Monday, April 10, 2017

"Conversations With Grampa"

We're gettin' there. We're not there yet. But we're gettin' there. --Bruce Springsteen, 2005

Blogging Friends.... This has been my mantra--a reminder to be patient--as I have worked hard from before sunrise, all day long, and in between Life's busyness on writing/editing April's fictional story.... Thanks, Bruce!! 'Conversations With Grampa' was finished on Wednesday and I finally completely edited it today!! During The River Challenge {read 'Triumph' to understand what I am talking about!!} Life definitely did not stand still. And among all of the deaths that happened in 2016, {sadly} 'The Grim Reaper', claimed my Grampa. On March 19th, he lost his long battle with cancer. Death won. This is an emotionally autobiographical, fictional 'book'--with true stories throughout it--that I wrote in Grampa's memory!! {Three times!! It took about twain years for me to write 'Conversations With Grampa'!! The first version--'Remember When'--sucked.... My second attempt--'Purple Balloons'--was good, and written in longhand.... 'Conversations With Grampa' is the third {and final} version!! Well, what do you know, I actually like it!!} Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive, Raelyn

Note.... It just recently occurred to me why my fictional stories are as long as they are!! Because I do not write 'books'. No, I create 'movies'--with scenes literally playing in my head--and films are always at least two hours long!! So there you go. 'Conversations With Grampa', this particular fictional story, this 'movie' {or however way you want to phrase it} is what I am calling a 'Hallmark'-like movie!! And, yes.... I did take out a 'deleted scene'!!
"Conversations With Grampa"

Cancer sucks. So say patients, family members, doctors, nurses and scientists alike. Cancer sucks. And they are absolutely right. Cancer does, in fact, suck.... When--after a long, arduous, physically, emotionally and mentally painful fight--my beloved Grampa succumbs to that devastating, Life-changing, godforsaken disease. Cancer sucks. I have seen this oh-so truthful phrase Online. But when that disease ruthlessly 'chooses' my Grampa {with two completely different variations of cancer, one of which spread} and, ultimately, it contributes to taking his Life? Cancer does not just suck. It is deeply personal. When Grampa was still alive, I would frequently drive my 'old' 1970's red-painted Nissan pickup truck and I'd visit him.... Either at his house or at the hospital. I talked to Grampa. I gave his wife {my Grammy}, a much-needed break so that she can go shopping, one of her favorite pastimes. During which I helped care for Grampa. I served him.... When he was not on a feeding tube, I heated Grampa up some soup. I brought him crackers. I made Grampa coffee. I brought him water or juice. I helped Grampa with his medication. When he was not on a catheter, I supported his ailing body toward the bathroom, if necessary. Should Grampa need to sleep, I either quietly wrote, or I read. But mostly?

We exchanged a Lifetime--for me, anyway--of stories and memories....

"Grampa," I said one day, "Do you remember when my youngest brother, Thomas was born? We saw his tiny little body for the very first time. He sure was a cutie!! And then, as we walked through the hospital parking garage toward your car, you teasingly, jokingly said, 'Well? We gonna keep him?' Which was the same exact thing that you said after my sister, Joy was born, too!!"

I smiled.

"You need some new jokes, Grampa!!" I said.

"I do remember that!!" said Grampa, "And speaking of Joy.... Do you remember what her point blank reply was to my silly question?"

"Yes!!" I answered, "She said, 'We can't give him back!!'"

"And Thomas is, indeed a keeper!!" said Grampa, "You all are!! My grandkids. My children. My great grandkids. You are all keepers!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "You {and Grammy} are a very supportive Grandparent!! I was never the athletic type. I did not play soccer for years and years and years like my oldest brother, Matthew. I was never the agile type, either. I did not perform in dance for several years like my cousins, Lushelle and Celine. However. I--as well as Matthew--did sing in the choir during Easter and Christmas programs at my family's church every single year!! Remember that? Because you {and Grammy} were always there, sitting in old, antique church pews, watching me sing!!"

"I remember...." said Grampa, "One particular Christmas when you were finally given an acting part in that year's program...."

"And she was the main character!!" I exclaimed, "Ah, Bethany.... That was my character's name!! Of course, our Children's Church leader, 'Dan The Man' gave me a script to read. Which was an incredible help, because I am visual!! But 'Dan The Man' also gave me a cassette tape of our Christmas program that I could listen to."

