Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Requiem in Four Parts

My last two grandparents died this month- one the morning after Thanksgiving, one last night (the morning before Christmas). They weren't a matched set- one was my mother's father, the other my father's mother- but they were the last two. He was 96, she turned 87 last Thursday, the last time I saw her. I am incredibly lucky to have had grandparents into my 30s- Jackie passed when I was 34. I'm not sure there's a way to describe what the last month has been like. So I decided I'd try one of those personal posts where I talk about my feelings and myself. Skip this if you don't like that type of stuff (I don't blame you!).


This is the story not of my grandparents as people, but my grandparents as people in relationship to me. We're all heroes of our own novels or movies or something, the truism goes, in our family (did my dad tell me that or was it one of my grandparents?). If I tried to tell my grandparents' stories, I'd botch it. My cousin C is the historian on my mom's side of the family and no one really has ever documented anything that I know of on my dad's side. So I can only tell my version. It wouldn't be fair of me to blog my grandparent's lives, anyway- 80-90 years in a blog post? The parts I do get wrong, I'm sure my family will correct me/help me out- We all get it wrong, don't we?

I've always known that I was incredibly lucky to have four grandparents. I had four all the way until my freshman year in college when my grandmother past. Four grandparents who loved each other (well, they loved each other, like inside their couplings) and their offspring (my parents) and their grandchildren. Grandparent love, in my case, proved to be so powerful- so unconditional- so amazing. I know people don't all have this type of relationship- but I did. My parents grew up a mile apart from each other, in Los Angeles. My grandparents stayed in the same homes that my parents grew up in for most of my life, so we would make frequent trips to LA- an hour by plane or, less frequently, 6 hours in the car. As soon as we (my sister and I, first me solo, then sometimes the two of us- I'm older so started older- and of course sometimes K by herself) were old enough to fly alone, we were on flights down by ourselves. Sometimes we'd fly to Burbank, later only to LAX. I loved flying those pre-Southwest airplanes with the smiley-faces on the front, down to see my smiling grandparents. Two sets- so different from each other- both in a weekend, both doting.

My grandparents hated each other. I'm not exactly sure what it was, and again, I'm pretty sure someone will step in to clear it up or to correct me, but they did not like each other one bit. It may have been something between Grandma and Bert, or it might have been some kind of jealousy, but it was almost like having divorced parents. I was Grandma and Grandpa's (my mom's parents) fifth grandchild- her two oldest siblings each had two kids before me, and my sister would be their last grandchild. And I was Jackie and Bert's (my dad's parents) first grandchild. My sister would be their second and my younger cousin, their third and not quite their last- I got an adopted older cousin later. This wasn't a big problem very often- LA is a big city. They only had to be in the same room at our Bat Mitzvah's. Except something in there happened early on and it became very important that we spent exactly the same amount of time at each household when we were in LA. EXACTLY. At first the grandparents would come in and say "hi" to each other when we were transferring from one to the other. Then they'd just honk. By the end, I vaguely remember taxiing from one to the other, but this may be made up. I also remember that my sister and I were tasked with organizing the transitions as my parents gave up on being in the middle of it. Things got better, and by the end, Jackie and Grandpa were sincerely concerned about the other.

My grandparents were totally different- as individuals and as couples. We did different things when we were at their houses, which were also totally different in style and mood. What's funny is that they valued the same things in so many ways. They were all secular Jews of an era, so maybe this isn't surprising? Both couples loved to travel and liked art (different art!). Both Grandpa and Bert were amateur photographers. Grandma and Jackie were both extremely creative. Grandma took art classes and made all kinds of visual art for fun and loved to write little stories and poems. Jackie was a best selling author. They raised their children in different ways, but at the end of the day, all six of them have become successful adults. They all have bachelor's degrees and many have advanced degrees. Their children are all successful. And both couples adored their grandchildren.