Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Emma Rothgery in Memoriam

Today, the Chronicle Telegram runs my Grandma's obituary. It says what all obituaries say, a list of those who died before her and her relatives still living. A brief summary of her life. How can you squeeze 87 years into a paragraph on the obits page? Today I want to write my memories of life with my Grandma so I don't forget.

I don't know a lot about Grandma's childhood. I know she was born in Walhonding, OH but she always just called it "down home". She moved to Elyria when she was in high school. She met my grandpa and they were married here and honeymooned on Mackinac Island. They lived in Elyria their whole life together. Grandma stayed home with my uncle Rick and my mom until Mom was in the 7th grade. After that she worked at Harshaw Chemical (BASF today) as a secretary for 28 years.

My memories of Grandma begin when I was about 5ish. We all went to Grandma and Grandpa's house every Sunday for dinner. Great Grandma lived there too. Grandma always cooked too much food and we always had massive "Grandma sized" pieces of whatever delicious dessert she had cooked that week. Almost every week, she would tell my dad- "Now Jeff, you'll like this one- it's not too sweet". She had cable TV and we would lay there and watch Nickelodeon (we didn't have dish at home until I was in middle school) and Grandma would offer us more snacks and candy all evening. She spoiled us rotten and we loved it. Sometimes Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, Rick and Linda would play cards in the evening, usually Rook. Grandma had an obvious way of signaling her partner that she had good cards, usually an exaggerated wink.

We loved to spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa's when we were kids. One night, Sarah and I were supposed to be sleeping in the "red room" which had wallpaper that we weren't allowed to touch. We were playing around and talking and Grandma came up and told us to get to sleep. I think Sarah accidentally touched the wall with her foot and Grandma yelled "Don't touch the wall!" Well Sarah, being the little shit, took her pinky finger and touched the wall and said "Touch!" Grandma came into the room smacking with a flyswatter, but Sarah and I were hiding under the covers and we couldn't feel a thing.

In the winter, we used to go ice skating down at North Park and when we were done we would run back to Grandma's for hot chocolate and snacks. We always trick or treated at Grandma's house because our area was too rural at the time to go in our neighborhood.

Christmas Eve was always spent at Grandma's house. She was Catholic and as such we had a traditional Holy Supper consisting of split pea soup, fried fish, bobalki, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, smashed lima beans and prunes (named "Poop" by my cousin when he was a toddler). Before the meal, we passed the oplatki and said a prayer. When I was small, I told Grandma I couldn't have the oplatki. Grandma took it to mean that I thought I couldn't have it because we were Presbyterian, not Catholic and she said "Oh sure you can, Honey!" I said "But Grandma, I'm not allowed to eat Styrofoam!" After dinner we opened all of our presents from Grandma and Grandpa and then Mom and Dad went to the candlelight service at church and we went to sleep until they got back and took us home. It wasn't until much later that I learned they actually went home after the service and did all the Santa gifts so they would be there waiting we we got home.

Grandpa got sick when I was about 10. He had a brain tumor removed that came back pretty quick. He went to hospice, but didn't die. He came home and Grandma cared for him until the day he died. Grandma always took care of everyone.

A couple years later, Grandma needed a heart valve replacement. After the surgery, she suffered a severe stroke and came close to death herself. Slowly but surely, she recovered. She moved to a nursing home for about a year and a half. Her mind had been affected at first but she quickly regained her faculties. She learned to walk again, never perfectly but she only used a cane until the last two years of her life when she switched to a walker. While she was in the nursing home, we went to visit her at least every other day. I did her nails so she could be fashionable. I used colors like lime green, orange, yellow and purple. Grandma was the hippest lady in the home. When I was about 14, Grandma moved in with us.

It wasn't always easy, Grandma was a hoarder all her life. Likely left over habits sprung from living through the Great Depression. She would frequently tell us, "One day when you don't have, you'll be sorry." When she lived with Grandpa, she hoarded non perishable food items. With us, she took to saving articles from the paper for all of us, most of the time- you took them and then threw them out. When Sarah and I left for college, our friend Vanessa moved in with my parents as hers were being shitty. Grandma always loved Vanessa. Vanessa can talk for hours and Grandma always loved having some one stop to talk to her. Zach and Grandma also developed a special relationship. For all the trouble Zach caused as a teenager, he was always so patient with Grandma. When he moved away, he wrote to Grandma at least once a month, which is more than can be said for any of the rest of us.

When I told Grandma I was pregnant with Makayla, she was not exactly pleased I was having a baby before marriage but she loved Makayla and Makayla loved her. Grandma was able to attend my wedding and I was so thankful for that.

When we moved back home and I went back to work, Makayla spent her days with Mom and Grandma. Makayla first named my dad "Gaga" and for a long time couldn't figure out how to say grandma. Finally she decided Mom would be "GagaMama" and shortly after Grandma became "Great GagaMama". She later changed them to Gramma and Great Gama. Makayla's job was to go wake up Grandma for dinner. Grandma was notoriously difficult to wake because she gasped like you scared the crap out of her if you touched her lightly on the shoulder. She never did that for Makayla. So every day Makayla would go into Grandma's room and say "Great Gama, it's dinner!" and Grandma would get up and come in. I feel particularly bad for Makayla because she probably won't remember any of the things she did with Great Gama as she grows and she doesn't really understand why Great Gama is gone.

Grandma's final days were spent in the ICU, after all she survived in her life, she died very quickly and nothing could be done to save her. When she took her last breath we were all there with her, just as she was there for us all of our lives.