the world a better place, and that with the capacity came the responsibility to act on it.

In the attic of the home she once lived in, while my sister and mother looked over clothing, I noticed white out of the corner of my eyes. I leaned down, and moved a magazine off a pile, and saw the toy piano. Easily thirty-five years old, that piano was, made out of wood painted black -- a black that was peeling and fading in places. I plunked my finger down on three of the keys, and heard it ring out, and for the first of three times yesterday I cried.

Madeleine is survived by her children, Dona (Ames) and Elton Clark of Glendale, Calif., Alan and Edie Ames of East Sebago, and Dian (Ames) and Roland Burns of Standish; her grand and great-grandchildren, David Clark; Suzanne, Steven, Catie and Will Sanchez; Brian, Angie, Taylor, Owen and Hailey Clark; Laurel, Gary, Christy and Tim Webber; Alan and Ann Ames; Peter, Alice, Brittany and Matthew Ames; Bill, Kyle, Caleb and Elise Bourassa; Kristan, Hilary and Hadley Gibson; and Eric Burns; beloved nieces and nephews Joanne Pratt, Joanie Grady, Bert and Betty Murch, Mary and Walter Sawyer, and Richard Hall; and her cherished new families in the Casco Inn and Ledgewood Manor.

It was sunny, yesterday, and cold. Not like today, when it's raining hard and unreasonably warm. It was that kind of day that saw me with my parents walking into the funeral home, so I could view my grandmother.

My mother and sister had viewed her the day before, when I had still needed to be at work. This would be my last chance, and it was important to me. The times I have encountered death, I have better been able to handle it when I could see the body of the person I loved. My grandfather Burns. My Grampa Don Chicoine. It was hard, and painful, but it forced closure upon me. The times I haven't been able to view a body -- like my Grandmother Burns (I had been three time zones away with no chance to return), or my childhood friend Richard (closed casket services) -- the deaths had stayed with me far longer. I had more I had to work through.

And I wanted to see my grandmother one last time. I wanted to.

There was a sign on the path as we walked up to the door, "Chipmunk Crossing" it warned. And I smiled, slightly, at the mental thought of it. I can appreciate a funeral home that has a slight touch of whimsy.

We were met by two men in grey suits. They were smiling and pleasant. Comforting. Making sure we knew all would be attended to. They had brought my grandmother back out to be viewed upon my request -- we had called before heading over. I turned off my cell phone, and we went in.

The reason this would be our last chance was because Grammie wasn't to be embalmed. Which relieved me, to be honest. I find the very concept of embalming creepy. When I die, I don't want to go anywhere near embalming. I equally don't want to be sealed away in a concrete bunker. I came from the Earth, I want to return to it. Given my druthers, put me in a burlap sack and compost me.

Well, we weren't going to do that to Grammie, but there was no desire to embalm her either. Services were going to be graveside, without a viewing. There was no need to introduce other elements.

She looked peaceful. And beautiful. Her face was smooth. I was stunned at... well, how much like my grandmother she looked. If that seems odd, remember that Grammie had been in a decline for some time. She had lost that dignified, precise mind, that sharp will. She had slowly moved into the past, and then beyond. The last time she and I had spoken, while she was still able to speak, she hadn't known me. She could recognize that I was a nice person, and people she did know clearly thought highly of me, so she was very loving and warm to me, though she had absolutely no recollection of me. She had seemed much older then than I could ever remember her seeing. Much, much older.

The times before that, when I saw her, she had asked me things many times. Asked about work. Asked about friends I hadn't seen in years. Asked again about work. Asked about... asked about me. She was frustrated -- she could tell her mind was going, and she didn't want it to.

That had been years before, but she had spoken about death then. To her, death wasn't something to fear. She believed. She knew that it would be a reunion with my grandfather Philip. And she knew that the confusion she was feeling would be alleviated.

Looking down onto the face of my grandmother, I saw no sign of that confusion. I kissed her forehead, noticing almost in a detached way how cool it was, and I cried a very small amount. I whispered that I loved her. And then we headed out.

