Friday, November 01, 2002

Thoughts : To Gran, on the Occasion of her 70th Birthday

I thought I'd open with something cute and fluffy to get the ball rolling - maybe a joke or a bit of poetry, but as I got into writing this, I started thinking about why Granny and Papa, and on this day especially Granny, are important to me. I began to consider who they are and what it is exactly that has made them such an integral part of all of our lives. So as I was saying - about mid-way through this little intro, I just held down the delete key and let 'er rip until I was back at the beginning with a little flashing cursor and a blank page.

What made me delete all I'd just written was this: Granny and Papa are important to us all, not because of some high-falutin', esoteric "reason," but because of something very tangible - their actions. So on this, Gran's very special birthday, I thought I'd recount for everybody my three favorite "Granny Memories." For you see, these are the real things that separate our Granny from the rest.

Since these are my memories they may not be spantirely accurate. After Nate's done, if you want to discuss amongst yourselves my own delusions or the way these things "really" happened, feel free.

Memory, the first:

It's a beautiful summer day and the year is about 1979 or 1980. There is probably a baby Nate in the cabin with my folks and Papa. I'm walking along the banks of the Rio Las Vacas. The river is swollen on the heels of a heavy winter, but the water is as clear as it is cold. The banks are green and overgrown with tall grass and low hanging river willows. I'm following Gran through the bushes on the far side of the river, opposite the cabin; my fishing pole is extended before me and a hook is dangling from 16 inches of line, off the tip of the rod. It's all I can do to keep from getting the tip of that pole caught in the branches of the trees, but I know Gran is in front of me so I just keep trudging along, trying not to trip.

Gran is wearing an old bucket hat and one of papa's worn button-down shirts over her t-shirt. Every now and again, I catch a glimpse of the shirt tails fluttering on the breeze as I try to keep the hook from swaying too far left or right, and not tripping over any wild rose bushes.

Suddenly, I stumble a little bit and the tip of my rod dips just a hair. I look up to see it bspant in a great arch - I've caught something! I can't believe it! It gives a good fight whatever it is, I'll tell you that much - even if I haven't made my first cast yet! As I follow the tip of my rod down the line to where the hook ought to be, I see Gran. She's trying to wriggle out of Papa's shirt, so she can remove the hook I just snagged in the shoulder. Wow! A Shirt! Little did I know that five minutes later I would catch a Hat too!

Needless to say, after the excitement of catching the fabled "Land Granny," catching a silly fish couldn't have given nearly the fight to which I'd grown accustomed. I think we just wspant back to the cabin after that. This was my first fishing lesson.

Memory, the second:

It's dark outside. The 30-minutes from Los Lunas to Taylor Ranch always goes quickly at 6:30 in the morning. My dad is waiting in the car while I fiddle with my key to let myself into Gran and Papa's house on Durksen in the chilly morning air. I wave "I'm in" to my dad and step through the doorway. The house is chilly too, but it feels full - not like an empty house. I amble into the office that was my bedroom only months before, to dump my backpack. I turn on the TV and quickly turn down the volume on Woody Woodpecker. Papa must have been watching TV while he graded papers last night.

I continue on to the back bedroom and climb onto the big bed - Gran just had surgery on her sinuses and she's begun sleeping in while recuperating. Papa left for work a little before I arrived. "Hi Gran, I'm here," I say. "Hi Bud." She always calls me bud. I think I kiss her on the cheek or something, before heading to the Kitchen to make some tea.

I fill the kettle and crank the front burner up to high. I open the under-storage freezer to see what's for breakfast and find two boxes of Toaster Strudels. "MMM! My Favorite! And, they go great with my hot tea!" Five minutes later, I'm back in the dark office, English Breakfast tea in one hand, toaster strudel in the other watching cartoons until it's time for me to leave for the bus. Sometimes it seems like Gran doesn't even have to be awake to be right there taking care of us.

Memory, the third

It's summer again - or maybe early spring. The banks of the river are green. All we talked about the whole way up from Albuquerque, were the new little rubber shads Gran and Papa brought along, which are supposed to really attract the big fish! I can hardly contain myself. I think we are in the brown Datsun, but we could be in the old white VW too - my memory on this fact is hazy. The day will be hot, even though the morning was cool and crisp.

As soon as the car stops rolling, I'm out the door with my fishing rod. I affixed the shad to the line on the drive up, and am midway through my first cast almost before I can evspan see the little gap between the bushes.

Behind me, Mom and Gran are laying things out on the tailgate and Papa and my dad are off scouting other places to drop a line in. Little Nate walks on over to stand by me and to see what I'm doing. I don't know how old he is, but I figure he's about 1 1/2 or 2. We're both used to being by the water since we fish at the cabin all the time. We think nothing of sidling up to the very edge of the bank to watch the water whip past our little spot. Suddenly, the bank under Nate's feet gives way. I think I scream, but everything got very quiet in my head, and things began happening in slow motion. I barely see Gran shoot past me and jump into the water after Nate. It seems she's handing a soaking wet, very surprised Nate to my mom almost before I have time to blink again.

Back at home, I have a book that goes with a record I like to listen to. It is a story about a boy that goes fishing with his dog and he sings a song while he's walking to the fishing hole. There's a line that goes, "God likes to talk to boys while they're fishin'." I think that God also likes to talk to Grans while boys are fishing - otherwise, how do you explain how on that day, Gran caught a Baby Nate with her bare hands?


How clearly, I could have written about 300 vignettes for all to hear how Gran has actively preserved our family over the past 27 years. We could have included Papa's and Gary's and my Mom's memories too, and added another 60 years' worth. There is no shortage of evidence for how Gran has impacted both directly and indirectly, the lives of everyone in our family. The simplest way to put it would simply be to say - "Thank you Gran, We love you."

Happy Birthday!

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