Saturday, November 26, 2005

All About my (grand)Mother

.. and other relatives.

Took a drive down to Southern Maryland with the folks to see some relatives. My mom's only living cousin on her mother's side has lived in MD for 20 yrs or so and it has been almost 40 yrs since they last saw each other. Immediately, he recognized his aunt in my mom. As I look back at pictures, I see so much of my mom in my grandmother, so I can understand why she looked so familiar to him even after all these years and even with macular degeneration.

It was interesting to listen to the conversation as it seemed like they were able to pick up where the left off the last time they saw each other. Even at the age of 83, his memory is great and he recalled their first house on Palmer, the next on Wolfram, and the third and final (where my aunt - mom's sister) still lives on Woodward Ave. My grandma was his favorite aunt as she took him to the opera and ballet, which he still enjoys. She was the youngest of 4 children and he was about 17 yrs younger than her, so he was the younger brother she never had. My grandmother also didn't marry until she was about 33 and spent her 20s traveling. She went camping in the Canadian Rockies, visited the Grand Canyon, and loved to travel by rail. I'd like to think of my grandmother as a very liberated woman and I can't think of many women that did this in late 1930s. When she married my lawyer grandfather and had 5 kids (plus 2 miscarriages) in 10 years, I know she still dreamed of traveling. She lived with my mom's older brother and younger sister until she died in 1991 and she loved to watch videos about trips to Ireland, Hawaii, and New Zealand.

My mom's cousin was in the Navy for 30 years and retired as a Master Chief. He traveled all over the world and he told us that one time his ship returned to California for repairs - 3 weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked. He spent five years in Hawaii, but one of his last, and favorite, stops was in Reykjavik, Iceland. He met his third wife there and has he puts it, "brought home a souvenir". She puttered around the house as my mother and him talked and it wasn't until she brought a cake out to the table that she was preparing food. Skipping to the good stuff, she had Icelandic pancakes (crepes) which were filled with jam and whipped cream, poundcake-like bread with a lemon topping drizzled over top, sliced hard boiled eggs on small pieces of bread topped with a piece of herring (blech!), apple pie, and some layered cake that was phenomenal. Then she brought out this bread cake that was made out of layers of tuna and shrimp. It looked like it was covered in potato salad and had shrimp covering the outside.. topped with chopped red and green peppers. My stomach churned a little bit when she cut into it. I stuck with the pancakes and cake.

Over this meal of sweets, her cousin and his wife talked of their travels. They've been to Europe many times, to the Scandinavian counties, Russia, and took off for 2 months and drove East to West and back. They would head out with no plans, no hotel reservations, and pretty much make things up as they went along. They met a lot of people that helped them along the way, especially on a trip to Greece, and believe the best way to communicate, even with the language barrier, is to be courteous and respectful. Even her thick, Icelandic accent was hard to decipher sometimes, but as the night wore on she became easier to understand.

Their house was full of pictures and trinkets of items she bought/collected on her trips and she spoke openly and casually of her children and siblings, some of which have passed. Her oldest brother had been a truck driver since the age of 16 and was only in the states for a few years before driving an 18 wheeler across Texas, having a heart attack at the wheel at the age of 43, and crashing and burning. Her son stepped on a land mine in Vietnam and was eventually buried back in Michigan, where he had just moved to. She mentioned a time how she went to see his grave and struck up a conversation with a Hungarian gentleman who was taking care of the plots of his own relatives. Her son's birthday was coming up and she asked if he would be able to place flowers there for her. She gave him money and continued to do so over the years to pay for the flowers. He would send pictures every so often of the headstone with flowers.

It's amazing how much I don't know about my family. It was fascinating to sit there and listen to my mom and her cousin talk. I also think of how he and his wife have traveled so much and how I yearn to just get up and go. I was also surprised to learn that I (sort of) have a relative listed on the The Wall. It is one of my favorite memorials and this just makes it more special.. more personal.

Days like this make me thankful to have my health, my mind, my body, my spirit, and such a great family.


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