Thanksgiving was always the main family holiday get-together dinner.
Since grandpa was a smart businessman and lacked the constitution to give up, it’s acceptable he died on a Black Friday under anesthesia due to surgery. At 92, we figured, and joked, that he’d outlive all of us.
“Sh*t, the man beat cancer.”
“He survived COVID-19—twice.”
“He buried his wife 30 years ago. His youngest son three years ago, and many other family and friends along the way.”
I thought of him as a superhero with the ability to live forever.
The day after Thanksgiving I woke up to a missed call from my brother. I thought it was about the Black Friday friend/family dinner planned for “buy nothing day.” That was what our conversation was about when I called him back. I had talked to our dad the day before and was going to tell my brother about grandpa falling when I saw him instead of over the phone.
Then he called again. He said he wanted to tell me in person but figured it was probably better to tell me over the phone instead of in person while I was around 20-ish people. He talked to dad that morning and grandpa died.
My last grandparent just died, so I’m going through my memories of him. My superhero died. I’m shocked he lasted 30 years after grandma. My family can have a morbid sense of humor. When grandma died, the conversation came up of how long until grandpa follows.
Seriously, who picked 30 years in the bet!
Maybe that was why he died the way he did—under anesthesia.
My brother, my son, and I road-tripped from Florida to Ohio for the funeral. It was a quick trip. We got there a few hours before going to the funeral home and left the next day. Grandpa didn’t want a big to-do about dying or being put in the ground, but damn it, I had to say goodbye and see it through. “I intend to visit my grandma and uncle’s graves anyway before leaving back to Florida. We might as well be there when they lower him into the ground,” I said.
Not only was I a pallbearer, I requested to watch as they lowered the coffin down into the ground next in line with grandma and my uncle. It felt like something I needed to do—to process, for closure, to see his wishes carried out for his final resting space. Also, I have guilt for not being there when my uncle was buried. I made the choice of not risking my job instead.
After leaving the cemetery, we went to grandpa’s house.
Thank goodness because there were two things I wanted from that house: a specific blanket and a particular mirror.
The mirror was the one that my grandma used every morning. We would sit there drinking coffee, talking, and “waking up for the day” while she put on her face.
When I asked my grandpa for it while there for a visit, he said, “No.”
The blanket was another item I asked for that he wouldn’t let me take. Both items understandably so.
His wife used that mirror every day, and his mother made that blanket.
My great grandma, Goldie, made that blanket. And it looks almost identical to the one she made me. When a baby was born, she made a blanket for them. Mine got lost in transition, during a move. My brother’s, the last one she made, got destroyed after years of use.
So—by my calculations and the story I was told—this is the last surviving family blanket made by great grandma, Goldie.
This blanket has extreme sentimental value to me. I easily told immediate family of wanting this mirror and this blanket. My brother had another particular item he wanted—the sign from their store, The Jean Scene.
When we arrived at the house from the funeral home, we paused for a bit—taking it all in. This is grandma and grandpa’s house, and now, both are gone.
I don’t know who went first or if we went simultaneously toward our desired item, but we knew exactly where to go.
My brother went to the basement; I went to the linen closet.
The blanket was right where I left it last time I was there. Same as the sign/letters my brother wanted.
When I pulled the blanket out of the linen closet, I hugged it, feeling the generations imprinted on this cloth. And the smell, similar to how an old book smells after letting it sit on a shelf for a while.
It took what seemed forever before I could set it down, hesitating to let it leave my arms because I was marking it as mine and I didn’t want to let it go. “I’ve waited 30 years for this blanket. I’m gonna hold onto this for a minute to add my own imprint,” was going through my mind.
The mirror was not in its usually kept space. Turns out grandpa used it when shaving. It was in his things from the nursing home. So this item was something special they both used on a regular basis. When I described it to my stepmom, she knew where the mirror was from the bags of items from the nursing home and handed it to me. Again, I took it in my arms and hugged it—with the blanket—hesitant to set them down.
Then I went looking through drawers. I can’t go to grandma and grandpa’s without looking through drawers. There’re drawers everywhere in that house, and I was raised to do this shortly after arrival anyway.
When we got on grandma’s last nerve, she told us to “go play in a drawer.” There was always such weird, random sh*t in every drawer. It was a game to see what we could find.
One time, going through drawers, I found a picture of grandpa in an army uniform. That’s how I found out he was in the Korean War. He never talked about it! I had no idea he was in the military until I asked about this picture. Even when I asked, I was only told he was in the army and fought during the Korean War. I didn’t know he was awarded a Bronze Star until I read his obituary.
While growing up, certain stories get passed down through generations. “You need to know who and where you come from.” Listening to these stories reinforced a family code—morals, values, ethics…both good and bad.
I remember my great grandma, Goldie. The one who made the blanket.
From digging in the garden with her for potatoes and carrots to not flushing toilet paper. Because, yes, they had just gotten indoor plumbing for the toilet.
When going to the bathroom, you were reminded to put toilet paper in the garbage can and not the toilet. The outhouse still remained on the property, though—in case of emergency.
This was a good, old-fashioned, hillbilly, Kentucky house. There was a cast iron stove in the living room for heat, a garden where you picked what you ate that day, and a beautiful wraparound porch with swings.
I remember big Sunday family meals from scratch—eggs (usually cooked to preference), biscuits, gravy, bacon, potatoes, and possible other requests depending on what was on hand. There were always blankets around for if you got cold. I was a baby the first time I visited that house, and the story goes that since there wasn’t a crib or anything for a baby, they cleaned out a dresser drawer, and that was where I slept.
At 15, I got that call—great grandma, Goldie, died.
The phone rang and I paused for a second, knowing I was answering to news that was going to hit me sideways. When I hung up the phone, it was raining. Immediately, I went outside to sit in the rain.
While feeling the rain pour over me it felt like my tears were amplified and falling from the sky washing over me. My thoughts shuffled through everything that related to my great grandma. As I breathed with and through the rain, these memories cemented in me. So, yes, I know the story of this blanket, and I know the woman who made it.
Now, I’m able to add my own stories to the mix and hope to pass on an updated version of a “family code” to the next generation. My stories like getting a call from the doctor’s office confirming I was pregnant the same day my mom brought home my prescription to start taking birth control pills.
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