Today I am thankful for my grandparents, all four of them, and thankful I got to know them while they were alive. They died in 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2010; therefore I was at very different stages of adulthood for the final years of each of their lives. I was also suspiciously available (i.e. with no full-time job to which to report) at the time of each of their deaths--I'm not sure what the cosmic significance of that is, but it certainly meant that I was able to go to each of their funerals and reflect on their lives. (This was going to be all one blog entry, but I discovered I had a lot of babbling to do about each grandparent, so I'm splitting it up into four.)
Grandma Curtis August 1918 - October 1997
My mother's mother, Geraldine Curtis, was a fantastically accomplished musician, particularly as a piano player. From a young age, she dazzled the people in and around her home in Payson, Utah, with her talent. She could play anything and everything, she could play by ear, and she sang quite a bit with my grandpa, too. She also suffered from severe arthritis that wreaked havoc on her hands and fingers, eventually bringing her to the point where she could no longer play. When my sister and I were young, we spent lots of time at the grandparents' Sun City, Arizona, house and always wanted her to play the piano. She would do so on Christmas Eve, playing any Christmas song we wanted to sing as if it were the easiest thing in the world. I play a little piano - it's not the easiest thing in the world at all, for me, and I certainly can't bust out everyone's requests without blinking an eye. I imagine she was already in great pain during the 1980s, after years of arthritis, but she pushed through it to at least make Christmas Eve magical and special for her granddaughters. Eventually that stopped, and we would all sing or do other Christmas Eve stuff, and everyone mourned the loss of Grandma's music and they still talk about little else when she is mentioned.
There was even more to her, though. She was funny in a quiet, offbeat way. For example when my mom informed her I was traveling off the beaten path to Cuba, news that provoked responses in others ranging from angry political to cautious I-would-never-do-that homebody, Grandma's comment was, "That Fidel Castro is so ugly." Hey, she was entitled to her opinion, eh? Grandma also kept up on the pop culture of the day via People magazine and she had an impressive command of soap operas. One day as a bored adolescent I was at her house and decided I was going to start watching a soap opera. This was going to be a diligent project, so I had to get all the facts from the beginning. I selected The Young and the Restless, probably because a)it was on and b)it was not General Hospital or Days of Our Lives, the ones all my friends/classmates/their sisters/their mothers watched, and I wanted to be different. I turned on Grandma Curtis' TV and she totally started telling me the back story of each character that appeared. I think she hadn't watched it since the 1970s, but it's really easy to pick up with those things, as any soap opera viewer knows. She had all the dirt - it was a great time.
I was still a young, young adult when Grandma died, and I was just getting my life in L.A. started. I felt terrible that I had not got to know her even more than I did. At the same time, she was there for every phase of my life: she made up a mini-mythology with a legend for each family member that just thrilled me as a toddler, she came to my elementary school and junior high band concerts, she cooked roast beef and got out the box of wind-up toys when I came over, she attended my play at the high school summer theater workshop I attended in Utah and a friend of mine who was also there heard her whispering excitedly to my grandfather "There's Linda!" when I made my entrance, and she and my grandpa came to sing with me and my mom in the Messiah chorus one December, probably the last time I (willingly) stepped foot in a church. I remember sitting in Barnes & Noble for hours the week after her funeral reading about arthritis and trying to figure out what life meant.
Next up: Grandpa Napikoski