Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Grammy Barbara's Flannel Nightgown

I didn't know the week I spent with Grammy Barbara was going to be the last time I saw her in her home. My grandpa, Robert Gay, and Barbara moved to Venice, Florida when I was about 15. She was his second wife so we were taught to call her Grammy Barbara. I didn't think anything of that until one day she questioned why us kids didn't just call her Grammy. I didn't know either. Just following suit. I never knew her to be anything other than my grandmother so from then on I called her Grammy. When I was a little girl, she was the one who loved the cartoons I drew and made me feel creative, special and loved.

When my husband and I owned our youth sports photography business, we were asked to put together a photo kiosk and hire the help to run it for an old fashioned roller coaster that was being built outside of Fort Lauderdale. My husband basically lived in Florida for 6-plus months. Shortly there after I followed  and lived there roughly 4-months through mid-January.

The experience of being involved with a photo kiosk for an old-fashioned rollercoaster was something we had never done before. It was an adventure. We were entrusted with installing a photo kiosk to capture the thrill ride expressions of peoples elation, or screams, when going down the slope on a rollercoaster.  Not many people can say they did that. We're thankful for the experience and the many friendships made.
December 2000
Testing out my husband's photo booth
with Cyndi Jo and Bill who visited.
Dania Beach Florida is on the east coast and my widowed Grandmother was in Venice on the west coast. Living in Connecticut I didn't see her as often as I would have liked so I stole the opportunity in October 2000 to go visit and spend close to a week. I welcomed the solitude of the 3-hour drive which was roughly 200 miles across alligator alley. The landscape and the bird sightings were phenomenal.

This visit gave us a chance to get to know each other, now as adults, one on one, and meet some of her close friends who lived in the same trailer park. She had her favorite chair in the middle of her open space living room facing the T.V.. To the left of it was a little bathroom size waste pail where she collected her garbage. She didn't want the trash to pile high so her garbage was to go out every night.

Oxygen was delivered to help her breathe better as she fought emphysema from years of smoking. The tank sat near her chair with a long hose to maneuver through the house although she didn't have to be attached to it all the time. Sometimes she used her nebulizer, inhaler.

I assumed I would be sleeping in the guest room. So when it came time to go to bed I headed that way. But Grammy whined and shrieked, "Nooooo! You sleep in here with me."

This was a side of her I didn't know. She's not a fragile sort of gal so it kind of surprised me. I said, "No Gram, I don't mind sleeping in the other room." Again she shrieked, "No you sleep with me."
It's not that I didn't love her, it's just that I'm used to my own space. I didn't know her in this way.

Well she won as I settled into one of the twin beds in her room. She fell asleep and I tossed and turned as I listened to her struggle to breathe and wondered if she stopped. But she didn't. It was just what she sounded like during the night with emphysema. Her insistence had taken me out of my comfort zone which preferred privacy and quiet. But as I listened to her sleep and cough and wheeze, I realized it was no longer about me. I felt responsible and on watch.

Towards the end of my stay she insisted on taking me to Sharky's On the Pier and buying dinner. But the best part was the pina colada she said was a must. Well, why would I argue?! Let me tell you that was the best pina colada I ever had as we toasted to our girls night out and watched the Florida sunset on the water. I loved this woman's spunk! No oxygen tank was going to hold her back from enjoying life. Her wit and humor were what I remembered as a child. When she told a joke or simply a story her eyes sparkled while her Massachusetts accent came through her husky smoked lungs. She puckered her lips, made a whistle noise with no whistle, rolled her eyes and bobbed her head while she'd say "Wooohooo" or "Whoopee!" with a little attitude! She made me laugh. She was a hoot!

I returned to join my husband in Dania Beach for the grand opening of the roller coaster. Shortly after that I received a call in December that Grammy was back in the convalescent home struggling with her emphysema. Back across alligator alley I went and lived in her home for a week so I could drive to the facility daily to visit with her and try to allay her fears by having normal conversations.

I met Arthur Olsen who was there visiting his wife in the Alzheimer's ward. He volunteered his time to help cheer up patients so I met the man who would engage my Grammy in conversation like an old lost friend who could make her smile. You wouldn't know from his demeanor that his wife didn't remember who he was. For some time to follow, he and I became pen-pals.

Because it was Christmas I brought Gram a gift. What do you get somebody who has to drag around an oxygen tank and hopes to be back home soon? An oversized flannel nightgown. Something that is warm and cozy and slips on and off easily.
December 2000
Grammy is "oooing" like she often did,
wondering what it is.

Grammy Barbara's Flannel Nightgown
Christmas 2000
Venice, Florida
Although we hoped for her to return home soon, the rest of her family had been notified so they could be prepared. To the best of my ability with the convalescent home, many questions later and getting an understanding of grams list of meds, I had to go back to Dania Beach. Our job was done so we were packing it up to go back home to Connecticut.
January 5, 2001, out for a farewell dinner, I received the call. Grammy Barbara had died. Rather than going north, we drove, once again, across alligator alley to help clean up her home and put together a memorial service along with the aide of Kimmy, her devoted granddaughter.

Among her belongings was the huge blue flannel nightgown I had just given her for Christmas.

I took it with me and have worn it every winter for the past 17 years. Last winter I noticed a tear in the back where the fabric had worn out over time, but I kept wearing it. This winter I noticed the tear grew bigger so I wore a tank top underneath.
The flannel nightgown
17 years later
the tear
I suppose one day I'll have to throw it out, but for now, even though it's only a nightgown, I'll keep wearing it when I'm cold. Maybe I'll even stich up the tear. But for now it reminds me how I squirmed in my discomfort to sleep in her room while she coughed. And it reminds me that had I not had that experience I wouldn't have learned that this tough old broad wasn't so tough after all.
Rather, she was endearing like a little girl who shrieked, "No you sleep with me, I'm afraid."

The nightgown reminds me how God can still wrap me up in his warm cozy flannel while I learn to trust during the frailty of life while experiencing the intimacy of the unknown. Isn't this where our greatest lessons often come from.
October 2000
On our way to Sharky's for a pina colada
My favorite picture of her waving
through the sunroof of our car.


Anonymous said...

April 12, 2017 from S.B.(FLA)
I can so relate to this story, TS. Growing up in south fl and know so intimately the placed you visited. And I was always surrounded by the elderly including my grandparents. Now back home I am often reminded of my youth and the community of grandparents I had who were not just blood relatives. Sometimes I crawl back into those memories and thank God for them.

Anonymous said...

Beth Grotton Werner wrote on FB: Beautiful writing, Tammy Sue. Can you make a pillow out of it? It may last longer that way.

April 12 at 9:02pm

Anonymous said...

Janine Cote on FB wrote:
How tender this story is, full of your heart felt love for this woman, who remains as near to you as a soft, worn flannel nightgown. You're right, the Lord does wrap us in His arms in the same way. How fortunate we are to know Him this way. Thank you for this story Tammy Sue.

April 13, 2017 Yesterday at 8:29am