Sunday, May 9, 2010

Memories of Anna 1911-2010

In loving memory of Anna 1911-2010

My "Girls" Wendy and Anna

Although it’s not nice to reveal a ladies true age, this isn’t something Ann ever had a problem with…as far as I know. Although she did insist on 18 candles for her last birthday cake. She always acted as if she was younger than her years.

I feel fortunate to have known her for almost a quarter of the century she most fully lived. I don’t know the parts before. A child of immigrants, bread lines of the depression, growing up in Milwaukee…we never spoke about that.

I did hear bits and pieces from your single years. Working as a switch board operator for AT&T. Riding street cars with your girlfriends to dances at the Eagles Ballroom. Dances with the sailors who had leave in Chicago or Milwaukee. Then the trials of the Big War.

Some friends had money, some didn’t. All were taken care of and had good times despite the hard times.

Travel. Someone had a car. Girls on dirt roads. Friends posing in fancy outfits on bridges that likely don’t exist any more. Real adventure.

Always ready to go. The travel bug never ceased to bite. Camping with your family. You and grandpa sleeping in a teardrop camper while the boys each occupied a seat of the old sedan. Northern Wisconsin get-a-way’s in the early years. What must the mosquitoes have been like?!?

Fishing and hunting. The only woman allowed at the sacred deer camp that the old school house was. Maybe it was because you owned it? More than likely it was because you were respected as one of the “guys”.

Later there was a cottage where you had camped in long lake. Then basement was dug under it. Too deep you kept telling your husband! It became a retirement home for you both, but only for a short time before your husband left the earth. I never met him. But you weren’t alone. You had your boys to watch over you and grand-kids that visited every week-end they could.

Still the travel bug bit. A year had passed. It was time to get out of your funk you said. Time to get moving. Winter trips to Florida to chase away the blues. Joining the senior gals for card parties and bus trips to casinos and other attractions.

When we moved to Las Vegas you were one of our first guests. Hot tubs, nickel slots and the Gold Coast buffet. Let’s go see the Polish style oohm-pa-pa band up on Mount Charleston, then down to Red Rock Canyon. Feed the fish at Lake Mead, see Hoover much to do.

Drive to California. Meet my Grandfather and his wife in Fullerton. See the beach. Toes in the Pacific. The second ocean, plus the Gulf waters. Add this to most of the Great Lakes. What a tally.

On to a bed and breakfast on Balboa Island. Then to San Diego. What fun. Let’s do it again.

But then we moved back to Wisconsin. Closer now. Our 5th wedding anniversary. As I stood in the door of your cottage, saying good-bye after our visit. I mentioned our trip plans. “Where ya goin? Hawaii? Oh…I always wanted to see Hawaii…”

Come with us. “No I couldn’t.” Why not? Yes you can and you will. “Yes, why not, I’ll go.” With a smile that lit up November.

We have two weeks: plane tickets, planning, a trip to Milwaukee for new eye glasses. We fly separately because my free mileage tickets are on two different airlines. My bad. My flight is great. I have the rental car waiting for you both. You and Wendy traveled together and look beat. No one at any airport will help with the wheel chair during transfers. Wendy has just run a marathon, pushing you along within the crowds. But you made it. As soon as the warm breezes hit you, both are smiling.

I had no idea until yesterday, at the funeral, that both your brothers served during WWII and both were in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. No wonder you wanted to come here.

We are out in Pearl Harbor, at the memorial, 56 years later. We are told we should all be reverently quiet. You search the wall for names you knew. I didn’t grasp what you told me then. I do today.

Lighter moments follow. A drive around the island. We grab some fresh fruit and lunch and eat at a park on the beach. We stop next at the famous North Shore. I wheel your chair down through the sand to the waters edge. Toes again in the Pacific. The South Pacific this time. You add it to your tally.

The surfers are warming up for an upcoming competition. One sees you standing in the waves and offers his surfboard to you for a ride. It’s all we can do to talk you out of it. You pout, then laugh.

The waves sweep you off your feet. It’s our fault really. You can’t take grandma’s to the water and not expect them to go swimming. We should have brought a change of clothes. Wet shorts the rest of the day. No complaints, just giggles from the back seat as we continue to circumnavigate the Big Island that day.

Over on Maui our ocean view room is anything but. Only if you sit in just the right spot on the balcony and crane your neck. Oh well. You sit on the beach and we snorkel. On our anniversary you insisted we go off and have dinner, just the two of us. Dinner was a bust. Too close to the lobster tank. We’re both too empathetic for that. Poor service to boot.

No, the thing I remember most vividly about that night is coming home and seeing you had, by yourself, dragged the chaise lounge and a lamp out on the balcony. You had a beer in one hand and one of your ever-present crossword puzzles in the other. You had enjoyed the sunset and were taking in the breeze. We all laughed.

Then there was the luau on the beach. Much better than our first visit 5 years ago. No hi-balls but the punch sure had a punch. Don’t get me started on how Wendy finagled a ride back to the room on a golf cart. The luau photo we took of the three of us, all decked out in our Hawaiian prints, is my favorite of the trip. The frame is ringed with the sea shells of the leis we wore that night. You had it on the wall of your cottage, then your nightstand the past few years and finally at your funeral yesterday.

That is how I’ll remember you. Always ready to go. Somewhere. Anywhere.

It was only a few years until you came to live with us. We thought we had lost you. You bounced back after a few months. Travel wasn’t possible like it used to be. You still wanted to go. Short trips around the block in the chair. Going out to eat. Sitting on the front porch we built for you, taking in the sun and breeze. Wendy named it Anna’s Cabana.

Later you needed more care than we could provide. Our little house wasn’t designed for this. We weren’t able…I’m sorry.

Saint Ann’s Rest Home. A fitting name now that I think about it. Nun’s in full-proper habits every day, no matter the weather. I think of the word “Penguins” because of an old line from a movie, but dare not to say it. Nor do I tell them I’m a Lutheran for fear of…well Nuns!

Floors you can see your reflection in. Gardens full of flowers and vegetables that we wheel through. Always something to discover. A day care next door. You can hear the children playing through your window. We made sure you had a window facing south. A body needs sun.

So much different from the other “homes” we checked out which were nothing more than elderly warehousing. This place and those who work and serve here are wonderful. I can’t thank them enough.

This is the time for memories. Fortunately you have many for review. Many shared. Many, I’m sure you didn’t. In fact, you always seemed to be more interested in asking me questions than answering. Always wanting to know, “what’s new?” and “whacha been up too?” “Anything exciting?”

Your life couldn’t have always been as good as you made it out to be. Your health wasn’t always as good as your remembered. But you always said you were fortunate. For family, friends, health and opportunities not missed and never taken for granted.

In the end it wasn’t a long struggle. It was as if a switch had been turned off. Rest Anna. You’ll soon feel better. That was Sunday May 2nd.

As she fell in and out of consciousness I whispered goodbye and told her to be good. She pursed her lips, as she often did for fun and without opening her eyes, shook her head a defiant: No. I said, “you’re right, you have more fun being sassy.” She shook her head: Yes. I told her I loved her and left, knowing this was the thought she would leave me with. Classic Anna.

You were gracious. You were kind. You were my extra “bonus” grandma that my wife freely shared.

Where should we go today, you would ask.
Where would you like to go?
Anywhere fun, you would answer.