Monday, 29 December 2008

Boppa Anne

Boppa Anne wasn't my favorite grandmother growing up. She didn't spoil us; she was pushy; she was nosey; she was openly racist. Basically, she was a pain in the butt and I only liked going to see her Florida because we could catch lizards, swim in the pool and use the sauna (with our naked grandmother). But she was special. When my snowbird grandparents came "North" for visits, we would crawl into bed with Boppa Anne in the morning (even though she slept naked). when we went to Florida to visit her, we'd play rummy cube, she'd paint our fingers nails and we'd try not to look at her naked body (you get the point, my grandmother liked parading around in the buck).

In my teenage years, my grandmother's feistiness, conceit and opinionated nature rubbed me the wrong way. I remember going to visit my grandparents one year and being horrified of what she'd say if she noticed I was wearing my first bra. But it ended up being worse than I could imagine because she tried to engage me in a discussion about my period. And that same night, she made some racist statements about my sister's best friend who was African-American, "well, if that's what she considers a best friend."

As I grew up, we all began taking her statements with a grain of salt and began to really understand what kind of woman, what kind of person she was. Giving (even if she needed to know you knew she was generous) and strong. I learned how in her late teens she forced her mother and younger sister to leave their abusive father; I learned about her cross-country trip with her best friend in the 1940's - we looked at her photo albums late into the night and she told me about riding a donkey down the Grand Canyon and wanting to settle in California but having to go home because her younger brother died in the war. I learned how people thought she was crazy to marry my grandfather with his two adolescent sons in tow and then adopting them. We discussed happiness, love and how she lived with no regrets. I realized that what annoyed us so much about Boppa Anne when we were kids was that she didn't treat us like kids - she always treated us like people.

Since I've been living in France, I've tried to keep in touch. I didn't call as much as I should have. I stopped writing because she couldn't see anymore. I've visited her as often as possible. I could hear how happy she was when I called, even if it took her a minute to figure out who I was and even if she asked me the same thing 10 times? Once she even said to me, "oh, you live in France? you should meet my grand-daughter Rebecca who lives there too." It didn't matter, as long as I was happy. Over the past couple years, her mind had started to go, but her body held out. She attributed her good health to an hour swim every morning (she learned to swim in her 40's) and a daily glass of buttermilk (which she made us all drink the morning of my wedding).

The last time I saw her was two years ago when I went to Florida to introduce her to her first great-grandchild. By this point, she was blind in one eye - having fallen a few months earlier and catching her eye on the edge of a table- she was also wearing diapers. But she was still wearing her gold bangles and she still managed to get down on the floor to play with Suzanne, something she mentioned often during her last year. She couldn't quite place who any of us were, except my father, but she knew she was confused and waved it off by saying, "it doesn't matter who she is, as long as I'm someone's mother".

I should be sadder than I am that she died in hospice last night, but I keep thinking about what a full life she lived and how positive and strong she was. I was lucky to have had her in my life and glad she died the way she lived: with no regrets at the age of 95.

4 comments:

Elisabeth said...

Sorry to read about your grandmother passing away. As you said, she's had a great life (I try to look at things this way when thinking about what awaits my mother in the next few months...).

Anyway, I stopped by to wish you and your family a very Happy New Year. I hope that 2009 brings you its very finest. Think how incredibly different your daughter will be 12 months from now!

I also hope to get a chance to connect with you again in June or July.

Beth said...

You know- I don't think you "should be sadder". Your reactions sound respectful, loving and realistic.

I love how you used words to paint a portrait of a vibrant, complex woman that lived life her own way. What a great tribute.

Sorry for your loss, Reb.

Isa said...

Hi Reb,

Sorry to read about the loss of your grandmother. You had told me a few weeks ago that exchanging with her was getting hard but you nevertheless regularly thought about her; I hadn't realised then how fragile her health was.
You're handling the situation in a very positive way and I admire you for that.
I wish you a very very happy and worry-free new year: you certainly deserve it.

La Framéricaine said...

Your tribute to your grandmother is so touching, honest, and loving that it brought tears to my eyes as I was reading it today.

In your description she sounds so interesting and determined to live life on her own terms and to give intimidation a one-two punch right in the nose! Good for her.

It's exciting that she lived a life long enough to offer you such wonderful memories.

Please accept my sincerest condolences in her loss.

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