It was a week ago yesterday, late in the morning, that I received the call I knew was coming, yet never, ever wanted to receive. Grandma Unkraut, who had been very sick the last few weeks, was beyond the point where medical science could do anything for her. It was her time.
Mom was already en route to Springfield with her sister so the immediate family could say goodbye. Dad called to tell me the news, and as soon as I saw Sears on the caller ID, I knew what I was about to hear. My workaholic Dad wouldn’t call me, while running his store, in the middle of finals for anything less. Of course, I wanted to go. I wanted every last second I could squeeze out of the woman who has shown me a love so pure and robust that I still cannot believe how fortunate I was to have her. But, I knew I did not belong there; it was a moment for her husband and children, who banded together to say the hardest goodbye. I have been told they were singing Hallelujahs to her at the moment she passed. As Mom said, “She stopped listening to us and immediately started listening to the angels.”
This is a family that, as a general rule, does not sing, outside my cousin Michelle who sucked up the entire family’s allotment of singing ability. Also, as a general rule, I do not buy into religious ideals. I certainly understand their appeal, but it does not appeal to me, except with regards to the passing of my loved ones. Grandma Unkraut was a living angel, and I believe she is being rewarded for her warm heart and devotion to her family, no matter how “family” may be defined at any given moment. She loved the foster children who stayed with my Aunt and Uncle a night, a month, or became permanent parts of our family thoroughly and warmly, just as she loved us, her natural grandchildren, and the dozens, if not hundreds, of children who went through the 4-H club she led for 27 years.
I have wept for her loss so many times already, and I know I will continue to weep and feel her absence for years to come. Christmas will not be the same without her silly Santa hats (with Grandpa matching) and reindeer cookies. Just thinking about Christmas punch recalls so many memories, the perfect combination of sweet, sour, and all out Christmas cheer, and Grandma sitting there dipping out glasses from her punch bowl, ensuring no one spilled that precious drink. A constant, eager line of punch drinkers, crossing generations, all eager to enjoy that special, once-a-year punch. I hope she wrote the recipe down. I hope she wrote all of her recipes down.
Not only was she an amazing Grandma, she was the textbook ideal “Farmer’s Wife.” Canning, drying, preserving, cooking, there was nothing she could not do. I will always remember the scholar bowl meet she and Mom were just a few minutes late to. The reason? She needed the apricots she was dehydrating to be ready to pack and take along for a post-meet snack. I was the only one on the team whose Mom and Grandma were always there, and I was the only one who much preferred riding home with them to taking the team bus. Among other things, I was the team agriculture expert. All credit to her. I, more than anything else, wanted to make her proud. (Though she was truly proud of all of us, no matter what. I didn’t need to do anything special to earn her praise and affection. That praise and affection was just so marvelous that it made me want to EARN it. Everything I have ever done was with the thought of how Grandma would feel, though I know she’d love and adore me no matter what.)
Her smiling, laughing face was a fixture of the Effingham Farmer’s Market. Just this past year, the Market she and Grandpa helped launch years ago really took off and became a Saturday morning routine for dozens of community-minded or health-minded or just fun-minded community members. Not having her there this year is already breaking my heart, and the market does not start for another two weeks or so.
A few more thoughts on her perfect fulfillment of the Farmer’s Wife Ideal: She was an award-winning archer. She chose to be a housewife, though her sharp mind and craving for knowledge could have taken her anywhere, because she wanted to be with her family. There still stands a “Dinner Bell” outside the house, which she would let her children ring (or so I recall my mother telling me, I think) to call Grandpa in for lunch. Dinner was always waiting for him when he returned from the fields, no matter how late. Just two Saturdays ago, when Mom and two of my brothers drove up to Springfield with me to sit with Grandma (that was the last day I saw her alive. It was the day that I knew and was forced to accept that her time had come), I learned Grandma used to teach the kids to polka dance around the table as they waited for Grandpa to return home.
I ought to wrap this up because 27 years of beautiful memories just cannot be summed up in one blog post. Of all the pain I have felt in the last month, the worst has been seeing my Grandpa, her true partner and lifetime lover, mourning; the red-rimmed eyes and crying are not the fun-loving, funny, happy and madly-in-love-55-years-into-marriage Grandpa I know. Seeing him mourn is more painful than my own mourning, which currently feels like a wound that will never heal.
Fresh tomatoes and really good cantaloup (Grandma and Grandpa only grew and served GREAT cantaloup) will remind me of her until the day I die. I am beyond fortunate to have had her in my life. I will miss her every day, but I will never stop trying to make her proud.