Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Requiem Part Four: Jackie

When I started this, it felt too soon to write about Grandpa and Jackie. I made it through Grandpa's, even though I still haven't quite managed to wrap my head around the fact that he's dead, but I had a hard time even starting this one and then opening my computer to finish. I guess it's fine- she just died only a few days ago- but each day has felt like a week. This month of death and dying has felt alternately like a decade and like it just sped by- each day wasn't nearly enough, since it might be the last. Neither grandparent could use their email anymore, the best way to communicate with them, and it was never quite certain if calling them on the phone was a good idea- would you wake them? Would it be a good day? Would they have their hearing aides in? Would it be more trouble for them than a good thing to be talking on the phone? I know this is my story, not hers, but it's also interesting that my sister thought Jackie would live forever, and I thought Grandpa would- there was nothing wrong with him that would ever kill him. She had this same feeling about Jackie, and we're both going through it. I think I haven't let Jackie's death hit me hard yet. It will.

In retrospect, we should have known that Jackie would have a heart attack. One of the favorite stories my immediate family likes to tell about Jackie is how she would order hot chocolate (or a sundae), hold the hot chocolate. Read: serve me a cup (or bowl) of whipped cream. Jackie was born in England, so really she would have preferred clotted cream or heavy cream, but in Los Angeles, whipped cream would have to do. At one of the first meals my mom and Jackie had alone (Jackie was dad's mom), Jackie told mom it was perfectly okay to skip lunch and go straight to dessert if that was what they wanted. Why waste the calories? Jackie also believed that there were no calories if you ate off of someone else's plate. Or split a dish. I never saw Jackie cook, or eat much, let alone eat anything particularly healthy. On the other hand, she never weighed much more than 120 while I knew her, so something was working. She specialized in sushi, loved pre-cut fruit (I can't remember what she ate before they sold pre-cut fruit in the market) and never bought green bananas.

Without giving away themacinator's top secret identity (you have no idea who I am, right?), my grandmother wrote romance novels- best selling romance novels. I grew up alternately exceptionally proud and slightly embarrassed, as I am a world class prude. One of them is dedicated to me- they are all dedicated to Bert, and then each child and grandchild has one dedicated to them- and I accidentally pulled that particular one out first the other day. The inscription reads "Dear [themacinator]- When today is a long time away, read this and think of me. I love you, Jackie. (Grandma, too). September 5, 1983" Let's just say I am very proud now. [See note on the grandma thing here.]

I never really talked much to Jackie about writing the books, I don't think, or at least I can't remember. It's funny that I can't remember or didn't talk to her about it, though, since from when I was very little, I wanted to be a writer- who knows whether that's nature or nurture. I've said it throughout that there is a lot of each grandparent in me, and, although Grandma was very creative and loved to write, Jackie was the writer. She wrote meticulously researched historical fiction- a genre I adored when I was younger. I loved (and still love) everything about books and when I realized that being a professional writer was only for the Major League Baseball players of writing, like the top 0.0005%, I thought about working in publishing. When I realized that I didn't want to push paper, I dropped that like a hot potato, and as we have heard, I have just completed an #onlineschool degree in library science where I can still be as close as possible to books, authors, ISBN numbers, bisac codes, etc., without having to actually labor under false pretenses that I'm a writer. Now I wish I had asked her everything. There is so much I wish I knew- how she got her editor, what changes she accepted, if she wanted to write about sex, where her ideas came from, if she liked working under deadline or hated it, if people stopped her in the street at the height of her fame.

I mentioned Jackie was born in England- interestingly, she is my only grandparent not born in the US. She came as a young girl, and didn't have an accent. She did however, have characteristics that we blamed on/attributed to being British. We tease Dad about how "not bad" is the highest of compliments- it's not really fair to blame this on him when his mother says a meal is "decent," she's referring to Mori Sushi which is basically the best meal around. I think I've already made it clear that mastery of the English language was not a problem for Jackie. She was just British. As the twitter account @SoVeryBritish says, it's a Very British Problem to "declare yourself quite chuffed to indicate the most pleased you've ever been." She also loved tea and had rotten teeth. I don't know if it was the sweets or the British in her, but I believe I've inherited both of these (sweet tooth and bad teeth)- and yes, I'm drinking a diet soda right now. Jackie often handed out tins of these hard but chewy candies in exotic fruit flavors like I-don't-know-what-berry. My sister and I almost brought back a giant tin of them for her from New York, but the price of a tin was the price of a ticket down to see her in Los Angeles, so the purchase was vetoed.

