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Grandma Reathel

25 Oct

What do you say in these awkward essays that ask for a snapshot of who you are as a person? How could I possibly give you an idea of who I am in only a few pages? I could probably write books about my years, detailing every goal, triumph, and failure I have experienced. I agonized what to write for over a week before deciding that the best way for you to get to know me was by telling you about the most influential person in my life. I feel, in telling you about the close relationship I had with my paternal grandmother, you will learn about who I am and what type of person I aspire to become.

I was born on an Indian reservation in Montana. Being an only child, the youngest of three grandchildren, and the only granddaughter on my father’s side of the family, meant my grandmother and I had a special bond. My parents and I lived in a modest doublewide modular home, surrounded by trees. My father stayed home with me while my mom taught elementary students. One day, my dad met my mom at the door and said, “I can’t do it anymore!” He had read me a hundred books that day, and could recite “Pigs Say Oink” by memory. My grandma also watched me often and was never too busy to read me a story or listen to one of my made-up songs. Some of my favorite memories (and pictures) and the two of us lounging in bed, reading and giggling for hours. Aside from reading, I also enjoyed playing on my swing set in the yard and my grandmother would watch me while chatting with my parents at the top of the four stairs leading to the house.
On my third birthday, I was coming in from the yard, and fell on the stairs. They were those kind of stairs that you can see the ground through–not solid. Anyway, I slipped and hit my face on the porch. It bent my first two (baby) teeth clear to the roof of my mouth. I do not recall the pain from falling, but I do remember how the dentist recommended my mom pry my teeth back into place with popsicle sticks for weeks afterward. That was the worst part about the injury, but having my grandma there to comfort me made it a tiny bit better. I do not think the five years of orthodontics I suffered through as a teenager had anything to do with this accident, but I still don’t like stairs or bleachers that are not solid!
When I was a toddler, my dad would hunt and fish all the time. I would beg to go fishing with “Dat,” (my first word) and liking my company, he would oblige. Inevitably, I would get bored almost immediately and begin to throw rocks in the water. . . One time, my mother and grandmother also accompanied my father and me on one of our fishing trips. They were picking berries a distance away, and I was right with my dad who was sitting on the bank of the creek. Somehow, I managed to plunk in the water headfirst. My mom and grandma were frantic! My dad, fish pole still in hand, calmly reached in the water with his other hand and grabbed my right foot before it disappeared from view. He said, “Stay out of the water,” and unfazed, I replied, “OK Dat.” I have never been afraid of much.
My parents moved to Nevada, when I was four years old, to take advantage of better job opportunities. Being separated from my grandmother was devastating for both of us, and to make up for the distance we would call each other on the phone once or twice a week for hours at a time. We talked about the weather, how I was doing in school (straight A’s with a couple B’s in math), what my grandma had watched on television, just anything and everything. When my design was chosen to represent the elementary school’s walk-a-thon fundraiser, it was my grandma that I wanted to tell first! When my clogging team got first place at Broadway Bound, I immediately called my grandmother. I also cried to my grandma when my cat, Max, died, and when my other cat, Jellybean, ran away.
Even into my teen years, my grandmother and I kept up the tradition of our long, weekly phone call. She also wrote newsy letters often, and mailed cards and gifts–never missing even the smallest holiday. To this day, I try to emulate her thoughtfulness. Every other summer, my parents would make the drive to Montana to visit extended family. It was great seeing my grandma again! Back then, I aspired to publishing a beverage cookbook. Even when my experimental shakes weren’t so good, my grandma would drink the whole thing ooo-ing and awing appropriately!
One summer, my dad’s brother and his wife visited us in Nevada. It was special because extended family hardly ever made it down to see us. That and they would be there for my father’s birthday. While my aunt and uncle were in town, I took a break from the fun, and tried to call my grandma. The phone rang and rang, but sometimes she went to a social event or an appointment. I would try calling her later. Meanwhile, my parents and I showed my uncle and aunt the sights of Nevada: Reno, Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, and the capital building and mint in Carson City. It was very fun having them around! I tried calling my grandmother a second time that week, and again, the phone just rang and rang. I was starting to get a little worried. My mom assured me that grandma was a very busy lady, and was probably just running errands or out visiting one of her numerous friends. That made sense to me, but that night I dreamt of my grandma. In the dream, she had died and told me that she wanted me to take her house. I whined that I didn’t want the house–I wanted her. When I woke up the next morning, I was upset, but figured I had only had the dream because I had been so worried about missing our phone call. I would try to call again when I could.
Knowing that my dad missed the recreation of Montana, my uncle took my father camping and fishing for an early birthday present. Us girls planned a fun night in, complete with personal pan pizzas (mine BBQ flavored). We had just opened our boxes, wonderful pizza smells wafting in the kitchen, and the phone rang. It was my father’s sister, who only called at Christmas. Right then, I knew. I started crying uncontrollably, realizing my grandma had died, just like in my dream.
