My grandma, my mother’s mother and my last living grandparent, died yesterday. She was 93 and passed on peacefully in bed after a good, long life. (This, after my friend’s death last week. Sad.)
She was a devout Catholic of Bohemian descent (her sisters were born there, before it was the Czech Republic), a farmer’s wife who kept beautiful gardens and made mouth-watering meals. The kitchen table would be covered with trays of jam-filled kolache, a Czech pastry, and she never minded when I’d sneak one or three, even when they were meant for the church dinner. She raised six children and lived in the same farmhouse with her husband in Winner, SD until they moved into a nursing home. She survived him by four years.
I was born in Winner, but only lived there one year. When I was young, after my parents and I had moved to California, we’d spend a couple weeks in Winner every summer, and I have wonderful memories of it. It was the only time my father relaxed enough to let me be the spirited, inquisitive kid I was, and I experienced a sense of relief and ease I rarely got anywhere else.
I’d commune with the dogs and farm animals, or keep Grandma company while she did chores. As I got older, but before I could legally drive at home, I was allowed to take myself and my cousins from the farm into town to the drive-in, and no one worried who I was with or how late I’d get home. It felt like freedom.
Then I would sleep and sleep in a sagging bed up a flight of narrow, steep stairs, and no matter when I woke up, whether it was nine or noon, Grandma would be in the kitchen ready with breakfast. Everyone else would have long since started their day and left the house, but Grandma and I stayed in the kitchen. She’d wait until I was done, then get on with her day, too.
I’m driving to Winner tomorrow for her funeral on Saturday. I’ll stay with my mother at her twin sister’s house, and we’ll celebrate Grandma’s life. I haven’t been to Winner in 15 years, and it took a funeral to get me there, so I’m expecting it to be an intense weekend all around. But it will be good to be with my mother and other family I haven’t seen in ages, in a tiny Midwestern town that still claims me as its own, despite the fact that I left early on and never looked back.
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