That was the second time I cried. The third time was late into the evening, lying in bed, remembering her and remembering the day, and feeling oddly fragile and mortal. Grammie was the last of her generation to pass on. Now my parents' generation moves into the on-deck circle. My aunts, my uncles, my mother and father. And we have many years, fortune favoring us, before it becomes likely, but it was still the passing of an era. A passing of time.

My friend Eileen said something to me, earlier today when I was seeing her. I work with her, and I was back with her, and we were discussing life and death. "I really want to see all my friends and family and freeze them. In fact, I want to freeze them in their twenties. It's fine if I get older and die, but it's just not fair that they will."

And she's right. It's not. We shouldn't have to put up with death. It's unreasonable. As unreasonable as fifty degree weather in mid-December.

But we have to put up with it. And we have to move on from it. Life has to go on.

My friend was right. Even though he would never have brought up dead comic artists in a week where my grandmother died had he known, he said something that rang true to me. We need to note these events. We need to note these people. Those we loved and were close to. Those who influenced us or brought us the things we love. The Dave Cockrums and the Martin Nodells. The Madeline Ames Chicoines.

My grandmother would understand that. She understood that you did what needed to be done. You remarked, because it was the right thing to remark. You affirmed the lives of others. You witnessed. You did your part. And you tried your best, each and every day, to make the world a better place.

It was the kind of lesson the Green Lantern taught one generation, and Nightcrawler taught another.

You had to do it, in part because you wouldn't always have the chance to. Life would go on, whether you wanted it to or not. And this was true enough. As I prepared to write this essay -- not the easiest one I've ever committed to the ether -- I glanced at my Livejournal Friends list. And there I saw that Peter Boyle, the character actor known for Young Frankenstein, Taxi Driver, Yellowbeard and many other shows and movies, had passed away at the age of 71.

Outside, more rain falls. It is unreasonably warm.

Tomorrow, there will be more to do.

A graveside service will be held on Friday, Dec. 15, 2006, at 10 a.m., at the Brooklawn Memorial Park in Portland. In lieu of flowers, donations in Madeleine's memory may be made to: North Windham Union Church, 723 Roosevelt Trail, Windham, Maine 04062

Goodbye, Grammie. I will always love you.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 13, 2006 6:55 PM

Comments

Comment from: Eric Astor [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 13, 2006 7:22 PM

This is the world we need to remember.
Not the tragedies - the hope.

In this unreasonably warm December, Eric Burns - thank you.

Comment from: Miller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 13, 2006 10:06 PM

All that, and Peter Boyle, too.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 13, 2006 10:11 PM

Those who influenced us or brought us the things we love.

I was only thirteen when my last grandparent died and my parents are still with us. But every December since 2001, Guaraldi's O Tannenbaum moves me to tears.

Are your piano's black keys only painted on?

Comment from: Abby L. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 13, 2006 10:16 PM

You're right, Eric. It is unreasonable. It's unreasonable that I have (or will have) to deal with it, too. Thanks for sharing... I wish that I too could write something that would do justice to the pain I'm feeling...

...I'm going to try, anyway.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 13, 2006 11:54 PM

My sincere condolences on the loss of your grandmother.


The world seems too mortal right now. Maybe it's a fitting way to approach Christmas, but the fragility is visible, and unnerving.

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 1:06 AM

"Lightning crahses, an old mother dies
Her intentions fall to the floor
The angel closes her eyes
The confusion that was hers
Belongs now to the baby down the hall"-Live

I've been there. My parents are on deck. Of my whole family for five generations hence, no one has died (outside of childbirth) before 90 years of age, yet I have alzheimers genes from boths sides. It is a horrible thing to watch.

Two years ago, we lost my grandfather Frank. Me and my twin brother Andrew had been talking about what it would be like for our parents to be members of the last generation (made worse last year when my mother's brother finally died).

Frank had been declining for over a decade. He had barely spoken for a year now. He did not know that the man that came and rubbed moisturizer on his head was his son Les, only that human contact fealt good, and that he must be awake. If he was awake, then the sun might be shining upon him, and life was good. This was a infinitely better than the time when we first brought him to Minneapolis (right in the middle of 9/11), when he didn't know where he was, only that he had to know when he was going HOME (that had already been sold), but infintely worse than the times when he only interacted with the world when we came to visit, and only wanted to know when we were next going out to eat at Houlihan's, a name that stuck in his mind, and offered him the primative pleasures of bbq ribs, deboned, and a margarita with a straw.

