Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Memories and Lessons

With three funerals here, one right after another, I've been thinking a lot about people I've lost.

Luckily, it's mostly been memories that make me smile. There comes a point in the grief process where you still miss them, but you'd rather giggle than sniffle.

For instance... my great grandmother and her card playing buddies. Imagine, if you will, a bunch of very upstanding little old church ladies, ladies who quilt all year in order to donate to the church bazaar, make jellies and jams and baked goods to take to the nursing home and sick people... all sitting around a table and playing a game called Go Shit On Your Neighbor.

The best I can do to explain it is that it seemed to me that Old Maid and Bullshit got together and had a child, and so did Go Fish and Rummy, and Go Shit On Your Neighbor was the bastard offspring of an ill-advised drunken night between those two unknown games.

I don't think anyone but them ever knew all the rules, and I don't think that the rules were all that consistent, anyway. From what I saw of the game (I never managed to learn it even though I did sit in on a few games... mostly I just looked bewildered and threw cards out at random) it seemed to involve at least five decks of cards, vociferous trash-talking, and a lot of laughter. Also, quite a bit of cussing by people who wouldn't normally say shit with a mouthful.

They would play this game until three or four in the morning, and then get up the next day and go back to being upright little old ladies.

Believe me, when I was nine or ten and Sugar invited me to play cards with her and her friends, I never imagined that I would be walking into that. I went the first time because it made her happy, and a happy Sugar meant plenty of yummy stuff like cookies and pies and breads and taffy. She had the best recipes.

I've nearly convinced myself to make cactus jelly this year... We're getting close to being out of hers, and I feel like the tradition should continue. The only problem is, I am not the beloved matriarch of the family, so I can't just tell everyone that it's time to make cactus jelly and conscript them to help me pick a ton of cactus apples, which is just the beginning of the process. Nor do I have people dropping off clean, empty jars by the boxful, like everyone who had tasted her cactus jelly did for her, in hopes that she would thank them with their very own jar. She usually did.

If I do decide to make it, I'll just have to hope that I can come out with something close to the wondrous stuff she produced.

We're talking award winning jelly here folks. At one church bazaar a man paid two hundred dollars for a baby food jar of it. And, as generous as she was with everything else, including her recipes, she never shared that one with anyone but family, that I know of.

I've also been thinking quite a bit about Grandpa and his shirts.

He always wore long sleeved shirts with snaps. Most of them were plaid, too, but he had some solid ones. The only time I ever saw him not wearing a long sleeved shirt (including his deathbed, actually, where he wore pajamas with long sleeves) was when we were out in the boat on the lake, and he was actually skiing or sledding. He'd climb out of the water and back into his shirt immediately... his swimming trunks were, quite possibly, older than me, but he didn't worry too much about putting his pants back on until we got off the boat.

For the last... oh, four or five years of his life, you could be sure that at every Christmas or birthday, someone in the family would have gotten him shirts. He wouldn't buy himself new shirts, you see. So everyone else bought them for him. He'd act enthusiastic and thank whoever got them and take them home.

I never really thought about it till recently, but I can't remember more than a handful of times that I saw him wear any of his new shirts.

And even though when he died I took a whole pile of them that were never even unfolded and washed, and I wear them often, it was only today that I realized why he never wore them.

Well, actually, in a few cases it's quite simple. Either they lacked snaps (he didn't like button down shirts that actually had buttons... he preferred snaps) or they would have been, in his opinion, butt-ugly. I'm actually wearing one of the latter right now, and while I feel that I cut a dashing figure in it, he would have found the red, blue, yellow, and navy plaid to be entirely too, well, butt-ugly.

Yes, I do realize how ugly it sounds, and when I took it I figured it would be a work shirt, to be gotten stained and oily... and then I looked at myself in it and somehow it works.

Anyway, back to the point, even those shirts that would have seemed to fit his taste, he didn't wear. He liked his old shirts, quite likely for the same reason that I have a pair of pants that I have to patch the seat of (from seam to seam, just under both back pockets) with duct tape before I can wear them out in public. I love those pants. Those pants and I have been through a lot, and to discard them now just because they're a little thin and my ass hangs out of them would feel a bit like a betrayal. Besides, they're comfy.

I think Grandpa was the same about his shirts. He loved them, they were comfortable, and they suited him just fine.

And we all just kept buying him new ones.

I think, if he's out there somewhere looking down on me now, he's probably laughing that it took me this long to figure it out... and laughing even harder that I'm kind of wishing that I'd taken more of the superfluous shirts when he died.

Because even though he never wore them, they were his, and wearing them made me think of him and smile.

And now, I think that they'll make me smile and chuckle, and try to take yet another lesson from him. The lesson that you don't always have to tell people no to get your own way. Sometimes it's enough to smile and say thank you and just continue doing things the way you intended to all along, because chances are, they'll never really notice it anyway.

Thanks, Grandpa.