Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Walking Up Dry Run Road

My Grandma Bricker, who loved to wear red, in the 1980s.

My Grandma Bricker was born 99 years ago today -- June 13, 1913. A Friday, even. I've never felt particularly suspicious about Friday the 13th, but my grandma would have certainly called that entire concept stupid (though probably in a more measured way).

Growing up, my grandparents were integral. My parents were very young, and I spent lots of time with both sets. When my Poppy Bricker died I was 6, my first little brother was a newborn, and I started spending even more time with her.

She taught me to play gin rummy and Scrabble (and never let me slide with any suspect spelling). She taught me how to make gravy and what a Bob White sounds like. She waged an endless battle with the moles that would leave a fortress of dirty mounds all over the yard, a battle that would eventually culminate in her shooting at the little jerks with the shotgun she kept in the pantry. She was pretty much bad ass.

Women born in 1913 didn't typically have career aspirations, but my grandma graduated high school from the same building I would later attend primary school, and then she became a nurse. She was the head nurse at Our Lady of Mercy in Mariemont when I was born there in 1975, in fact, and one of the first people to ever lay eyes on my newborn wrinkles.

She lived through the 1937 flood of the Ohio River, and wound up stuck on the Kentucky side for a few days while working at St. Elizabeth Hospital. She lived through the Depression, two World Wars, Vietnam, and maybe most important, several incarnations of the Reds teams she would yell at while listening on her AM radio. We did so many things together, but mostly we walked. Up and down Dry Run Road in rural Clermont County, Ohio, up to Galley Hill Rd and all the way down to the bridge my great grandpa built.

And I loved her.

Her presence in my early life, especially, still guides me. She was not one for sentimentality, but we spent an important time together, when I was adjusting from life as an only child to that of a big sister, and she was grieving the loss of my grandpa. She always sang "You Are My Sunshine" to me as we sat on her front porch, and I would lean against her tall, strong body, pretending not to notice the tears when we got to the "the other night dear, as I lay dreaming, I dreamt I held you in my arms" verse.

At her funeral, people came from everywhere to talk about what an amazing woman, friend, example of kindness she had been for them, especially nurses. And the thing is, with my grandma, it was more deed than word. She was unlikely to express a lot of sentimental phooey, but when it came to being non-judgmental and accepting, she simply was. When it came to encouragement, she just expected you to suck it up and live your life right, to not waste your gifts. She was softer with us grandkids than anyone, I think, but even we did not get a free pass in the Suck It Up department. She grew up poor, no doubt, but we never heard about it. She canned the vegetables and fruits from her yard and sewed clothes and quilts from every scrap (we all have at least one Grandma Bricker Blanket), but it was never a big production. It simply didn't occur to her to waste stuff, but it wasn't in her nature to guilt us into following along. You just didn't do that at her house.

I did manage to get what I think is the only Grandma Bricker spanking on record. I really did not take her seriously about leaning way, way, way over that second story railing. I don't think I went within 10 feet of that thing from then on, and it wasn't because I was fearful of another spanking. It hurt so much to realize I'd disrespected and disappointed her, a weight I carry to this day whenever I have a moment of self-reflection after doing something stupid. She forgave me almost instantly for the railing incident, as she did with many other mistakes I managed to make as a teenager and young adult, especially. I shook when I had to tell her I was getting a divorce at age 22, but she didn't flinch. She said "well, things happen" and we went on from there, the breathing on my end much easier.

I don't think I ever heard her express self-pity, which made it that much harder when she lost her sight toward the end. No longer could she spend hours making quilts, playing cards, or working crossword puzzles. It seemed like a cruel joke from the universe to me at the time. This woman had given so much to so many, and her wants were so small. She was angry about it, and I was, too. There's no point or moral lesson I've learned here. It still pisses me off.

As she approached 90, I was approaching 30. I'd been married and divorced, had lived in Chicago and Michigan, and had been remarried 2 years when she died. She made sure she was able to attend the wedding shower my family held for me in town, and before she left she made sure someone found me so she could tell me she loved me. I hugged her harder than you are probably supposed to hug an elderly person, but I think she hugged me back even harder. I'm so glad Kurt got to meet her, though I wish he'd experienced a real Grandma Bricker meal in the house my Poppy built on Dry Run Road.

She died in 2004, just weeks before Kurt and I left for the UK for 6 months to study abroad. It made the trip both harder and easier, and I felt guilty for feeling a little peace about not having to worry about her while we were over there. It was bad timing for my grieving process, in a way, but in another, it was her memory I conjured up while riding ferries off the coast of Scotland and hiking up the hillsides outside Urquhart Castle looking down on Loch Ness. She wasn't there, but we walked together. I knew she would have been proud that I was out in the world, walking beside someone I loved and who I allowed to love me fully.

I'm the sentimental fool she never was, but I've finally forgiven myself for it. I know she'd be proud of that, too. I realize now that my affinity for my grandparents and my emotional attachment to memories of childhood spent with them has much to do with the state of things in my family today. I don't harbor resentment for the way things have turned out, but I would be lying if I said I didn't miss having an intact family without the sadness that seems to touch so many interactions these days. It hurts my heart. But I'm so lucky to still have so much living family, even if they are scattered to the four corners of the country. As dysfunctional as things can get, my heart still bleeds Bricker, and always will.

Miss you so much, grandma.

Me and both grandmas, 1978.


Katie Ford Hall said...

Beautiful, Sarah.


I don't harbor resentment for the way things have turned out, but I would be lying if I said I didn't miss having an intact family without the sadness that seems to touch so many interactions these days. It hurts my heart.


Jen said...

Okay, you got me. I'm openly weeping, missing my Gangy so much that it aches. This is absolutely beautiful, Sarah. It was a joy to read. I'm glad you didn't shy away from allowing some sentimentality and sorrow to slip in between the humor. The sappy stuff makes the humor bolder and sweeter.

Kathy said...

So beautiful, Sarah! Your Grandma sounds like an amazing, tough woman and I wish I could have met her, too. You're lucky to have had that great influence in your life at such an important time. What a great tribute to her!

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is so beautiful. And obvious which grandma is which!

kd2 said...

Love this Sarah. Brings back so many memories of my Grandma Mickey. I agree with Jen that this sentimental writing just makes your incredible wit and humor that much sweeter!

Anonymous said...

Sarah - Sarah - Sarah - That is one of the sweetest testaments I've ever read and eloquently written. What a great 'twosome' you shared. Makes the stories you've shared about her over the years more real. hugs - mil

Sarah Hunt said...

Thank you for all the lovely comments, and the readback, Katie. It is always a happy surprise to me to realize I'm able to connect to people with this blog from time to time. I'm humbled to count such great people among my friends and family, and greatly appreciate when you respond here. I'm also loving that this post has conjured up so many childhood memories for people. The grandparent relationship is different from any other, I think. There's something about that link, and the generational gap. It's like just enough connection + distance to equal an ideal balance. Maybe.

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