January 9, 2012


For the last week or so, my grandmother began to slip away from us after a fall.  She avoided breaking any bones and the optimist in me thought if she had the strength to overcome cancer, strokes, all manner of infection, she would certainly make it to her 98 birthday in March despite all the bruising.  This was not meant to be, she died early this morning.

I, along with everyone else in my family, have been fortunate that she was so strong and that she managed to be a part of our lives for so long.  Ninety-seven with some autonomy remaining is a feat.  Though, aging had begun to take its toll, I know it got her down sometimes, but she never once complained.  I think back a couple years when she was only half-joking and said she had already heard everything there is to hear and said everything there is to say.

Certainly my memories of learning the concept of multiplication, picking wild raspberries, making 7am phone calls to her as a kid, appreciating recycling before it was a common concept, and enjoying a spin in the Ford Pinto, are boxed-up safely in my own memory palace– as accessible as ever.  Likewise those traits I found so admirable, along with her appreciation of libraries and all things related to learning– they are still there to recall.

Still, there is loss and those physical manifestations of the accompanying sadness: the tightening of the throat, slight jaw clenching, and wavering watering eyes.  In this last week, I had the good fortune to visit her more days than not and to talk and to see that she was not suffering.  On Thursday, we were able to review my New Year’s card I had mailed to her in December, if only briefly.

Sunday night, after seeing her, and having returned home, I was restless and could not sleep.  After some tossing and turning, I threw down my covers and got out of bed, and proceeded to lug out some boxes containing odds and ends, including some items from when she moved out of her house on Beach Lane.  She and my grandfather had built the house in Bay Village after moving from my neighborhood in the Ohio City area of Cleveland.  Before moving, she had given me some odds and ends and one of the items was book which was in rather poor shape, a collection of poems from Robbie Burns.

She was not a fan of Burns and from what I can discern there was never any trace of Scottish on her side of the family– her family was predominantly French and German.  The book was signed on the first page by her mother.  It reads simply:  Bess Rella. Fostoria, O. 1906.  She would have inscribed this before she had married.

I marveled at this print from over a hundred years ago and carefully paged through the book and remembered that Burns Day is celebrated later this month.  I found an advertisement from the publisher based in Boston, and eventually stumbled upon Ode to a Haggis and a few other poems of interest.  Before I reached the final pages, I noticed something else near the end of the text….

A cut-out turkey, apparently made by a kid.  Judging by the discoloration of the immediate pages that had bled through a couple on either side of the bird, this had been resting in this book for some time and its pH was probably less than 7.  I carefully picked it up and turned it over to examine further.

 The manila paper had highly visible fibers, it looked different from how I remember this type of paper appearing in elementary school.  If felt unusually thin, too.  Much to my surprise, there on the back was my grandmother’s full name in cursive:  Margaret Mary Lonsway.  This was my grandmother’s turkey, perhaps stored in this book as a bookmark nearly ninety years ago by her mother?  I’m not sure, but it seemed like a plausible explanation.

Last night, I found some comfort in this turkey.  It really looked like something I had made in elementary school, but the penmanship was far superior to my awful scrawl.

After contemplating this find and imagining my grandmother as a little girl in Seneca County many many years ago crafting this to give to her mother, I found solace.  It was funny, she was always a teacher, always my grandmother in my mind– I never imagined her as child.

I had the book and the turkey with me in my backpack this morning, carefully tucked away, when the call arrived from my mother that my grandmother had died.  I had hoped to show it to my grandmother.  I hoped she would be having a better day, that maybe memory would make things better.  I really hadn’t thought about it, so much as just plain hoped.

Upon reflecting, all that hope was really for me and not her, not letting go, not “accepting the mystery.”  This is how it is.


5 Responses to “January 9, 2012”

  1. My condolences…

  2. 2 Dan Bradesca

    Beautiful words John. My condolences on your loss, and my prayers to you and your family. Peace.

    Dan B

  3. 3 Chad Carpenter

    I’m sorry for your loss John…

  4. 4 Sister #2

    Good work, John. Reading this comforted me.

  5. 5 Josh Kebbel-Wyen


    This is really beautiful. My condolences.

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