"I remember...." said Grampa, "That you put your cassette in tape players.... And.... You listened to Bethany's lines, memorizing them!!"

I laughed.

"Over and over and over and over!!" I said, "I was probably a cosmic pain in the neck who drove everybody absolutely crazy!! But I gave Bethany my one-hundred and ten percent!! Although, I did not really act out that character.... I impersonated her!! My unnatural, high-pitched 'Barbie' voice sounded just like the recording on that cassette tape!!"

"You did great, Rae!!" encouraged Grampa, "You're an incredibly beautiful singer and a talented actress!!"

I smiled.

"You are just saying that because you're my Grampa!!" I said, "But thanks!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "I recently mentioned that that you {and Grammy} are a very supportive Grandparent. Do you remember when I participated in an annual pro-life fundraiser/two-mile long walk downtown called 'Steps For Life'? I did it every single year!! And you sponsored me!! All because I am your granddaughter!! Thank-you!!"

"You're welcome!!" said Grampa, "You were very passionate about 'Steps For Life'!! So.... Of course we would support you!!"

I smiled.

"And not only that...." I said, "You encouraged me to raise even more money year, after year, after year!! 'Think big!!' you said. 'Aim higher!!' you said. 'Shoot for the moon!!' I think you said. Guess what, Grampa?! Think big, aim higher and shoot for the moon, I did!! Because one year? I raised a thousand bucks for Pregnancy Resource Center!! And it was all thanks to your sweet encouragement!!"

"That is wonderful, Rae!!" encouraged Grampa, "I knew you could do it!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "Do you remember when I was only two years old and I performed a face plant against my cement city sidewalk? I had been riding on our horse 'car' when an uneven crack in the sidewalk caught a wheel or two. And that was when I did my face plant!! I probably got a huge fat lip.... Because that face plant knocked out my two front teeth!!"

Grampa winced at the memory.

"I remember," said Grampa, "You have certainly suffered from a lot of injuries throughout your Life!! Rae.... You are one resilient girl!!"

I smiled.

"My two front teeth did not grow back in until I was, like, six or seven years old!!" I exclaimed, "Each holiday season, whenever the radio played 'All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)'--whether it was sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks or someone else--you would teasingly, jokingly declare, 'They're playin' Rae's song'!!" Oh man!! Now that song is stuck in my head!! But 'All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)'? Well.... It is my song!! I love that story!! Every time I hear 'All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)'--whoever is singing it--I think of you, Grampa!! Every single time!! I probably always will!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "This is going to sound weird, quirky.... And maybe a little bit cute. But hey, I am an oddball, alright? As a little girl growing up, I loved to sit on your lap, because you were comfortable!! This is also going to sound weird, and quirky. As a little girl growing up, {if memory serves me right.... No one else seems to remember this part.... Maybe I imagined it!!}, I called Grammy's lap 'bony'!!"

"That's right!!" said Grampa, "Someone asked you who your favorite Grandparent was. And.... Your answer was 'Grampa'!!"

"Well, although I do not like to 'play favorites' when it comes to people or loved ones," I said, "You are still {to this day}, my favorite Grandparent!!"

I smiled a cockeyed smirk.

"But just do not tell Grammy that I said that, alright?" I finished.

"Your secret is with me!!" said Grampa, "My lips are sealed!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "I--as well as Matthew--used to 'work' for you as a girl growing up. We did some 'odd jobs' here and some 'odd jobs' there!! Before your retirement, you worked at our local newspaper office. So.... We delivered daily newspapers!! You taught me how to throw them and aim at people's front porches.... Or at least hit their lawns? And, guess what? I actually hit some front porches!! Even though I have an incredibly wild aim!! I mean, I throw like a girl!!"

"You did great, Rae!!" encouraged Grampa, "I appreciated yours and Matthew's help!!"

