crossing over

untitled, 2003 -- by chad

Normally my life is quite happy and relatively drama-free, except for problems my friends may be having. I'm usually the calm, stable one that people come to for guidance and comfort. Lately though, it seems everything has been unraveling for me, and when it rains, it pours. I knew something was up this morning when I opened up gmail and saw this message from Chris A.:

Chad - URGENT!

Call your parents ASAP.

Deep down, I knew what had happened. I got the same feeling back in 1999, when I was in the middle of the California AIDS Ride, when a team-mate handed me his cellphone and said, "You need to call home right now." Turned out my grandmother, Mimi, had died and I had to leave in the middle of the ride...I had 24 hours to get from Lompoc, California, to Cleveland, Ohio. And I had to somehow get to San Francisco first.

But that's another story for another day. It involves trains, planes, Greyhound buses, breaking into my old Haight/Ashbury apartment, an unsupportive ex-boyfriend, and sunburned retinas. I kinda don't want to think about it.

So after reading that message from Chris A., I picked up my cellphone, where I saw I had 8 new messages, 14 missed calls (I had my ringer off, and I slept in this morning), all from my mom, dad, and sisters. When something goes down in my family, and one of us can't be contacted immediately, they'll start calling my friends (mom insisted on Michael B. and Chris A.'s phone numbers). I knew what was coming next, and my call to my folks in Cleveland confirmed my fears.

This morning, my last remaining grandmother passed away at the age of ninety-eight and a half.

She had been ill for a while, but she was a tough old Slovak bird, and had hung on until the end. She didn't get sick until she was 98, then her memory started failing, and her body started shutting down.

She had been suffering lately, and I knew the moment was near...it was one of the things that has been adding to my stress lately, and making me a bit more emotionally-charged than usual. I mean, I've been through a lot in the past 2 weeks: I was incredibly sick, then broke up with Chris F., then more bad news about another friend of mine, got a sinus infection which is making my head throb right now, knowing my grandmother was in the hospital, suffering, and how my father was probably hurting inside but not being outwardly obvious about it. It was all starting to pile up on me, and trying to keep my sense of humor about everything got increasingly difficult.

It started earlier this week when I got this message from my mom the day after Valentine's Day:

...Gram is slowly failing. The nursing home called dad on Sunday night to say she had taken a turn for the worse. However, when Dad went to see her yesterday, she seemed to be resting comfortably. She was sleeping and I'm not sure she knew he was there.

I have a favor to ask. Can you write something about Gram - something affectionate, and yet it could be funny, something that Dad would appreciate and something you could read at her funeral - not necessarily a eulogy, but it could be...

I started thinking about what I'd write for her...not wanting to do it before she died, but definitely started outlining something. Suddenly, a memory surfaced that I hadn't thought about in years and years, and made me laugh.

It was back in the summer of 1983. My sisters and I were staying at my grandmother's house out in then-rural but now suburbia Wickliffe, Ohio (pronouced wick-liff, not why-cliffie as some people tend to do). My parents had gone out of town for the weekend, so off to Gram's we went. She wasn't used to having kids around, so there wasn't any milk. Gram took some powdered non-dairy creamer, added some water, and poured it on my sisters' cereal.

Done. Problem solved (in her eyes). My 7 and 10 year-old sisters were horrified. Seeing this, I elected to eat mine dry (and continue to do so to this day).

She was Slovak, and proud of it, but never bragged. Her house, always spotless and neat as a pin, was filled with pictures and tchotchkies (the electric statue of Mary and the 3D Jesus in a brass frame stand out in my memory especially), and she was always - ALWAYS - baking. There's an old Slovak proverb, "Láska ide cez žalúdok." The literal translation is "Love goes through the stomach." Gram showed us the love. Her kitchen was filled with cookies and pastries she had baked, especially her patitza poppy seed roll. She'd make a garlic and leek potato soup and of course, my very, very favorite thing in the entire world: Halupki.

Good, good 'eatin. We'd always be full, but rather gassy.

On sunday, we went to mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Wickliffe. I learned the hard way Gram didn't think talking in church was appropriate, because when I leaned over to whisper something to my sister, Gram discreetly, but forcefully cracked me on the face and ear with her hand with deadly Slovak accuracy.

Point made, Gram. Ow.

