Monday, April 21, 2008

One Hard 18-Miler

Well, last weekend’s 18 miler seemed like a sweet day dream compared to this weekend’s run – mentally and physically I was not ready for the run.

On Friday afternoon, I got the unfortunate call from my Mom telling me that my Grandmother wasn’t doing well. I wasn’t expecting this call from my Mom – I was expecting her to call to thank me for the gift I sent her for her birthday. But, my Mom didn’t even remember it was her birthday because her mother was dying.

I was in Cleveland, so I quickly got in my car to drive back to Columbus to arrange for someone to cover me for my Saturday work obligations. (A big thanks to Lauren for covering for me!) When I got to Columbus, I squared a few things away at the office and at home and got back in the car to drive another 3 hours to Youngstown. I went straight to the nursing home – to see the ghost that was left of my Grandmother. I saw her not that long ago and each time I’ve visited her over the past two years – I’ve had to deal with the shock of how much she changed since the last time I saw her.

I was always been close to my Grandma Jeanne. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were going over to her apartment in Canfield to spend the weekend – she lived close to a Dairy Queen – which is still one of my weaknesses! My Grandma was the “cool” Grandma. She was hip, classy and was an avid athlete into her 70s – she played golf and bowled. She always went to Florida with my mother and me to visit my Aunt Pat and her family. She had great taste in movies from classics to current movies – heck, this woman gave me Silence of the Lambs!

One of the things my mother’s family is NOT good at is sharing family history – that could be because their lives growing up were hard. I do remember the countless times when my mother would tell me that she walked 3 miles every morning to go to school – even in the snow and had to walk back every evening – uphill both ways (just kidding). But, she always left out the fact that my grandmother divorced my alcoholic grandfather in a time when divorces were not common and were shameful for Catholics. My mom and her 5 siblings did have a hard-knock childhood growing up in the projects in Briar Hill in Youngstown. My Grandmother worked 2 to 3 jobs to provide for the brood of 6 and ruled with an iron fist to keep them in line – which is hard to imagine being that my Grandmother was always a petite woman.

My Grandmother married my Grandfather at 19 and he was 10 years her senior. Shortly thereafter, my Grandmother gave birth to my Mother. My Grandfather was a WII Vet – who had a purple heart – but could not keep a job because of his substance abuse problem. Although it sounds like he was a charmer – he could be a very violent person at times – he stabbed my grandmother and that came very close to ending her life. My Grandmother divorced him and in her early 30s took on the task of raising 6 children on her own. Just recently I learned there was a 7th child, a little girl that was given up for adoption as an infant. I wish that she could have known the amazing, strong woman that my Grandmother was.

I look at the decision my Grandmother made and it would intimidate most women today – even after the women’s movement. My Aunts and Uncles remember a hard life – but one where they never felt deprived. This weekend my Aunt Pat fondly recalled that they never went without at Christmas and always had new bonnets and patent leather shoes at Easter. She pondered – how did she do it? It is a good question – sounds like my Grandmother was able to work small miracles on a regular basis. I cannot imagine the ridicule that my Grandmother went through being a divorced woman in the mid 50s with 6 kids – while sending most of them to Catholic school.

And it isn’t as if my Grandmother’s life was all hard knocks…in the late sixties she met the man that I’ve always known as my Grandpa – my Grandpa Chuck. They married and moved to Pittsburgh and my Grandmother became a nurse. They traveled to Europe, Mexico and the Bahamas and had a lovely home. My Grandpa Chuck died in 1987 and my Grandmother stayed in Canfield – close to several of her children. Into her 70s, she continued to work and helped my mother run our farm market. I loved the fact I got to see my Grandmother every day in the summer and during the rest of the year, she came over every Sunday for dinner.

Later in life my Grandmother continued to work small miracles…even on a fixed income she managed to give all of her grandchildren gifts at Christmas. My favorite were the chocolate covered cherries she’d buy me every year from Gorants – the local chocolate company in Youngstown. Looking back, I realize how truly amazing it was that she was able to give us all gifts. She was also talented in making crafts – she knitted, cross stitched and was very involved in her miniature club even into her 80s. She was there for all my major rites of passage in life – confirmation, graduation from HS, graduation from college and graduate school. She will be greatly missed at the next stages of my life. I am sad that she won’t be there when I get married or when I have children.

There are a lot of lessons in my Grandmother’s life but I’m not going to name off each one. AND, I’m not saying she was the perfect person – we all have our faults. But she lived one extraordinary ordinary life while up against incredible odds. She worked to have the ordinary things we all take for granted – like gifts at Christmas, vacations and to do simple things in life like golfing. She didn’t have a life partner who supported her and her children – she did it on her own in a time when being a single, divorced mother was looked down upon.

Well, now to my actual run…I did 18 miles on Sunday on the bike trail near my parents’ house. I ran from Green Township to Austintown (past Mahoning Ave) and back – kind of crazy – if you know the area. But, I didn’t have the normal elation that I have on my long runs…I really couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could get back to the nursing home to be with my family. It felt like it was uphill the first 9 miles and uphill the last 9 miles. Plus, it rained and that seemed very fitting for the day.

I cherished being with my family this weekend and listening to their stories about my Grandmother. I’ve asked that they write them down…because I know that most of us Grandchildren don’t know the stories. I am sure that what I’ve shared today is just a small part of her life…but, well…it is a start.

My Grandmother died early this morning while my Aunt Pat was reading poetry to her from a book that my sister gave her. I will miss my Grandmother very much and will think of her often. I am glad that after the last two rough years of her life that she is finally at peace. She had 6 children, 19 Grandchildren and 13 Great Grandchildren. Although she lived an ordinary life, she obtained that ordinary life while enduring extraordinary circumstances and she has had a major impact on my life. I love you Grandma and you will be missed.

I am sorry for those of you who are reading this for running updates…this really isn’t one…but an important life update nonetheless.


Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful story, Karen. Not every story is about running, and sometimes the reasons we run are for non-running reasons. You will always have your grandmother in your heart, and she will always run through your mind as you run forward, fast, on pavement, on dirt, up hills and down, fast and slow, in rain and wind, she will always keep you going.

Love, Kamden

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your Grandmother! But you are smart and sweet to collect the stories. They are treasures. She's lucky to have you keep her story going.
-- susan.