"Then, when we were finished delivering the daily newspapers, I would eat cheeseburgers, French fries and I'd enjoy myself a strawberry milkshake at Burger King!!" I said, "Matthew did too, of course!! Only he enjoyed a chocolate milkshake!! That was lunch and our 'thank-you' treats all rolled into one!! We probably got paid, as well.... But I only remember lunch!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "Before your cancer struck, you {and Grammy} used to drive me downtown so that we could attend the largest Christmas bazaar together!! Joy came, as well!! It was an all-day event!! Because there were literally thousands of booths with various diverse, unique, for the most part hand-crafted items!! And we tackled that Christmas bazaar every single year!! The entire thing.... From its first booth to their last!! Grampa, you always stayed by my side the entire time {watching me like a hawk} while Grammy hung with Joy!! I've always considered that a unique bonding experience between you and I!!"

I smiled.

Grampa is always overprotective of me, I thought, It's as though I am still a little girl!! Even though I'm a adult now in my early thirties who can--and does--look after herself!! I wonder if he still remembers me as the wanderlust little girl who I used to be? But I do not know.... Grampa always takes care of me.... And everyone else who he loves--

Suddenly, Grampa interrupted my thoughts.

"I remember that your Grandmother and Joy always had to look at every single booth where jewelry was being sold!!" he complained, "Necklaces. Rings. Bracelets. Earrings. Anklets. Toe rings. After a while, you'd think that every single piece of jewelry would look the same!!"

I laughed.

"Oh Grampa!!" I said, "You always say that!! You're so predictable!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "I recently mentioned how when we strolled through the Christmas bazaar side-by-side every year, it created a unique bonding experience between you and I. Well, here is another example!! Do you remember our vacation to Maui, Hawaii?  We met Grammy and Uncle Robert on the island.... Because they were already there!! Joy and Celine flew with us, too!! Well, neither you or I can swim. So, while Grammy, Joy, Uncle Robert and Celine went snorkeling? Or when they all partook in boogie boarding? You and I stayed on the beach together!! We sat side-by-side each other!! You and I watched them boogie board!! I collected seashells, we talked, I made mountains in the dry sand!! While Grammy, Joy, Uncle Robert and Celine swam in our condo's pool? We sunbathed!! Somebody once told me that she could not imagine flying all the way to Hawaii without even touching its warm ocean waters. But, honestly? I have absolute zero regrets!! For it was because of that mutual thing which we have in common {being unable to swim} that created our unique bonding experience in Maui!!"

"Yeah...." Grampa regretfully said, "It is a shame that you never learned how to swim, Rae. Like I didn't. Swimming is a good ability to have!! If you were ever in an unfortunate situation where you're drowning, it can obviously be Lifesaving!!"

"I know, I know...." I said, "But I could always rely on my 'superpowers' of being hard to kill and, one way or another, I'd survive!! Somehow!! You know I would!!"

I smiled.

"But you did go in the pool during our vacation to Maui, Grampa!!" I suddenly remembered, "I even have a picture of it as living proof.... You and Joy are in the pool together, smiling for my camera!! Was it Celine....? Or Joy....? Who teased you, begged you and annoyed you into {finally.... According to Grammy, you never did that for anyone!!} putting your swimming trunks on and going in the pool? Because I do not remember!!"

"It was probably Celine," said Grampa, "What does your Grandmother always say about her....? She was the one who constantly tried to shock us!!"

"But then again...." I said, "Joy had an unbelievable personality change while she was in Maui!! So you never know.... Because Joy went to Maui as a shy girl who would not talk. But then.... She came home as a talkative, bold, friendly, outgoing girl!!"

"You're absolutely right!!" said Grampa, "So you never know!! It could have been Joy!!"

I smiled.

"Whoever it was--Celine or Joy--she would not quit!!" I continued, "'When will you go in the pool, Grampa?' 'When are you gonna go in the pool, Grampa?' Either Celine--or Joy--asked that question day after day after day!!"

"And what was my answer?" asked Grampa.

"'When hell freezes over'!!" I replied, "And you said that teasingly, jokingly, with a smile written on your face!!"

"Well, I guess hell froze over!!" said Grampa.

I laughed.

"Our vacation to Maui, Hawaii happened in April 2000!!" I exclaimed, "Wow. Time flies, huh?! April 2000.... Where does the time escape to, outer space?! I was sixteen years old!!"