Two and a half weeks before Frank died, the whole family packed into a car to visit him at his latest nursing home. This was where he was sent after his latest fall. He was no longer 'able' enough to stay at the memory-care unit of his retirement home, so he was here. I was the first one to make it down to his floor. He was sitting in an upright padded chair, staring off into space. As I approached, he stared up at my movement with big, vacant eyes. From his hollow jaw came the phrase, "Were's your brother?"

I was stunned. This man had not recognized his own son for nearly a year. Yet, there, in some unfathomed reaches of his mind, he knew that I was part of a set of two... That he never saw me unless my brother was also coming to visit. I fealt the presence of God that day. For a devout atheist such as myself, that's something terrifying to admit, yet there it is.

Best of luck to you Eric. My we each handle the next generation's exit with dignity and with beauty, for that is what they deserve.

"I'm not scared of dying,
And I don't really care.
If it's peace you find in dying,
Well then let the time be near.
If it's peace you find in dying,
And if dying time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin
'Cause it's cold way down there.
I hear that its cold way down there.
Yeah, crazy cold [or uneasonably warm] way down there.

And when I die, and when I'm gone,
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on,
to carry on." -Blood Sweat and Tears

Comment from: storiteller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 7:24 AM

A lovely tribute, to all mentioned. It captured both the melancholy and hope that are so inherant in such an occasion.

Randy, at Something Positive, has a comic tribute up for Martin Nodell that's very good as well:
http://www.somethingpositive.net/sp12132006.shtml

Comment from: J Ryan Beattie [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 8:04 AM

When I was reading about this, I remembered my great-grandmother. It's been four years since she died. I was one of the people who spoke at her memorial service, and I wrote a bit online about her. It wasn't easy, I'm not that great a writer. I tend to be too florid. But I felt I had to write something. She deserved something from me. She deserved some attempt to tell people, to show them what kind of a person she was.

Sounds like your grandmother deserved it too. And it looks like she got it.

Damn, though, this is bringing back memories. I remember sitting with her in the pre-op, before she went in the last time for her hip and wrist (she'd had an accident in the nursing home). She didn't remember me anymore. She didn't know where she was. She asked me to sing a hymn to her. I didn't know any. The closest thing I knew was Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. God help me, it was the only one I knew. I kept singing it over and over. I'm sure the man in the other bed didn't like it much, but she kept asking me to sing it. I don't know where she thought she was just then, or who she thought I was. I couldn't do anything for her. I could just talk to her and try to keep her from hurting herself. That was the last time I saw her before the memorial.

Comment from: Shelby Reiches [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 10:54 AM

My father's mother died when I was young enough that I couldn't mark it in my mind. I might have been seven or I might have been nine, but I'm sure we were in Minnesota at the time, so that narrows it down a bit. When she was moved to a nursing home from her old house in Shaker Heights, Ohio, we flew down so that we could be there for her and, though I didn't know it at the time, so that my father could reconcile things with her.

This was the grandmother we knew, as children, as Grannie Frannie. She was a Hungarian Jew who's parents had immigrated to America some time long ago, before World War I. Her husband, Sol Reiches, was part Russian or Ukrainian and the rebellious son of an Orthodox Rabbi, with a powerful interest in electronics and a resume that included the electric fire starter and one of the first color televisions. He had passed away when my father was twelve, not yet a Bar Mitzvah, but I'd never seen any kind of regret in her.

To us, her grandchildren, she was wonderful. Mind, the first three years of my life were spent less than a block from her house and, even when we went north, we came to visit often. It was at her house that I learned to play chess from my Uncle Randy, as well as Old Maid. It was there that I first met my Cousin Stephanie. I remember warmth and family, from her house, and I remember a caring, doting grandmother who, when I first went to see Peter Pan, also took me shopping and bought me, a selfish child, a new toy, much to my mother's chagrin.

