There were four of them. This is about the last one. I couldn’t manage to speak at her funeral last Saturday, although there was a lot I wanted to say. So instead I am doing something I’m much better at: writing in silence.
The three of us called her Judy, and I’m not sure why. That was her name (short for Judith), and my sister, being the oldest, made the decision to call her that. It worked out ok, though; it rolls off the tongue like other pet grandma names – Granny, Mimi, Nana – but it’s unconventional, like her. She later claimed she wished we called her GrandmaMA. She was dramatic.
Judy and Daddy Earl (a good Southern name for a grandpa) lived 5 minutes away from us until I was in highschool and my sister was in college, when we moved to a neighboring town. Consequently, they had a huge hand in raising us. We were always at their house, being taught, nurtured, scolded, fed, and doing chores. They built their house when my sister was a baby. It was weird – it had honey-blond wood floors and ceilings, 20-foot-tall windows on the south wall, a fireplace of stacked stone they had personally dug up in the yard of their stony, wooded 20 mountain acres, and a swimming pool in the living room. I kid you not. It was always full of light. It always smelled like delicious bread or oil paints. She had a tinny-sounding piano that I played every time I was over.
Judy was a city girl from Atlanta. She studied art at UGA until her friends introduced her to a boy from a farm in South Georgia. She quit school and married him. It was the 1950s. Her parents didn’t like him at first, because he was country, but she told them it was a “non-issue”. She was going to marry him. I know this because, in the last few months of her dementia, she announced to me she was quitting school and getting married and there was nothing I could do about it – it was a non-issue. Later, her parents loved him, like most people did.
She was quite naturally a teacher, and she had three eager granddaugthers to whom she constantly imparted both skills and strong opinions. Like,
How to make French bread
How to paint a shadow
Never to wear white after labor day
The name of every plant that grows in the North Georgia woods
The best way to listen to music in the house is as loud as possible…while your husband is in the garden
She would praise you with one breath and criticize the way you did something the next. Small things were a big deal, whether it was how the phrase of an aria crescendoed poignantly or how so-and-so did such-and-such and she just could not believe that. She liked to have parties. Dinner parties with friends or pool parties for grandchildren & friends. She believed strongly in being socially tactful, which balanced nicely with her husband’s introversion and bluntness. Also, your shoes and your purse should never clash. That was a piece of advice I never could manage to retain.
I can’t block out how her personality began to change, first slowly, then dramatically after my grandfather died. How her world got smaller and smaller as her dementia got worse. I hate dementia. In a way I lost her, one of my best friends, three years ago. But now I’m given the chance to grieve. A formerly central pattern of my life is gone. A person who I loved, who shaped me, is not coming back, and she no longer lingers in a hazy state of confusion. Praise God.
There is a time for everything under heaven.