Goodbye, Grandma Neva

We lost Grandma Neva yesterday morning. She was 88 and had led a long, loving life. Together with Grandpa, she visited 48 states, Mexico, and Canada. The only states she was missing were North Dakota and Oregon. Maybe my own sense of adventure was awakened by sitting with my head bent for hours over the atlas she used to track it all. Each state was highlighted with a yellow marker after they visited it. What was always incredible about their adventures was the fact that they inevitably met someone they knew. They could be in Vermont and somehow they’d start talking and find a connection.

Not that she was gregarious. She had a quiet presence in every room, but she always seemed inclined to listen and enjoy whatever was going on. And of course if there was music, her foot would be tapping.

The kids didn’t get a chance to know her. Linus met her once when he was just four months old, and then again every briefly when he was two.


Mina met her when she was also four months.

Omaha & Clarinda trip

You can see that Mina enjoyed their brief visit.

I like to think that Grandma got to know the kids through photos. I sent some when I remembered (certainly not often enough), and Mary shared this site with her whenever she could. Obviously now it will never feel like I did enough to bring them all together.

So the kids will always have missed out. They won’t giggle the way Jenny and I do when one of us says, “Oh, say!” just like Grandma always did. And they won’t recognize where David got his tendancy to start a response with, “Well…”

They won’t pick up the phone, call her, and immediately get a weather report. Grandma was meticulous about noting and recording the weather. Anyone who hasn’t lived in the Midwest will never understand just how important the weather always is: too much of something, not enough of something else, and my god will the wind ever stop?

Grandma takes with her a set of recipes that I will never be able to replicate – though Jenny said recently that when in doubt, we should probably add cream of mushroom soup. Broccoli and rice casserole. Tater tot casserole. Those amazing sloppy joes that had no tomato sauce in them. Poke and pour cake – I’ve never gotten one to come out with the beautiful stripes of jello-that Grandma always did.

Grandma measured days in meals. At breakfast, she would ask what we wanted for lunch. At lunch, we had to decide on dinner. I can’t think of her without seeing that arm going a million miles an hour while she stirs something, and simultaneously tells you without looking which margarine container has the leftover green bean casserole inside.

Grandma taught me – by example, never by lecture – that even if you’re just headed to Walmart, you still change your clothes and put on lipstick. Seeing her dolled up for square dancing was the height of glamor for me, and Jenny and I would take turns trying on the frilly bloomers and underskirts the next day. She tolerated chaos from us, only reining us in when it was time to head into the fair or the pool or a baseball game. For me it’s both wrenching and fitting to lose her in August, when the days are still hot and the nights have gotten cool. I can hear the cicadas outside while I write this, and I might as well be lying on the pullout couch in the living room, watching the stars as I fall asleep. Summers at Grandma’s both went on forever and lasted an instant. Never since and never again will I feel such lazy freedom and peace.

Tonight I feel so angry that I didn’t visit her more often, and that I won’t make it to her funeral. But I also know that she understood. She was so incredibly practical in all ways, but always with her family at the top of her mind. She sent us cards not just for birthdays and holidays, but she even remembered our anniversary.

The Vietnamese have a tradition that when someone dies, you celebrate that day from then on. You cook all of their favorite foods on that day, and tell stories about them. I can’t think of any better way to celebrate Grandma. Let’s all promise that next year we’ll put on some Roger Miller and open a few cans of cream of mushroom. And maybe cry just a little less than I am right now.