I remember seeing her in the nursing home with my family, how my big sister was making sure she was doing her exercises, that she was doing little sit-ups and the like. She told us she was and I remember thinking that, if she continued, she could win, and she could keep on living. I remember when dad got a phone call and left on his own— after that, we didn't got back to the nursing home. I remember not being allowed to go to the funeral, being told I wasn't old enough for it. My little sister and I stayed at Grandma's house, with a friend of my father's who had a cute baby squirrel she was nursing.

I remember the Shiva. I remember the men standing around in black dress clothes, yarmulkes on their heads and prayer books in their hands. And I remember not crying then.

But I'm crying now. Not hard, wracking sobs, but just the gentle, burning tears of sudden understanding.

Early this school year, my Aunt, my father's sister, passed away. They had never gotten along and he didn't attend her funeral. I assumed he had chosen not to, but I recently discovered that he talked to her a final time and she asked him not to come.

My other grandmother, whom we still call Mama Rose, is ninety-four. She still keeps her house and takes care of her younger son. She lives out in Wynnewood, less than forty minutes away from me by any sort of transportation and I see her often, for which I am lucky. It's hard to believe she could ever be gone.

Comment from: aaronbourque [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 11:20 AM

He was right. You do do good remembrances.

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 1:07 PM

I lack the words to express my sympathy for the grief you feel. I also find that I lack the words to express how moved I am by your remembrances of your grandmother, and of two such vivid influences in your life.

Therefore, I will simply say that your words fill me with that wistful hope that remembering good people can bring, and that I sympathize with your loss. I have not had the opportunity to check my livejournal in a while, and thus did not know of it until I came here. It is never easy to lose a loved one. May the catharsis of those words bring you some comfort, later, when you can see what a beautiful and worthy memorial they are for her.

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 1:08 PM

I also must say... 50 degress in mid-December is unreasonably warm? It's supposed to get up to 70 today. Somehow, I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this concept.

I'm such a Texan.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 2:24 PM

I can feel echoes in this, despite the fact that my relationships with my granedmothers was never like that with yours.

A few months ago, my mom's adopted mom died. My dad called me a week ago and told me that his mom is expected to have no more than 6 months. And about about 8 months ago, well, I guess it's not a tragedy when you wanted them to die.

And yet, all around me... I've had two couples I'm friends with give birth in the last year, and another who is expecting. At least two other couples I know are talking about having children now. And that's not even factoring in the weddings I'm invited to next year - seven already.

I wonder - why do life and death clump and swirl around each other so? They go silent for so long, and then gather as a storm all at once.

Maybe a new chapter in life is just starting, and I'm too absorbed in the story to notice.

Comment from: WolfBoy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 4:43 PM

Hey Eric - sorry for your loss. The way you describe your grandmother reminds me a lot of my own who died a little over two years ago. She too was a strong, independant, loving person who always put others first before herself - even to the point were she not only had to raise her own siblings after her mother died, but then raised her sister's children along with her own when her sister died.

http://www.wolfboy-comics.com/DiaH/index.php?strip_id=225

I did this as a way of coping with her death at the time - I hope it can help you a little too.

Comment from: Steve Troop [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 7:29 PM

Hey Eric,

It's interesting how much of myself I saw in this article -- especially what we've been going through in my family the last few years as well as the relationship I had with my grandmother.

Like you, I had a grandmother that passed away in her 90s in January. Mercifully, it was a quick 6-week bout with cancer that killed her after 90+ years of great health. My other grandmother had dementia -- a disease that heavily affected all of our lives for at least a decade and left her little more than a vegetable before she died two years ago.

Anyway, I think you did a great job of commemorating your grammie in this article and I hope it doesn't take you away from you passions like the death of my grandparents pretty much stole my will to draw.

Death is an odd bird. You never know how it'd going to affect you -- or whose death will linger on your mind. Never forget her, but live your life as well.

Also, did you get to keep the piano?

Steve

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 14, 2006 8:53 PM

I had a very interesting grandmother on my mother's side. I may have told the 'snark audience that my mother immigrated to the United States from Thailand. Her family and my mother did not leave on very good terms because she fell in love with an American man just as my grandparents were finishing up an arraigned marriage deal with another Thai family. When my mother's grandmother died, she was not listed in the will. Even through she did not want to go home, she was compelled by my uncle and twin brother to go home.

