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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Update after Grandma's Funeral

We spent two days in my hometown of Port Huron for my grandmother's visitation and funeral. There were many surreal aspects of each passing hour. I wrote once of the people in my parent's wedding pictures:

"It’s as if the photographer knew these weren’t just wedding pictures—especially in the group tableaus—it’s as if he knew…this was the cast party of the unfolding play that was our life before we lived. Each shot is in the old historic church that shares its name with the fort that once stood there..."

This is the church where those wedding pictures were taken; and that is where the offspring of that "cast of characters" met yesterday for my grandmother's funeral service. Most of us had not been inside the church for several decades. After the graveside service, we returned to the very same basement where Mom and Dad's wedding reception was nearly 60 years ago. We sat among the same support posts and the same doorways and banisters that were in the photos of that more festive occasion.

I had been in the church often as a small boy visiting my grandparents but not since writing Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe, a story that pretty much  begins in doorway of that church (just below picture crop). The thoughts of that story were swirling 'round my head all day. I'm thankful for getting to know my mother at a deeper level the year I wrote that with her help (just months before she passed away). Like I said, being in that place at the closing of an era (embodied in my grandmother) was nothing short of surreal in many wonderful ways.

Because Grandma lived to be nearly 99, there were many ironies including the fact that she outlived one of her daughters and son-in-law (my parents). But other than those two missing characters, it was like a reunion of sorts, and the service itself was characterized much more by laughter than tears. Grandma would have liked that. (Above photo was taken by a third-cousin whom I  met through this blog and yesterday in real life for the first time.)

Grandma was also a great-grandma and a great-great grandma to my granddaughter Nora and three other babies. But her grandchildren--that's me and my cousins--were pall-bearers, and also made up a choir per Grandma's long-standing request, to sing all four stanzas of "Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In."

[This photo is of the same choir more than 42 years ago at our grandparent's 40th Anniversary at a banquet hall in Sarnia, Ontario. (That's me looking at the camera with Jimmy to my left in Kathy's arms.)]

Imagine that same group four decades later singing from behind a casket in a little church yesterday. Believe me, there is only one reason fourteen middle-aged people (six of whom are over 50--if that's middle aged) would get up and sing that song: Grandma made us do it!

There were many humorous stories shared by us middle-aged grandchildren during the service (Mine were about her use of "Ohfurgosh!" whenever hearing some tragic news story followed by advice to never do whatever caused the story, and I ended with an anecdote about the last time I danced with her when she was 93. She was understandably winded from the dancing and laughing for several minutes. As I was helping her back into her wheelchair, I said, "Grandma, you're going to sleep well tonight," and she replied, "Tom, at my age, it's not the going to sleep you worry about--It's the waking up."). There were also meaningful insights shared and a good brief sermon. The only time I had to wipe my eyes was when my cousin Bob told us that for many years he has been calling Grandma on a weekly basis, and at the end of each call, he and Grandma would sing the opening lines of this classic song. He started to sing it then had to stop with a tearful smile. I knew exactly how he felt. Even typing of it now brings back the moment. So, Bob...this clip is for you.

Original post: March 11, 2010:  "Stay By The Life Guard!"

I have often written of my Grandma Spencer, my mom's mom. We had plans to celebrate her 99th Birthday this July at Pine Grove Park in Port Huron. But it there is one thing I have learned from Grandma it's do not presume on the future, but make the most of each day God gives you.

Natalie took this picture last Thanksgiving.

My grandmother never drove a car or had a driver's license, but she always found ways to get around, always had friends who enjoyed her company. She's been to India, Jerusalem, Europe, Florida, California, to name a just few places far from home. But mostly she got around town. Until recent years, she walked nearly everywhere she went, and right up to the end she traveled by bus to get her hair done and to meet friends at the Palmer Park Rec Center to play cards once a week. All her life she lived in Port Huron. About 70 of her 99 years were spent in the same house on the corner of Forest and Riverview, just a block from Palmer Park and a couple blocks from Light House Park on Lake Huron.

When my brothers and I spent summer weeks there, we'd get pull our swim suits off the back porch railing, put them on in the front bedroom, and begin walking toward the beach. All the way down Riverview Street, Grandma would stand on the back porch by the swing and yell, "Stay by the life guard!"

She was afraid we'd start swimming at the public beach where it was safe then accidentally drift in the swift  hour-glass current of the lake there to the even swifter St. Clair River just south of it.  But we never did it accidentally. We'd go in at the old Dunn Paper Mill (nowhere near the life guard) and drift deliberately under the Blue Water Bridge (that goes to Canada). We'd pull out at the fishing shanties that used to line the river's edge by the Peerless Cement Plant and spend most of our day diving off the roofs of those old shanties. Then we'd weave the streets back to Riverview so it would look like we were returning from Light House Park. Blame it on Dad. He loved swimming in the cold swelling water in the shadow of that great bridge, and we felt the same way about it but never told Grandma. Consider this a confession of sorts...

My Aunt Jackie (Mom's sister) called last Saturday to say Grandma wasn't doing well. We've had close calls many times through recent decades, but Grandma always pulled through. This time, however, there was reason to believe her time was near. I talked to Grandma on the phone Tuesday night. At first, I wasn't sure what to say. I'd heard she played Bingo Sunday afternoon--even won a few games--but she didn't want to talk about that. She had some things she wanted to say. The kind of things a person says when there saying good-bye to those they love. The kind of things that makes you not want to hang up the phone, but just before I did she said, "I love you, Tom. I hope you never go through this. I ache all over. I'm wanting to go, ready to go, I hope I just go in my sleep. G'bye, Tom...for now." She'd never added the "for now" before. It was good to hear her say that.

My sister Kathy was with her when I called. She spent the night went home Wednesday afternoon when Uncle Dick arrived (Mom's brother, Grandma's son). About twenty-four hours later, around 1:40PM today, my Uncle Dick called me at work. He had just had lunch with Grandma. Yes, she did eat--even asked him for more salt and some sugar--then she dozed off. While she was sleeping, he went to the grocery store and got the call just a few minutes after leaving her. When I was in hospice with my mother two years ago, a nurse told me that sometimes folks wait 'till they're alone to let go.

It was a beautiful sunshiny day in Port Huron, but here where I am three-and-a-half hours west, it was dark and gloomy when I got the call. As I left the office the rain began.
Epilogue E-2 is in draft form, I'll post it soon unless more thoughts of Grandma fill my head between now and the funeral on Monday.


Blogger the walking man said...

I see I have some reading to do to get caught up! gahhh. Just had a useless body part removed so it may take me a week or so Tom but I will get caught up.

17/3/10 5:42 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Hope you came out of your surgery okay. The cyberhood is a strange place. I never cease to be amazed at the inexplicable sense of friendship that exists here. I genuinely felt bad that I didn't know you were having surgery and somehow wished I could have sent a card or something.
Take your time in getting caught up. I have gotten somewhat behind in my wrapping up of Unsettled myself.
Take care. Don't overdo it.

17/3/10 4:25 PM  

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