I do not like to think about the rest of that horrible night. I try to forget the strange way my aunt tried to distract me from breaking down by showing me yoga. I wish I did not remember I was wearing my jean shorts with green and white stripes down the sides and a “peace frogs” tank. I would rather forget the nice police officer who came to our door at 4 AM to tell us the bad news. Mostly, I would prefer not to still feel the loss of that night, which will always be with me.
Dad’s birthday forgotten, all of us headed to Montana. It was the first time my parents and I had driven to Montana two years in a row. It was also the first time I was old enough to help drive a portion of the seventeen and a half hours. While I was driving through a sparse stretch of highway in eastern Nevada, my mom asked my dad how he was doing. He said, “I’m back here praying,” which he meant to be a quip about my unseasoned driving. The wounds were so new, that I took him seriously and thought he was praying about my grandmother–instead of snickering like normal, I became unusually quiet.
I also vividly recall my grandma’s funeral. There were beautiful flowers, and photo collages (a lot of them featuring me) which my grandma would have loved. My grandma kept quite a few photo albums and spent a lot of time thumbing through them or showing the floral, bound photo albums to company. It is probably the reason I am so sentimental and currently keep my own scrapbooks up to date. There were also numerous people at the service. This made perfect sense, as my grandma had made friends everywhere she went. During the service, I was to speak about my close relationship with my grandma. I agonized for days prior to the service, trying to do my grandmother justice. I stood in front of everyone to share what I had written, but became very upset and cried in the middle of the eulogy. Never recovering my composure, I accidentally skipped a portion of what I planned to say. I was disappointed in myself for the rest of the afternoon, even though many people told me how beautifully I had done. I wished I would have done a better job for my grandma.
After the actual funeral, everything felt surreal. The way people kept showing up to my grandma’s green, two-bedroom house, digging items out of every closet, shelf, and cranny, and sorting them into piles on the green shag rug. How well meaning people kept telling me to take what I wanted. How could I possibly take any of my grandma’s few belongings? Just like in my dream, I did not want her stuff—I wanted her! I though it an odd ritual to sort possessions amongst family. I do not regret not taking much of my grandma’s things-I will always have my memories of her.
Strangely, my seventeenth birthday rolled around while my parents and I were in Montana settling the estate. In no mood to celebrate, I wanted to ignore it. My family, having the best intentions, gave me a cake. Whoever planned the surprise neglected getting candles, so my family made-do and placed plastic cutlery in the cake instead. I find it a peculiar memory, sitting heartbroken, in front of plastic forks and spoons, with relatives I hardly knew singing “happy birthday” to me. It was the first time I had ever been in Montana on an odd numbered birthday, and the last time I have ever been back. I can’t bear to think of someone else inhabiting my grandma’s house. And visiting family in my grandma’s absence seems heartrending.
The rest of the summer, I tried to distract myself. My parents even let me paint my bedroom the summer my grandma died. I picked the colors, ordered them at the store, and rolled two coats onto the walls all by myself. I left one wall the original mint green, painted one wall my favorite color, lavender, and did a light blue sky with clouds on the third wall. On the final wall, my parents allowed me to paint a mural over the new pastel yellow color. I painstakingly penciled an inch-by-inch grid on to the wall, found a picture of a large cat, and meticulously painted the cat over the next month. It turned out really well, considering I have no innate artistic talent or experience! My room looked colorful and gorgeous by the time school started, and all the work had distanced me from such extreme sorrow.
I was still heartbroken and looking for something to fill my time when I remembered how devoted my grandmother was to charity work. She religiously volunteered at her local Humane Society, and would take me with her when I was visiting. I loved petting the kittens and playing with the puppies while my grandma helped! Thinking about that prompted me to take initiative and resume my own volunteer work at the local veterinary hospital. A new veterinarian had just replaced the one I had volunteered with from fifth grade to eighth grade. Though I had previously accrued three hundred volunteer hours, and was really compelled to get a jump start on my career, when I got to high school, I became involved in numerous activities, and just stopped going. When the new veterinarian agreed to let me volunteer, I went avidly and still enjoyed it.
My grandma has influenced my entire life. Getting re-involved in the veterinary hospital the summer my grandmother passed away helped me get my foot in the door to my future career. Overall, I volunteered 660 hours at that veterinary hospital. The veterinarian there eventually hired me as an employee, and recommended I move to Missouri to take advantage of their wonderful animal science program. In moving to Missouri for college, I got more jobs, established more contacts in my field, and gained substantial experience with many different types of animals. I hope that the resume I have built up so much since that summer will enable me to be accepted to veterinary school in the near future. Without the events of that terrible summer, I may have never have regained my motivation to ardently pursue my future career.
I cannot name all the ways my grandma has shaped me, she is one of the most powerful influences on my life. Because of her, I always write thank you cards. She was very big on manners, and especially correspondence. I also try to get over my shyness and be friendly the way my grandma was. She would chat with her neighbors, show people my photo in the grocery store, and be congenial to delivery people. I also use my grandma as a moral compass, thinking, “Would I be proud to tell grandma about that?” before making important decisions. Her memory will always be with me and I think I am a better person for it.