"You were young, Rae," said Grampa, "Time certainly does fly!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "I recently mentioned how when we travelled to Maui, Hawaii, it created a unique bonding experience between you and I. Well, here is another example!! Do you remember our 'whirlwind trip' to Conroe, Texas? You and I flew together {just the two of us!!} so that we could attend a Houston Astros/Boston Red Sox game on June 28th, 2008!! We also, of course, visited with {Great} Aunt Zoe and Wyatt!! {Great} Aunt Zoe's nice, generous, well-to-do boyfriend, Alberto--who works for the Houston Astros--purchased both our airline and our baseball tickets!! I was a shameless, proud Red Sox fanatic, an outsider!! You and I sat next to each other at that baseball game!! Our seats were absolutely incredible!! They were located right above the Astros dugout!! Do you remember those seats?! I screamed my vocal chords and lungs out for the Red Sox--they lost by one lousy run--but I enjoyed that edge of your seat, uphill/downhill, 'it ain't over 'til it's over' game, anyway!!"

"That was very bold, Rae!!" said Grampa, "Your {Great} Aunt Zoe commented that she was surprised no one kicked you out of Minute Maid Park!!"

I laughed.

"I was called 'traitor' by a curly brunette-haired Astros fanatic, though!!" I said, "Who I affectionately named 'Frank'!!"

"Grampa," I said on another day, "You and I both have January birthdays!! Yours comes first, though!! Every time that I have a birthday, you always say {teasingly, jokingly}, 'I wish you'd stop gettin' older, kid. 'Cause every time you get older, that means I have to!!'"

Grampa smiled.

"I was neither teasing nor joking, Rae!!" said Grampa, "You are in your thirties already!! Me? I am in my eighties!! I remember when you were just a little girl...."

"Well, it is like we were recently saying...." I said, "Time flies.... I swear it does escape into outer space...."

I blinked back wet, hot tears.

Damn you, cancer!! I frequently thought as I drove home in my 'old' 1970's red-painted Nissan pickup truck, Damn you!! Why did you have to go and attack poor Grampa's body? What did he ever do to you? Damn you, cancer!! Damn you!! Damn you!! Damn you!! Damn you!!

It was Saturday, March 19th, 2016. Weather-wise, God had given us a lovely pre-Spring day where there were blue skies, fluffy white clouds and sunshine!! It was exactly the kind of environment that Grampa loves.... No rain, no ebony-colored clouds, no snow.... It was a perfect, seemingly carefree March day!! I had just finished hip swaying/dancing/cutting loose/working out for several insane hours. I was still high on adrenaline, endorphins, chocolate and sugar. Then our phone rang. Which I answered. It was Grammy on the other end. Her voice sounded emotional, it sounded distressed, it sounded urgent.... And rightfully so. For my always high pain-tolerant Grampa was in excruciating, unbearable pain. No paramedic, no doctor, no nurse--nothing--could make him feel better. Grampa had suffered from a blood clot in his lungs. He was dying, the inevitable was happening, and death--as well as cancer--unfortunately, ultimately would win that day.... I could feel it.

And suddenly, I felt my entire world come crashing down....

Fast forward to ten months after Grampa passed away. January rolled around, which only meant one thing.... Grampa's birthday was fast approaching us!! So, to celebrate an incredible Life well-lived--a husband, a father, Grampa--everyone.... Mom, Dad, Matthew, his wife {my sister-in-law}, Margaret, their daughters {my nieces}, Amethyst and Opal, their son {my nephew}, Capricorn, Joy, Thomas, me, Uncle Robert, his wife {my Aunt Pearl}, their son {my cousin, Alexander}, Lushelle, Celine, her husband, Wilson, their daughter, Bristol and their sons, James and Aster {my second cousins....} All drove to Grammy's house for Grampa's favorite dessert of home-baked carrot cake, as well as ice cream and brownies!! Which, truly honored Grampa's memory, because he loved it when his family got together more than anything in the world!! Then, as we each carried purple balloons {which was Grampa's favorite color!!} in our hands and Grammy carried a Mickey Mouse head-shaped balloon {which was Grampa's favorite classic Walt Disney animated character!!}, everyone all stepped outside in the backyard, released them and watched a sky of purple balloons drift Heavenward.

Happy birthday, Grampa.... I thought, as wet, hot tears streamed down my cheeks, Thank-you for the memories....