I have just returned from what my grandpa deemed "The Kay Stucky Memorial Cruise," and I am spending the evening remembering my grandma by eating her favorite ice cream.
I am sitting in my bed and take the lid off of a pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. Grandma used her spoon to scrape off the inside of the lid first, so that's what I do too. Her dentures made it too hard for her to chew the toffee, so I suck on Heath Bar just like she did. And my mind goes back to my years taking care of Grandma.
I don't have a lot of meaningful memories of Grandma Kay from my young years. She would sit and smoke her cigarettes and watch golf when we visited her, and I was much more interested in the toys in her basement than who she was. I remember her generosity-- buying my cousins and I matching dresses and talking parrots for Christmas and birthday gifts. But I never really got to know my grandma until the end of my senior year of high school when I began to help her. Her arthritis and an ulcer on her leg gave her limited mobility, so I would visit her once a week or so and do laundry, chop vegetables, or vacuum. Never one to accept a handout, my grandma always slipped a bill into my hand as I left and refused to listen to my protestations. When I started college I would drive over once a month to clean the bathrooms and stock the fridge. During these times she would teach me about "crumbs" on the floor. "If you just pick up any crumb or fuzz you see on the floor, you can wait much longer to vacuum." And beets. "Try boiling them for twenty minutes and see if the skin doesn't just fall right off." And bookkeeping. "If you so much as blow on a piece of paper, label and date it."
With three children, eleven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren, she never missed a birthday and remembered to call for friends' anniversaries. No matter how much pain her ulcer or arthritis gave her, she always managed to sound pleasant on the phone. Always she had good news about her family to share with a visitor, and always she took care of my grandpa.
She smoked cigarettes all day long and almost never missed an episode of All My Children. Some of her habits I never want to imitate. However, as her pain worsened and I began to help her bathe and take care of herself, I learned to appreciate her love of beauty. She was not ready for visitors without red lipstick on, and the last thing we did before leaving the bathroom after cleaning up each day, after brushing hair and applying lipstick and looking in the mirror, was to dab a little Arpege perfume on her neck. "For when Grandpa kisses me." "In case I get visitors." She was a classy woman, and I want to be classy like her.
And she fought. When her ulcer covered most of her lower leg and another started on the oppposite leg, she got creative. She found a remedy that worked, and always we rubbed her feet to get the blood flowing. Finally the day came when the wounds started to get smaller instead of larger, and in a month there were only scars where there had been decaying flesh. She always said that she would beat her arthritis, and when the pain got so bad that she needed help with the most routine activities, she kept her sense of humor. "Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Barack Obama," she huffed as I lowered her into the bathtub one day. "Somehow, focusing on his name makes the pain more bearable."
And one day as we dried her off after a bath, she confided in me about the growing lump on her body. "Just never tell Grandpa." She had vowed to refuse all medical care, and she knew that my grandpa would do whatever he could to see her well. And the lump stopped growing for awhile, and we all thought that she had beat whatever kind of tumor she had.
I graduated college (she sent a check that she could just barely sign, but hadn't left the house in years and didn't plan to start leaving with a graduation two hours away), and moved to Bolivia to teach for a year. And the lump grew. And her pain increased. The arthritis with the added cancer was more than even this strong woman could bear. We knew that time was limited. When my dad came to Bolivia for ten days, she stopped eating. Three weeks later, surrounded by her children and husband, she left this world.
And today, seven months later, I let the cold creamy coffee flavor sit on my tongue and remember her. Not just a passing remembrance, a contemplating remembering. I remember her life and her person and her spirit. And I miss her.