Today would have been my grandmother's 88th birthday. She passed away in 1979, when I was only seven years old. My Mom was only 35 when she lost her Mom. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been. It was a defining moment in her life and in a way it defined my life too.
Every year on June 18th, we all stop and have some sort of remembrance of my grandmother. I happened to have the day off from work today, so I called my Mom to see if she wanted to visit the cemetery together.
My grandmother used to be buried about 20 miles away on the other side of town where we grew up. As the years passed, my family slowly migrated to our current location and it seems like we are staying awhile. So, my Mom decided to move my grandmother to a cemetery in our neighborhood so she could be closer to us.
The actual move was somewhat of an ordeal. It was a very emotional time for my Mom, plus she is older now and starting to contemplate her own mortality. When she moved my grandmother's grave, my Mom decided to purchase plots for her and my Dad. Then she decided to purchase plots for us kids too. Somehow, she ended up with a total of eight plots at the cemetery. There are only six of us, plus my grandmother so it is still not clear to me who the eighth plot is for. But it was really important to my Mom, so we went with it.
She also purchased a large family monument with our last name prominently displayed at the top and underneath it are my Mom and Dad's names, along with each of us kids. There is even space on the back to have messages engraved for each person who is buried there. And to top it off, my Mom bought a bench and had it cemented underneath the tree near the plot.
At first I wasn't really comfortable with the idea of pre-purchasing my burial spot, let alone adding the large monument and the built-in seating. But now I find that I like to stop by once and awhile to visit my grandmother. It is a really peaceful place. Sometimes I just sit on that bench under the tree and contemplate my life.
Today when we arrived at the family plot, our monument was covered in bird poop. The birds eat the blueberries off of the nearby bushes so the poop has a nice purple tone to it. I could tell that my Mom and I had the exact same thought at the exact same time. Before we could stop and share our remembrance of my grandmother we had to clean that bird poop off of the headstone!
I walked back to the cemetery gate where there is a hose and a watering can, so people can water their flowers at the grave sites. I filled the can with water and was looking around for something to use as a make-shift cloth to wipe up the bird poop. I noticed there was a piece of nylon material sitting on top of the trash can so I grabbed that and headed back over to my Mom.
We started pouring water onto the monument and wiping it down as she and I made small talk. My mom is one of those people who can carry on a conversation even under the most awkward of circumstances. This definitely qualified. It's not often you find yourself using old knee highs and a watering can to scrape the bird poop from your own grave site.
After we finished cleaning, my Mom said a few prayers and then she started talking to my grandmother. Tears filled my eyes as I listened to how lovingly and honestly she spoke to her, over 30 years after her death.
"Thank you for giving the kids so much love in the few years you were with them," my Mom continued. "It was enough to last them a lifetime."
After hearing her words, I struggled to find the right thing to say. My grandmother has been a continual presence in my life. Even though I only had a chance to know her for a few years, her spirit has lived on through my Mom. There are many great stories about her, but one of the things that has always defined her in my mind was that she lived alone.
My grandmother divorced my grandfather when my Mom was very young and she raised my Mom entirely on her own. Which was quite uncommon back in those days. She worked as a cashier in a bank, owned her own home and managed her finances without any assistance. And she dedicated the rest of her time to supporting my Mom and spending time with her grandchildren.
We talked about how proud I am to come from a long line of strong, independent women. And how I feel like I made the right decision by not getting married or being tied down to the wrong man. As we stood there, I could feel my grandmother's spirit all around us. My Mom and I may have been talking to each other, but we both knew that we were having that conversation with my grandmother.
Then my Mom and I eased back into comfortable small talk about the headstone and how the rain would come tonight and help to wash everything away.
"It's funny how the birds pooped on our headstone," I explained to my Mom. "It's sort of symbolic of our life." I was especially thinking about what I have been through at work over the last few months with my Boss and her Daughter. "Other people just shit all over us. And we are like the good Polish housekeepers who come in and clean it all up."
I think my grandmother would have smiled at that comment. Happy Birthday Grammy. Wishing you were here.