Day by Day

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Get it on the table, Mabel."

That's what my Grandfather ("Pop-pop", pronounced, by my sister at least, "PAHpup") used to say to my Grandmother ("Grandmom"). We'd go over to their house, my Mom and Dad and my sister, for whatever occasion, and we'd sit and watch football or boxing (this was when good boxing was on network TV) or baseball and my Poppop would sit in his chair and we'd all sit around in front of the TV. Me and my sister would drink the 7-Up my grandparents always had in the fridge, drink it like the proverbial fish, since we never had soda at home. My sister and I would monitor my grandfather's highball, hoping to mix the next one, so we could slip a measure of Rock 'n Rye into our sodas if the opportunity presented itself.

Grandmom would be in the kitchen, cooking. Her maiden name was Mignona (MIN-yo-nah), and it showed.

Halftime of the game would come around and my grandpop would rise from his chair and call out: "Get it on the table, Mabel."

Can you imagine? They were from a different era, my grandparents -- he worked for thirty years machining power train parts for Westinghouse, and she did the wash and cleaned the house and cooked the meals. He took care of the money, she took care of him. That was the deal they struck up.

I think she has never driven a car.

Anyway, on those occasions when we'd be at their house for dinner, when it was time to eat, my grandpop would take his seat at the head of the table in the dining room, and my grandmom would adjust a closet door at the other end of the room so he could watch the game (on the TV in the living room) in the mirror on the door. He'd crack open a cold can of beer -- Schmidts, if memory serves -- we'd all sit down, too, excepting grandmom, and she'd start bringing the food.

Spaghetti (my grandmom never made pasta), meatballs, bread, salad, applesauce, and the specialty: sausage in tomato sauce. And we'd dig in.

The food never ran out -- it was as if my grandmom had one of those devices like on Star Trek, like she could just press a button and out would pop more spaghetti and more meatballs. Sweet Holy Moses - a feast, every time, head-shakingly unforgettable meals.



My Grandmom had a brain hemorrhage two weeks ago. She was in Intensive Care for ten days, then tonight was moved to a private room. At her written request and with the consent of her two daughters (one of whom is my Mom) and her only son, the ventilator and feeding tubes that have been keeping her alive since her surgery have been removed.

Grandmom is going to die, at age 90, in that private room, and probably soon now.


It's amazing, the memories that come flooding back. I visited her in her ICU room on Saturday and remembered. My sister was there when I arrived, then left soon after, and it was just me and Grandmom for an hour and fifteen minutes.

I cried the whole time.

People grieve mortal illness in loved ones in different ways, and for different reasons. I find myself crying because I am helpless to turn back time so I can tell her "I love you, Grandmom" all of the times that I should have, powerless to rewind and spend more time with her at recent family gatherings when she couldn't get around so well, lamentably unable to go back and visit her all of the times I should have stopped by, just because, just to talk. I think it unlikely that a day will come when I will remember her and not regret not having done those things.

We all live with those kind of regrets though, don't we?


They say that smell is the sense most tied to memory. I can confirm the notion. As I sat at her bedside, the smells came back more than anything else. The smell of her basement (she called it a "cellar"), a smell I know well despite not having been in her cellar in decades, a dark and damp smell, the smell of wet eighty year old concrete.

The smell of her rug, an old rug (they were, as most people who lived through the Great Depression were, very thrifty - my Grandmom and Grandpop). Not dirty, not soiled by pets, not unpleasant, but not a fresh clean odor either. I can't explain it. But I can smell it.

The smell of the powder she used -- they had no air conditioning -- and she was from the time when women used powder to keep cool.

And, of course, the food.

I remember how I'd go over there for dinner, and she'd be cooking, always cooking. My Uncle Tommy and my Grandpop and I would sit at the kitchen table, and she'd deliver the goods. We'd watch TV and mange. We'd watch Hee Haw and professional wrestling, which my uncle and grandpop called "wrassling". This was good professional wrestling -- Chief Jay Strongbow and Billy Whitewolf, George the Animal Steele, Gorilla Monsoon, Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant -- the Golden Era. We'd watch Hee Haw and wrassling and howl with laughter, the three of us.

God only knows what my Grandmom was thinking -- looking at three generations of men reveling in the absurdity of ludicrous Americana.

She used to make this pot roast -- oh she'd cook it early in the day and then it would just stew in its juices for hours. A finer roast has never graced this Earth, I assure you. My uncle would put ketchup on it, and offense that would have me shaking my head for days and days. I am still amazed that she never cuffed him upside the head on that account.

What a pot roast.

Dear me, the memories - the old ones, numerous but faded, the recent ones, too few, too fleeting.


For the past ten days my Grandmom was hooked into all manner of tubes and IVs and wires and stuff. It was atrocious, how uncomfortable she looked. I am in no hurry to see her go, but to keep her alive in that way would have been an abomination.

She's resting easy now, and soon, I suspect, will go to her Husband (departed over a decade ago) and her God -- she attended Catholic Mass every Sunday. He will welcome her, I am certain.

A finer soul He has never created, after all.

Her family will be left, after the grief passes, with the sure knowledge that we were blessed to have loved her, and blessed to be loved by her.

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