At the funeral, a hand-written note from the King of Thailand (yes, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, the guy's older than Queen Elizabeth) told how she was such a saint. My mother snickered knowing that:

1) During World War II, my mother helped run a piracy operation on the River Kwai. (Yes, that river made famous in that movie.) She probably also was a double spy for both sides, exchanging information back and forth for a very good profit.

2) Afterwards, she made a living as part of a logging operation. Except they sometimes would cut down trees in national parks and environmentally protected areas. They had a trick where they'd trained elephants (still used for a variety of operations even to this day) to lay down when their heads were covered by a similar colored cloth. From above, they looked like rather large rocks, and given how hilly the terrain was in the northern regions of Thailand, this was very sneaky on my grandmother's part.

3) She had to continually make money as my Thai grandfather kept spending it on gambling, alcohol, and probably women as well. I wouldn't be surprised if he died while drinking, gambling or ogling women at the ripe old age of 90.

Needless to say, she was not a saint. Not by a long shot.

It basically took my brother, my sister, and myself to convince the family that my mother did the right thing. Considering how my mother's family went to hell in a handbasket, I can't help but to think how supremely screwed-up I would be if I was born to the man my mother was suppose to marry. When I met my mother's parents, I was eight at the time, and I got into trouble only once getting lost in downtown Bangkok. And yet, my grandparents were happy to see me, particularly my grandmother. Now, looking back, I could tell she was thinking, I'm glad at least one daughter made out fairly good.

It's interesting how deaths, particularly notable deaths tend to occur in groups. We had this time: Ahmet Ertegen, founder of Atlantic Records; Lamar Hunt, founder of the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs and a guy who did more for at least four different sports than most people could say they've done by the age of 40; and Peter Boyle, now famous for his role as the Raymond's dad in Everyone Loves Raymond. I had no idea he was the monster in Young Frankenstein. And of course, the already mentioned Martin Nodell, whom according to CNN.com, also helped create the famous Pillsbury Doughboy.

We are all going to die, and seeing others die around us only confirms that we will have to meet it one way or another. Therefore, we must all live our lives grandly because dispite the latest in technology and biochemistry, our lives aren't going to extend much beyond 100 years.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 15, 2006 10:28 AM

Look at it this way, miyaa - how many people can verify that they were descended from a pirate? I'd use that as bragging rights if I could (based on my family tree, it's certainly possible I am, but I have no proof).

I know what helped me cope with the passing of my grandmother earlier this year - when I was at the memorial service (since she was cremated before it, didn't feel right to call it a funeral), I got up in front of all my family and the minister and told a couple stories about the kind of woman she actually was.

My mom tells me nothing was as funny as the look on the minister's face (which I didn't see, because he was behind me at the time) when I told about how she taught me how to curse at the age of five, watching football games. Everyone in the family thought it was a perfect story to tell about her, though.

Comment from: siwangmu [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 15, 2006 4:08 PM

Thank you for this.

Comment from: Michael Weaver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 18, 2006 10:34 AM

Answering to this as late as I am seems wrong somehow, but still... You do eulogies many times better than I ever could. There's always either too much one could say, or not enough; and yet, you do the dead justice.

I didn't know any of the comic artists, but the loss of Peter Boyle hit hard. He was a great actor, a master of his genre, and one I could respect more than most alive today; now his voice is silenced, like so many others these past few weeks. Still, we'll always have recordings.

I lost my own grandmother around christmastime, not three years ago. We were never that close, but it wasn't easy. Reading this reminded me of just how little I'd thought about her the past few years; perhaps I should take a look back, and remember the good things again.

Eric, I wish you all the grace in the world.

Comment from: siwangmu [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at April 10, 2007 3:45 PM

I'm necrocommenting as a way of submitting my opinion that this snark needs to be in the evergreen box (unless, it being about a personal tragedy, you'd rather not have it on your front page staring at you all the time, which would be okay too). It occurred to me to look it up to do this, and I just teared up scrolling down the thing. Making me cry and being great writing aren't necessarily, er, two things that prove the other true or define the other, whatever the opposite of mutually exclusive is, but I think this is both. Of those things.

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