Sunday, October 28, 2007

Grandma Vreeland

My maternal grandmother is an amazing woman. She is wise, strong, and generally one of the greatest people I know. My grandmother was born during the Depression, so she saves everything. My father always jokes that my mother became a pack rat because she learned it from my grandma. My grandmother has had cancer twice already and she also has osteoporosis and has shrunk 5 inches. She tells some of the best stories, and taught me that it's ok to be a book junkie and read almost anything you can get your hands on. She's always reading a few different books at a time, one up in her room, one in the basement, one at her easy chair, and occasionally a few more in case she gets bored with one of them.

My Grandma went to college back when everyone sat down to eat together and there were curfews for the female students. She married a man who flew crop dusters and had two children, my uncle Tom and my aunt Amy. The crop duster ran off and left her when my aunt and uncle were very young, so she had to support them herself for a while. She worked at the same paper mill that my grandfather worked in. It was quite the drama when she and my grandfather decided to get married. In fact, they weren't allowed to be married in the main sanctuary of their church, they had to be married in the chapel because my grandma had already been married. My grandparents had more children, my aunt Peggy, my mother, and my aunts Cindy, Holly and Betsy.

My maternal family is a close knit bunch. You can run out of money, get into college, go on a date, or simply go see a concert and the entire clan will have been notified within the next twenty-four hours. Family gatherings are always interesting, with rehashings of childrens relationships, political discussions, photo sharing, card games, planning vacations that most likely won't happen but are fun to dream up, huge amounts of food, and of course a little alcohol. And my grandmother subtly smoothing out arguments, making sure everyone eats, correcting my father's martini making, keeping track of relationships, birthdays, anniversaries and all the other little things everyone relies on her for.

Like I said earlier, my grandmother is a bit of a pack rat. She saves newspaper clippings, photos, tickets, programs, paper scraps, plastic cups and cutlery, even the stubs of pencils. You can move through the rooms of her house and find all sorts of exciting little treasures. For example, last week I was visiting with my grandparents before flying out to Albany for fall break. I sat down in my grandmother's easy chair, and found a rubber banded packet of slips of paper. On the paper were lists, memories. Books she wanted to read, names of presidents who have served while she's been alive, classmates from grade school, all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren's birthdays, stories about her childhood. When she was little, her father would tie a rope from the top of the tree to the ceiling because their cats would climb in the tree and knock it over if it wasn't tied up. Or when she was at college, the courses that she took and the names of her professors.

A few months ago my grandmother had a melanoma removed from her cheek. Recently the doctors discovered that the melanoma had gotten into one of the lymph nodes in her neck. They removed all of the lymph nodes in her neck, and luckily only the one had melanoma in it. Still, she is undergoing radiation therapy just in case. Her last radiation treatment is next Wednesday. It's painful for her, and it wears her down. It's been a little scary for the rest of us, when my grandmother passes away there will be a huge void in our lives. Everyone dies though, and even though my grandmother seems to have won this particular medical battle it still reminds me not to take her for granted.

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