After mass, we piled into her avocado-green 1969 Plymouth Duster and started driving back to her house. The old 1420 WHK was booming away on the AM radio, which at the time was an obnoxious country station with an even more obnoxious DJ named Gary Dee. I asked if I could change the station, and Gram said, "Sure."

I switched it to 1100 WWWE (3WE for you Clevelanders over 30), which was playing "Every Step You Take" by the Police on The American Top 40 with Kasey Kasem. I settled down into the avocado green vinyl seat, and started singing along.

"What the hell is this crapola?" exclaimed Gram.

"The Police," I replied.

"The Police? Where?" Gram panicked and slammed on the brakes. Now, keep in mind this was a 1969 Duster and didn't have regular seatbelts in the front, only lap belts (I wasn't wearing mine...it was 1983), and the ones in the back had fallen behind the seat years ago. So none of us were belted in when the car came to a screeching halt in the middle of Euclid Avenue.

I cracked my head against that metal Duster dashboard (apparently, safety wasn't an issue in 1969), and my sisters went flying off the vinyl back seat into the back of the bench front seat, and my youngest sister landed on the floor of the backseat with a thud. Rubbing my head, I peered over the seat into the back to see if my sisters were all right. We were all a bit dazed and confused, but seemingly okay. We all kinda rolled our eyes.

"Ya gotta hold on!" Gram said.

I put the radio back to WHK. We drove in dazed silence after that, save for the voice of Marty Robbins crooning out of the center speaker in the middle of the dashboard.

I hadn't thought about that in years. It made me smile, and I'm going to keep in mind when I write her eulogy later. I'll have to get a bottle of her favorite liquor, DeKuyper Blackberry Brandy (Gram always referred to it as "the good stuff"), and mix it with ginger ale like she did as I write her eulogy.

I'll call it a Helen, after my grandmother. And you'd better believe I'll always use the good stuff. Life is way too short and precious not to do so.

I'm gonna miss you, Gram. Milujem t'a, baba.

Now I have to get ready to go to Cleveland. I'm going to just put the events of the past few weeks behind me now, and focus on being with my family.

Like Lily Tomlin said in the movie Nine to Five, "I'm a tree...I can bend."



At 14:47, Blogger Knottyboy said...

You've shown grace and acceptance with those things thrust at you, under the pain you're quite the man. Safe travels, swift return.

At 16:18, Anonymous Anonymous said...


So sorry to hear of your grandmother's passing... but it sounds like she lived a long, full life... and it sounds like you have many wonderful memories of her. Hold on to that, OK?

I'm still pissed at you, but I kinda wish we could find a way to patch things up and be friendly again... I didn't realize you had ties to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Wickliffe... as it turns out, we might know some people in common. An old friend of mine used to go there and in fact grew up right down the block, where his family still lives. His grandmother, who passed away about ten years ago, would've been roughly your grandmother's age... I wonder if they knew each other and were friends...?

Dan D., Chicago

At 17:24, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to read of this news. You and your family will be in my thoghts and prayers.

Your Grandmothere did know how to show the love through her cooking and baking. Memories that will live on and on. Bless her heart.



At 17:47, Blogger Skij Yesh On Domorrow-Walker said...

That's a great untitled photo, Chad - very impressive.

At 18:36, Blogger Recycled Soul said...

Hey Chad...

I know for me, the passing of some I was related to is cause for complete meltdown, so I admire your ability to laugh in the face of tragic times.

I never know what is appropriate to say in times of death, everyone views the process and experience differently. I'm sure though, if the other side exists, that you've got one more soul pulling for you.


At 06:11, Blogger Mariana said...

So sorry about your loss, Chad. You're such a terrific person. And the photo is lovely as usual.

At 08:39, Blogger rich said...

this song played on launch as i read this post...

Hear You Me by Jimmy Eat World

There's no one in town I know
You gave us some place to go.
I never said thank you for that.
I thought I might get one more chance.
What would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.
May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.
So what would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.
May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.

How ever close or far the lyrics may relate to your life right now, what I really want to say is I hope you and your family find closure in the coming weeks. (it only took me a year to find mine)

At 18:46, Anonymous Brian said...

Wonderful story, Chad. So sorry you're visiting our little hamlet under such sad circumstances.


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