Sunday, July 26, 2009

old growth

My Grama and Bompa's gravesite is just past the
Tacoma Narrows Bridge [1] on the Olympic Peninsula.
The site is ringed by old cedar, of which this is one --
probably not original old growth but quite possibly the
second growth that sprung up after the lumberjacks
moved through like locusts a century and a half ago.
The site has a glorious view straight through to the
Mountain. [2]

One of grama's aides in her final days was from the
Muckleshoot tribe. We talked a long while about the
Gregorian Chants I played for grama ("they cleanse my
soul," she said) and then she spoke about how she used
cedar spiritually and medicinally -- whenever anyone's
health in the household turned South or their luck went
sour -- smudging with it or just having a bough around.

My uncle, who's part Lummi, chimed in about how family
members followed tradition and placed pieces of cedar
bark in his mother's coffin before she was buried. S, the
aide, nodded urgently and stressed how important it was
to have cedar around, not saying why that was.

I described how the floors of the churches of Mexico and
Guatemala in Mayan regions are covered thick with pine
needles at Christmas time, and asked her if the evergreen
thing was because of that -- because it's forever green.
Life everlasting.

She nodded deep and long.

The next afternoon, trying to clear my head of the dim
dying lights of Grama's room, I took a hike through the
Arboretum and passed through a grove of cedar
surrounded by low crawling blackberry bushes, the hot
sun releasing their fragrance so that it smelled like
Grama and Bompa's old place on Three Tree Point; so
that it smelled like home. One old giant dangled a
branch low across the path and I twisted off a small
stem, asking first, thanking later.

When I got back to Grama's room I knotted it into the
light cord that dangled from the nasty florescent light
over her head; the one that we left off most of the time.
I figured it couldn't hurt. When S returned that night we
looked after Grama -- turning her, tending to her --
before she said, "I see you got some cedar," with an
approving nod.

When it came to the funeral we opted for red roses
because Grama loved red roses; maybe in part because
her maiden name was Roseland [3] and several of her
high school pals called her Rosie.

I said a few words at the service and told a few stories,
including the one about Grama working at Boeing in
the '40s before my dad was born, and wearing slacks
as mandated because her secretarial responsibilities
took her to the manufacturing floor.

I told how one day after work she ran some errands in
downtown Seattle. Not incidentally, the King of Norway
was in town. As Grama walked down 5th Avenue --
wearing her slacks in the year 1940-something -- two
gentlemen whom, from the tone and tenor of their
conversation appeared to be part of the King's retinue,
had a conversation behind her -- ABOUT her -- in
Norwegian, going on about American women wearing
slacks, and how one would never see that kind of thing
in Norway.

My grandmother -- whom, unbeknownst to them, spoke
Norwegian -- spun on her heel, looked them in the eye,
and said to them in Norwegian: "I understand every
word you're saying."

At the reception hosted by the nice church ladies
afterwards a gentleman approached me who was a
member of the church and was there to help the ladies,
and he told me that although he didn't know my Grama
he *did* know that story and was delighted to learn that
it belonged to Grama. His father was an engineer at
Boeing, and a Norwegian American, and apparently
Grama's story made the rounds in both communities.

Which Grama would have so loved to have heard.

Another strange twist that would have made it into
Grama's story database for telling and retelling: Grama
did not attend her own funeral.

On Friday the coroner launched an inquest into the
circumstances surrounding her fall at the nursing facility
where she was a resident. The fall resulted in the head
injury that caused her death.

This is the part of the story I haven't blogged about
because it's soaked with too much rage and horror, but
in trying to get answers from the management of the
facility after her fall we received several different accounts
of how she fell and a polite but firm refusal to release
the associated accident report.

My gratitude that there will be an investigation is
counterposed by the regret that I've been living with like
a steady heartburn. Regret for not being here for the last
years of her life, for not doing a better job of looking in on
her. And it's of course compounded by the frustration of
not being able to stay in Seattle until the autopsy is
complete and Grama has settled into her spot alongside Bompa.

If funerals are for bandaging up the raw wounds of loss
this one feels like the tape has pulled loose, exposing
the hurt to air.

So I took this shot not when we laid Grama to rest, but
when I stopped by to visit my Bompa's grave and found
that it was covered with a layered mound of plywood to
protect others from the gaping void that is now my
grandmother's grave. Three of us pushed the boards out
of the way to see his marker and then pushed them back
again, but we had trouble getting one board back where it
needed to go given all the other boards weighing it down.

It was obscuring another family's grave and we didn't
want to leave it that way, so I sat my bum down in the
grass and put both boots to the board while my cousin
stood over me, lifting the topmost boards while I pushed
the bottom one. With a quick shove we put it right.

As we did my heels swung forcefully over and into
the dark empty grave that will hold my Grama. Just as
hurriedly I snatched them back gasping into the light.

Posting by cameraphone from the road home.

[1] The same stretch that Galloping Gertie occupied
once upon a time
[3] We learned when digging through our genealogy in
Norway that a long time back the name had been
"Russeland", suggesting that our family came to Norway
from Russia sometime way back. This may explain why
my Norwegian Grama had dark hair and olive toned
skin, which I've inherited from her.

1 comment:

patrick said...

Your stories rarely fail to move me, Dayna, and his one is no exception. I'm sorry to hear of the details surrounding your Grama's fall... it can't be any easier knowing that it might have been preventable.

By the way, when I was in Norway last fall, I was told that the western part of the country had predominantly dark-haired people... that blondes were more prevalent in the south.

Related Posts with Thumbnails