Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A "Rough" Life - A Tribute to My Grandma, An Uncle, and My Dad, Part I

May 28, 2013 - It's almost midnight and I just closed the lid on a lot of love I never knew existed.

My Grandma died four days ago and her funeral was today. We were as close as two people who are fifty years apart and two states away can be.

I always knew my Grandma had a "rough" life, and I was always strangely comfortable with this blanket description. Between her rough exterior and inability to share those things from her life that necessitated the impenetrable wall she built, I gradually and subconsciously believed her life was lived just beyond the place where real dates and times and faces and letters and infinitesimally deep emotion happen.

I've begged and pleaded with her to share her life with me, but she always brushed me off with, "I don't know, Heidi" or "I can't remember". I don't think she could recall even one happy memory.

She was forbidden to marry the love of her life, and instead married an abusive man who vascillated between insanely drunk, jail, and unemployment.

She had five boys. Today, I saw a picture of her, biting her lip and staring straight into the camera, as they pinned her second oldest son's bronze star on her husband, days after his death in the Vietnam war. His name was Mike. He was 20-years-old. He is my brother's namesake. And for me, that is all he has ever been. Until today.

The box I just closed were all of the letters he and my Dad had written (usually weekly), between bootcamp and their final post. Through his writings, I learned my uncle was a funny, laid back fella who liked to tell people to "Go to hell" and who ended his letters with "Bye for now" and "Send prayers".

He encouraged his wheelchair bound brother to study hard, his brother in reform school to "keep your nose clean", and repeatedly asked his Mom not to worry.

He would often write, "They can't get this kid" and had made R & R plans in Australia. He never went. It was scheduled for one month after he was killed.

After I found my Grandma's final letter to him, I didn't read many more of his. It was written two days before he died. She wondered why he hadn't written, was very worried, and what should she do about filing his income tax?

The letter was returned. Unopened. Marked deceased.

After just pouring over his letters, and getting to know him for the first time in my life, the last unanswered letter in my Grandma's handwriting pricked my soul with a sliver of the pain she spent the rest of her life trying to forget.

She was 40-years old when she buried the first of her children. When I am 40, my oldest will only be twelve. She had already lived two lifetimes in the span of my single one.

If living with an abusive husband and burying a son wasn't enough to shut her down emotionally, the years to come would try to finish the job.

One of her sisters was murdered and she buried two more sons - both died from drug/alcohol related causes.

**I really want to continue here, but this post will be entirely too long. Please see part II, which is already written on paper. I only have to punch it in (as I have done here), one letter at a time on my phone. We are on our way home from KS...

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