Saturday, September 28, 2013

Memories of Gramma

This morning I had the privilege of sitting quietly by my grandmother's bedside, keeping watch while my mom and dad played with my two boys. Gramma (my mother's mother, or MorMor in Swedish fashion) has been very ill, first with one thing and then the other. She is 91 and has very fragile lungs and has been on oxygen for several years, and a great deal of anxiety on top of it. Two months ago she wound up in the ICU for a week as they were trying to get her carbon dioxide levels under control. No one thought she would make it, and she came home on hospice.

True to form, she rallied emotionally when she got home, and was quite perky and engaged, in spite of the bipap machine helping her breathe at night and sporadically throughout the day. The struggle was getting enough fluid (and food) into her because she had such a hard time swallowing. My mom and her brother struggled through the issue of whether to have a peg tube installed so she could get fluid and nutrition directly to her stomach (which would require another hospital stay) or just let her essentially starve to death while she was so desperately thirsty. GAH.

So, hospital and peg tube it was. And she has now been back home for a couple weeks and is gaining weight back and is feeling much better and seeming much stronger, though she is still not up and around and still needs 24/7 watching and care. She still sleeps with the bipap and has her regular oxygen during the day. You can tell that she really has to work to breathe and talking is very hard for her. She gets out one or two words at a time, but she really wants to engage.

I was able to take the boys down to visit with her in between hospital stays and boy, was it hard. I can't imagine what my mom has to deal with every day. My vote, frankly, was not for a peg tube, but for medicating her up the wazoo with anti-anxiety meds and pain meds and letting her go.  I had some time to sit with her while she was sleeping on that trip and as I was watching her, I set down some of my memories in writing, via twitter. I thought it might be the last time I would see her.

But I am glad they didn't listen to me. When the boys and I were there last night and this morning, her voice is much worse, but she is very engaged. We arrived at dinner time Friday night after making it through rush hour traffic out of D.C. (not a fun thing on a Friday afternoon). My 7yo went right in to see her and raced to her bed to give her a hug. Her face LIT up to see him and she squeezed him hard. The boys ran out side to work off some energy and I told her about things. Eventually she asked for her keyboard. I sat there and watched her pick out O Night Divine with both hands. She was always a beautiful piano player (she played by ear much more than with music) and guitar player. And she looooved her ukelele. She came from a family of musicians. Her father and his brother were in a band that played around their county. Her brother was really a fabulous piano player and played on a Steinway concert grand. My great-grandmother played the guitar and sang. This is what they did on Saturday nights (that and cards....)

As she was playing her keyboard, my 7yo came back in. And he asked to play. Imagine the sight: my grandmother (who had the bipap machine on at the time) lying in a hospital bed; my 7yo beside her leaning on the bed and picking out the songs he has been learning in piano. The 4yo wanted in on the action so he ran into the other room and banged out some "chords" on the very out of tune upright that my parents have. She just glowed with happiness (and then later on asked if I had priced out a Steinway for him...I told her we had a Yamaha and that would do for us for the moment, thanks.)

Back to the point of this post: my tweets. Because this morning, as I was sitting with her I went on another tweet fest of memories and my friend Stephanie asked if I had written them down somewhere else. So here we go, my tweets in narrative form:

First of all, these from Aug 31 as I was sitting with her when she was between hospital visits and I thought it might be the last time I saw her:

"Woke up early. The strike even when they aren't around. Sitting w Gramma for a bit, reliving some of my fondest memories.

She made the BEST watermelon rind pickles. She always had a stash of fabric and yarn to play with. First thing in the morning, she had her

Bible out and worked through her prayer list. She could do amazing things w blackberries. Oh and chocolate pie? Lordy. I have a funny photo

of her at about age 17, with a sidearm in a shoulder holster and a cigar in hand (c 1939). She grew up on a farm but didn't know how to cook

until she married my Grampa at age 19. He was the son of a baker, and he gave her some pointers. But then she never looked back. She loves

to read. And sing. And play the piano. Knitting was a passion until her arthritis got too bad. She followed my Grampa around the country

for his job, packing up the house even w two kids, 19 times in 25 years."

And this batch from this morning:

"Once more, I have the privilege of sitting w my Gramma while she sleeps (giving the care helper a few hours to sleep). Bear w my memories.

Gramma was always annoyed she couldn't make biscuits as well as her mother did (and those WERE divine.) See, when she was a little girl on

The farm, she was a tomboy. She would be found helping her dad w the fields or animals, but when it came time for housework, she was up a

When it came time for housework, she was up a tree with a book. When she married my Grampa, she was 19 and did not know how to cook anything

Except veg soup. Grampa didn't know that. He did start to wonder why they had veg soup for lunch every day and went to her mother's for

Supper every night. Finally she confessed. He thought it was funny. Well, recounting the story years later he thought it was funny.

At any rate, he taught her how to cook. His father was a German baker, from a long line of German bakers. Although Grampa foreswore the idea

Of going into the business himself, he had picked up a few things all those summer sweating in the bakery. So, he set about teaching her.

Gramma was a quick study and surpassed him in short order. She made the best bread, eight loaves at a time. Summer squash casserole that

Makes my mouth water just thinking about. A corn custard that was a potluck staple. I am making her pound cake recipe for my sister's

Bridal shower. (I altered it by adding cream cheese. She has given that her blessing.) Fried chicken, of course. Did y'all know that I won

my husband's heart by making him my Gramma's fried chicken when we were dating? I did. The chocolate pie was the end to all big meals.

Replicate it, much to my chagrin. When I told her that, once, she asked if I had added the walnut flavoring. Well no. That wasn't on the

Recipe she had written for me. She giggled and said SHE always remembered at the very last minute, herself. But she never could replicate

Her mother's biscuits. We all finally decided that the deliciousness was a combination of a wood stove and actual lard. --30--"

Clearly, many of my memories of her involve food. Hmmm. Just as an update to the chocolate pie recipe....I asked her this morning about the chocolate pie and when I mentioned the walnut flavoring, she smiled and shook her head. "Maple," she croaked. Ah. Well then.

I'll have to remember that.