Monday, November 24, 2008


Was I dreaming, or driving? No, no I'm driving all right, and I appear to still be safely between the white lines.
Excellent! I'll just close my eyes for another second or two.
Sweet Jesus you idiot! Pay attention. You still have to pick up beer in Platteville.
Freeways always do this to me. When the only mental function necessary to operate the motor vehicle consists of minor steering corrections over great spans of time, I fall asleep. I'll be the first to tell you that this may be what brings Death knocking on my own door.
Death. That scallywag prick has handed me my second invite to a funeral in less than a month. I'll be damned if I give him a chance to cash my check today.
I struggle the rest of the way to Platteville's WalMart, where I commenced napping in the parking lot immediately. I later wake up with frozen feet screaming to be moved. I hustle in and grab a pack of Bush Lite; the Walter, and Grant County beer of choice.

I arrive early. My cousin is there, and we chat briefly as I postpone the inevitable moment of approaching the death bed. I do not want this. But I must take this, for it will shape me thereafter.
Following the caretaker into the dinning room, I sit in a chair next to the hospital bed. I distract myself with the humor of this gigantic hospital bed that is devouring a good percentage of the square footage of this room. This room we should be having Thanksgiving dinner in. Damn, back to reality. Those nasty meat hooks always catch up to me faster than I would like.
Mother warned me of this moment.
This moment, which has been waiting for me here in this room, is really just a combination of sensory perceptions. The sight of her frail body. The smell of old bones and tired flesh. The sound of her raspy breathing. These are not pretty things in and of themselves, but when they are perceived by my brain and immediately referenced against 25 years of memory, the meat hooks dig in deeper.
"She hasn't eaten in six days." Says the caretaker. "They usually pass between seven and ten days after they stop eating."
I hear this, and comprehend it. But it's just a trickle in the thought-torrent I am trying to wade through. Sadness: Christ, she's so small and frail from the last time I saw her. Cynicism: She's just a breathing pile of flesh and bones under that blanket. Anger: Don't think that you asshole, that's fucking Grandma.
These are only the emotions I can adhere with logical labels, but there are many swirling around that are too abstract and powerful for words.
I hold her hand, which is warm, but lifeless. Her skin on her hands still feels really soft. She always did have soft hands, when she used to spit on her thumb to wipe dirt off our faces.
I need another beer.

By dinner time, the grieving party was in full swing. Whiskey Cokes, Bush-Lite, and fresh pizza from Burton Tavern. Grandpa was telling his dirty jokes per usual. The uncles were giving each other shit. The aunts were helping. Grandma was breathing, and listening in the next room.
What would she say about all this? She would probably just sit back and say, "I tried to raise you kids right!" Boy, she did a fine job.
I was now full of enough beer and whiskey to confidently give the Matriarch her final goodbye. I sat next to her in the dim light of the dining room. The chatter of the kitchen mixed in with the hum of her space heater. My brother came and sat in the chair beside me.

We reminisced over old stories. Like the time these two little shits tried to race across Grandma's half acre garden, in muddy March. We ran like Jesus himself, until our mortal little boots began to sink deeper and deeper into the mud.
Slog. Slog. Slo. Slo.
We were trapped! I had seen quicksand in the movies before, even at the age of seven, so I knew I had to act quick.
"Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!" My little brother and I began to squeal. Paul Harvey must have been over, for she heard us inside the kitchen. Stepping out the front door, she asked us rather tartly, "What's the matter?"
"We're stuck!" was shouted as we writhed and struggled to show her the seriousness of the matter. She headed back in the house for a moment, then returned outside and walked the distance across the front yard and driveway, as we helplessly watched her approach. Was she mad? I hope not. Instead of yelling at us, she pulled out her camera. She proceeded to take humiliating pictures of us, pictures that still exist to this day. We both wanted out of that mud hole something quick, but we waited like humbled boys in dunce caps. For that woman was the only person who could save us, and she wasn't one who listened to a child that begged. We couldn't do anything but let her get her kicks.
She said she would get stuck herself if she came in after us. This wasn't what we wanted to hear. So she headed back in the house for a moment, and back she came with a stack of cookie sheets. Grandma placed one right after the other, like giant steel Lilly pads in the mud, stepping her way out to us. She then pulled us out, and sent us to hop our way out on the cookie sheets. That right there was magic for this little shit. For it was that moment when I realized maybe Grandma isn't just a grouchy old lady after all. Maybe she's really smart. She sure was that day.

This is when the bloodletting begins. The tears start to flow. Then sobs begin to sputter. My brother rests his hand on my knee, and I crumble. I cry for the Grandma that left us a while ago already, but who still carries on in my heart. For she has touched it more than even most of those hooligans in the kitchen.

After drinking then crying myself into a stupor, I want nothing more than to just rest my weary head. The family that is still drinking in the kitchen, instructed me to take the field road up to Mom's. So, driving when I absolutely shouldn't, I follow the winding "field road" that leads from my Grand parent's house up to the house where I grew up, which used to be my great grand parent's house. This road that I've traveled thousands of times, brings back many many memories in my bleary consciousness.
I make the short trip with no troubles, and stumble into the garage. In the darkness I can see two beasts rousing my way. "Da Puppiesss!" I slur while reaching down to pet them. Lassie and Cassie are far far from being puppies anymore, but I still address the two miniature collies this way.
This is where things start getting blurry, but I do remember crawling up the garage steps to the foot of the door. Puppies sniffing and licking me all the way. I fell on my back and let them crawl all over me. They pranced around me in the dark and let out little grunts of restrained elation. They've always sounded that way when they are happy to see you. It was the most wonderful feeling, being showered in the unconditional love of these two animals, while I giggle in the drunken stupor that has put me down on their level. In more ways than one. I resigned myself to spending the whole night right here. This puppy love was all I need to wash my troubles away.
The door to the office opened up into me. "Craig?"
"Sorry Mom, sorry. I was just saying hi to the puppies."
"I've had those nights too." Mother said as she helped carry my weary head to the couch.


Predo said...

Well done. Very well done. You are very talented.

I know the events, I was there, and I agree with your perceptions. It hurts, but it's true. The thing to remember is simple, this is the family that Grandma was used too, and I can't imagine she would want it any other way. She wouldn't want us to hurt, although she might like us sober.....then again, no one can have it all. We all did our best. I don't know, but I hope it was enough.

Green Coalition said...

And you have two cats? This is why you need a couple of slobbering dogs, my friend.