We lost my Grammy Sheehan yesterday. After increasing dementia, she had a stroke last week. I feel...I feel lately like an invisible deck is shuffling and my card is coming closer to the top. As we lose grandparents, the equation changes and MY parents are the grandparents, I am the parent...we rotate up a notch and fill new roles.
Grammy Sheehan, I don't talk about her much. I suppose it's because, unlike the other side of the family, she was quiet, not easy to sketch out in writing. She was a hidden well that I couldn't quite understand I suppose, since my feelings are on display every minute, I can't imagine holding them in. She is glowing and lovely in early pictures, raised on a Brookfield farm, she married my mom's dad and they had four beautiful daughters. She cared for her dying husband, a photographer, many years, as he slowly lost his battle with leukemia when my mother was just thirteen. She struggled, she must have. But all under the cover of her Vermont farm girl strength. No complaining. She was always so matter-of-fact about everything. Life went on and you went on with it. Gram had stick-to. Gram was practical. Gram was a hard worker. Gram was tidy and efficient and organized. But you know what? Occasionally this tiny smile would hover on her lips before she keeled over with laughter, slapping her hands on her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. She and her daughters, my Mom and aunties, they always cry when they laugh. Sometimes I wonder if it's because they never got to cry enough years ago.
After a while, she remarried my Grandpa Sheehan and they were happy. He was a brave soul to take on a woman with four daughters as a middle-aged bachelor! When we were small, they'd take us camping in their big Mallard motor home. We loved it, sleeping up above the cab in the little sleeping loft. I remember going to Lake Champagne and Gram watching us like a hawk in the water, never letting us in over our waist because she couldn't swim. She made the best cookies and angel food cake, and said random, quirky things. Their house was clean and fresh, and in the mornings, she and Grandpa would get up early and the scent of fresh coffee and some big, delicious breakfast would waft down to our room, where she would have pushed a few straight-backed chairs up against our bed in the night to keep us from falling out. She and Gramp loved their gardens and grew wonderful strawberries, Gram had strawberry magnets on the 'fridge (where there was always Velveeta cheese!) and strawberry knick-knacks here in there, although the house was one of the tidiest of any I've ever known. The pictures of her grandchildren held places of honor in the living room. She sewed my sisters and I beautiful new dresses every summer, in whatever fabric and pattern we picked, always crisp and perfect. I remember loving my pink floral with the sweetheart neckline, smoothing the skirt as I posed on the steps of their garden for a snap shot. Marigolds and clean sheets will always smell like her to me.
Twenty years ago, Gram had a brain aneurysm and had her head half shaved when they operated. Strong woman that she was, she was fine. She rallied and kept going. Perhaps a little different, a bit quieter, but still going strong. She made me these sweet, vintage-style cafe curtains for my kitchen when we had first bought our house, with red cherries printed on them, "because they were Emily's taste." At her 80th birthday party, ages ago, I saw a portrait of her, set up by the cake, that stopped me in my tracks, because it was my own face staring back at me. I'd like to think I've inherited more than just her face, I hope I have some of her practicality to tamp down my flighty ways, I hope I can carry on no matter what happens, and do what I've got to do, without despair. I hope I can learn to use wax paper properly someday.
She used to swing her arms forward, clapping briskly at family event's trying in vain to get everyone to stand still for a picture. Oh Gram, I'll do it. From now on, I'll always get the picture. Safe journey Grammy Sheehan.