My last remaining grandparent passed away Monday at the age of 92.
She was my dad's mom, and she outlived her ex-husband, all but one sibling, and even one of her children. She went peacefully in her sleep after a recurrence of the abdominal infection that nearly killed her last year and left her in a nursing home. Until this time last year she was able to live independently, so I feel today that she should be celebrated rather than mourned. We should all be so fortunate as to have 91 healthy years.
Her name was Kitty Marie, but most of my cousins called her "Maw-rie" as a combination of "mamaw" and her middle name, which she preferred to go by. I had my own nickname for her; she was my Granny Sugar.
If you're not from the south, you may not be familiar with the use of the word "sugar" for kisses. When my granny and I parted ways when I was a small child, she always said, "Come and give granny some sugar." By the age of three I had started calling her Granny Sugar and for my little branch of her family, that was her given name from then on (though my mother, a true southern woman, called this proudly divorced and single woman "Miss Hyden" partly out of respect for her and partly because she didn't find her sweet enough to be called anything with the word "sugar" in it.)
Let's face it; everyone has a favorite grandparent. It's not that we dislike the others (usually), but we're usually closer to one. Favorite grandparent honors for me went to my mother's mother, my Mamaw, who I lost when I was twelve. Granny Sugar just wasn't as cuddly and open to affection as Mamaw. Like my dad, and like me, really, she measured her affection for her family with an equal part of, well, crankiness.
But she was a big kid herself in many ways. She was a tiny little woman, less than 5 feet tall, and she loved getting stuffed animals as presents from her grandkids (she kept a stuffed Snoopy and Woodstock on her bed until the day she died.) Because I loved wearing Band-Aids on imaginary scrapes as a kid, she enclosed two Band-Aids in every letter she ever wrote me between the ages of 3 and 12. Usually these Band-Aids had cartoon characters on them, and I am pretty sure these were the same bandages she kept around for her own use.
Her trademark, though, were her cards. She faithfully remembered the birthdays and anniversaries of every child, grandchild, daughter- or son-in-law, and great-grandchild. She bought the perfect card for each person and timed the sending so that it always arrived right on the birthday or anniversary. For her grandchildren's birthdays, she tucked a few dollars inside that added up to the age (up to 15; she had to stop somewhere.) I still have the card she sent when I turned 3 because it caused a sensation in my family. On the cover of the card was an illustration of a little brown-haired, pig-tailed girl wearing white tights and black patent-leathers. This fictional girl could have been my twin. This card looks more like the way I actually looked at 3 than any of the faded pictures we have from that time and mom says it almost spooked her when she opened it. Somehow Granny Sugar always found a card at the dollar store that fit her recipients' various personalities, collections, likes, and dislikes.
She was loving in her own distant kind of way to her kids and grandkids, but she could ruffle my mom's feathers like no other person on the planet. Her passive-aggresiveness was the stuff of legend. When I am at my most ornery, my mom accuses me of being just like her and my dad. I don't take that as a compliment, but I usually can't deny its accuracy.
I have never looked overly like my mom or sister and until I began to look a little aged didn't look much like my dad. I never really knew who I most looked like until the day a few years ago that mom put an old black-and-white picture into my hands that my dad's oldest brother had found and copied for each sibling. It was a picture of Granny and her ex-husband (with whom she had four kids, and who for reasons not discussed in my family, up and left her to raise them on her own) from shortly after their wedding day. Even in my earliest memories of my granny, she has short, fluffy gray hair, thick bifocals, and wrinkles earned through the harshness of her younger years that are so deep as to obscure her features. The woman in the black-and-white picture had shoulder-length black hair, a heart-shaped face, and a wry smile that turned one corner of her mouth up higher than the other.
"Alice sent this to your dad, but after seeing it, I think you should have it. Now we know who you look like," Mom said. I have that picture displayed on an end table, and people who see it comment on how much I look like the short little woman in the picture. Though I am quite a bit taller; I outgrew Granny before I made it out of elementary school.
I've only seen Granny once since my dad passed away. This is partly because like so many of my relatives she still lives three hours away in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. But there's another reason. It's not a good excuse, but it tore me up to see her or to even talk to her on the phone in the year after Dad died; she reminded me so much of my him that it was like salt on my wounds. And seeing her reminded me how unnatural it is when a child goes before a parent, even when the child is 64 years old.
Tomorrow I'll say goodbye to the woman that sent me Band-Aids in the mail, the woman who collected owls and looked a little owl-like herself, the woman who walked the one mile each way from her apartment to town every day until her late 80s, the woman who puttered around her house in dollar-store terrycloth house slippers and brought me my own pair every time she came to visit, the woman who never forgot a birthday and never failed to pick a card that would make you smile. The woman who will be referred to as "Maw-rie" a lot tomorrow, but who I will always remember as my Granny Sugar.
Rest in peace, Granny.