Jackie purportedly hated to shop. She was also an excellent shopper, as in purchaser of things. We got many gifts, and when we would go to visit, there was always a shopping trip. In the beginning, these trips often included a trip to an outlandish children's store that specialized in outlandish children's clothes, many involving sequins or rhinestones. I loved these clothes. I believe the shopping hatred was more of the hassle that was involved- Jackie didn't suffer fools. In this I also take after her. She had a personal shopper at Saks. Sometimes she would call ahead to tell them she was coming and what she wanted to try on, which would cut down dramatically on the amount of hassle. She wanted us to think about what we wanted so we could go there- shopping wasn't about browsing the whole store, but about trying something (sometimes something she liked) and making sure it fit, then buying it. I don't like shopping at all, so this suited me just fine. There was a time that it didn't suit me at all- I didn't like a single thing at Saks, and for awhile I didn't want any things. Slowly, I began to accept the concept that I was going to get a thing, like it or not, and also, Jackie began to adjust what I was going to get. We'd go to a shoe store instead of the fanciest store in town that carried skater shoes or running shoes and I'd get a pair or two. We'd go to a little boutique that carried all kinds of things I would never even touch, but she would tell me she had seen a scarf she thought I'd like and it would be just inoffensive that she was right, I would like it.

Jackie had exquisite and expensive taste, though not gaudy. She wore hand painted shoes, always had a new Lexus, even after she didn't drive, and hired Disney's interior decorator for her condo. She bought the condo when Bert was first getting sick- she wanted him to be able to enjoy it and she wanted to move before it was a hassle to do so. So out of the house in Bel Air and into the condo in West LA. The condo was huge. Like, three times the size of my house for two and then one elderly people and one tiny dog. She spent most of her last ten years walking back and forth approximately 6000 times a day in that condo- like mall walking in your own home. She spent the first few years with Pepi (Pepi 2, the dog the and Bert shared) and then the next few with Kobe. After Pepi died, I came to LA to help try and find her a dog. After failing miserably, she found a dog through a doggy matchmaker- something VERY LA. That little dog lived the high life and was also perfectly matched for her (and is also a perfect dog). One day, I hope to live all by myself with a dog and go out once a week. (Note: I only leave the house a few times too many a week, or I'd meet this goal now- something else I get from Jackie.) When we would come to visit, after she stopped fighting over the time we spent with Grandpa and Grandma, so sometime in our late teens/early adulthood, we'd spend the mornings with Jackie and then get gracefully kicked out of the house and head to Grandpa's. A woman had to have her private time, after all.

Jackie was exceptionally generous with her money. It's been hard for me to accept this money, as all of my grandparents and parents were exceptionally wise adults and taught their offspring the value of a dollar and the value of fending for themselves. (I don't know that I've written here about how many times my dad told me I was out of the house when I was 18. He only sort of meant it?) Jackie always wanted to pay for my health insurance. She was my "phantom roommate" whenever I needed it, and the last couple of years, even when I didn't. She funded the Jackie [insert last name] Scholarship fund for two years of undergrad. She REALLY wanted to pay for #onlineschool, and I took to sneaking in payments before she knew they were due so that I could feel somewhat independent. This is privilege, and it is brought to me by Jackie (and others, of course- but especially Jackie).

She loved to travel and took the entire family and chunks of family on lots of trips. She was on the Nile with Bert when I was born. We went to Israel (one of my least favorite places ever, but hey, I've been, thanks to Jackie!) and several times to a dude ranch called Alisal. I've mentioned that they went to the Olympics with Dad and my sister, and there was a trip to China with her kids and I'd venture to guess she and Bert went to almost every continent. I remember trips to Epcot and Disney World- so many trips!

It's only fair to also include that Jackie could be moody and grumpy and bossy. I mean, I don't want to paint this last picture as the only blemish free one- since it isn't. I believe the words "queen mother" were used to describe her more than once. Generally, though, with the grandkids, she was, if not warm, kind. And if we didn't get a lot of hugs, she did say "I love you" before she hung up the phone, or "kiss, kiss." There was no doubt in my mind, ever, that she loved me.

Strangely, Jackie's death mirrored Grandpa's in many ways, which is why these last few months has been especially hard for my immediate family, and especially odd since they're not a pair- I feel like many elderly pairs go quickly one after another. Not only were these not a pair, they didn't even like each other for so many years! About a month after Grandpa fell, Jackie fell. She didn't even go to the doctor at first but someone insisted she go, and she ended up with staples in her head, but not much more. No one was quite sure why she fell (at least, at this point, with all of this, I can't remember). She never really got all the way better after this, just like Grandpa. She had been healthy, for an 86 year old, just like Grandpa. Both of them got shots in their eyes for macular degeneration, and she suffered from anxiety-related vertigo, but really, that was it. She got the flu after that, and then a massive heart attack. She was in the hospital, then moved to rehab and never left rehab. I saw her exactly a week before she died, on her 87th birthday. She REALLY wanted birthday cake, and the lady got birthday cake- a massive one from her dog walker. She had her hair done and told everyone she was turning 67. From what I hear, it was her last best day, and it wasn't all that good. I'm glad she went quickly- she wouldn't have wanted to be undignified even that long.

So that's it for the grandparents. I mean, that's really it. There aren't anymore. There will be a postscript soon.