Soggy Grilled Cheese
By Guest Essayist
Her voice came over the baby monitor as we were eavesdropping to hear what she was saying. “Where is the remote?” She often did that when she thought no one was looking or listening. As if she was taking notes or thinking out loud to herself. Then the sound of the TV came on and filled the silence with laughter and chatter. It put us at ease that everything was ok.
My grandmother was a kind and thoughtful woman, but also stubborn as a mule! She grew up in Mill City, Oregon with one sister. Her father was a logger. She decided to leave the country and go to Portland to follow her dreams of becoming a cosmetologist. She met my grandfather and they were married and eventually had one child, my mother. When my mother was 5 they decided to leave Portland, and bought a 12-acre farm with 2 houses, a shop, and a barn in rural Newberg about 3 miles out of town. My grandmother’s parents, my great grandparents, moved to the farm to live in one of the houses to be closer to my grandmother. When my great grandparents passed away my parents moved into the house next to my grandma.
My Gram as I called her from a young age, had an amazing smile. It was almost intoxicating and you couldn’t help but smile yourself when you saw it. She was a hard worker and never did anything half way. She worked hard for what she had, and didn’t take anything for granted. I think I got some of my work ethic from her. She worked until she was 70, not because she had to but because she wanted to just to keep busy and have a purpose.
Gram loved living on the farm, baking, gardening, and working outside. She drove the farm tractor, cut the grass, used the weed eater, and even stacked firewood. One day she fell while stacking firewood, tried to get into the doctor but couldn’t for a couple of days. She had broken her wrist and by the time she went in it had started to heal. They wanted to re-break it and set it so it would heal straight but she refused. She said “It doesn’t bother me it works just fine!” She didn’t want to go through the pain or the procedure of trying to make it straight again.
I spent a lot of time with my Gram growing up since she lived next door. We watched old movies together, cooked together, and baked together. I remember at Christmas time we used to bake cookies and listen to records on her record player. The one that stands out the most was John Denver and the Muppets. There was some Elvis thrown in there too. I can still taste the grilled cheese sandwiches she used to make me. Butter on the inside of the bread and then she would microwave it. The cheese was warm and gooey but the bread was soggy. Sometimes I still crave the taste of them. She was like a best friend. I would often go over to her house and talk with her about what was on my mind or concerns I had. She gave good advice even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
Gram was getting older and things were getting harder for her. I would take her grocery shopping. Our trips to get groceries slowly changed from me driving her there to her giving me her list to collect the things for her while she waited in the car. It was getting harder for her to get around. She always said I picked out exactly the things she wanted. Gram would give my mom a hard time about the things she chose for her if I wasn’t able to take her shopping and my mom had to fill in.
One morning my mom went over to check on my Gram. The door was locked and she couldn’t see her through the front door window. She went around the house and looked in the kitchen window and could see my grandma laying on the floor between the kitchen and the hallway that went to her bedroom and the bathroom. She had fallen and wasn’t able to get up. She had fractured her back and wasn’t able to walk very well and had to stay in bed because she was in a lot of pain.
My mom installed a baby monitor in my grandma’s bedroom. The signal could reach her house since the houses were not that far from each other. Sometimes we could her talking to herself over the monitor at my parent’s house; she would call out “Becky” and my mom knew that she needed her to come over for something. She could not get up on her own. My mom had to help her to the bathroom and make her meals. She was declining but none of us wanted to admit it. She was admitted to hospice care in her home. My son would ask “Why does Gram stay in bed all the time?” My mom and I started to have conversations about what would happen if my Gram passed away. I didn’t even want to think about it let alone talk about it.
April 23rd 2012 I went to work just like I always do. A few hours into my shift I got a call from my parents’ house phone. In my mind, I knew what it was about but I didn’t want to think it. “Hello?” I said, it was quiet for a second and then a deep weepy voice said “Megan you need to come home, your mom is over at Grams…. and I think she is gone.” It was my dad. He could hardly get the words out. He was crying, uncertain and sad but he knew. He knew she was gone.
I could feel the blood rushing to my face. My knees got weak and my eyes filled with tears. I had to sit down on the bench in the hallway where I was standing. It was the call I had been dreading. The call I had hoped would never come. I said “Ok” that’s all that I could say. No other words would come out. My worst fear had become a reality. It was happening. The day I had hoped would never come. A co-worker and good friend came to ask me what was wrong. She knew, and she knew it was coming too. I told them I had to go. I had to go home and be with my parents.
I somehow made it to my car. Started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot towards home. The tears started to roll down my cheeks like spring rain. I was in disbelief of what was happening. All I could think about was what was going to happen now? I pulled into the driveway and walked over to my Gram’s house. Walked up onto the deck and in the front door into the living room and down the hall to where her bedroom was. My mom was there in her room. My grandma lay in her bed eyes closed as if she were asleep.
My Mom was sobbing quietly. She said, “She died in her sleep.” I walked up to Gram and touched her hand. It was still slightly warm. She had a peaceful look on her face even though her face was much thinner than it used to be. She had lived a good life the way she wanted to live it and passed away in her own home just as she wanted. My mom looked at me and asked “Do you want to help me put on her pajamas?” She had a gown on and my mom wanted to put her in some pajama pants and a top. My mom said “She wouldn’t want anyone to see her like that. We need to cover her up.” I agreed. I helped my mom put her in her pajamas so she was presentable to the strangers that would be coming to get her to take her to the funeral home.
I still remember the smell of the floral plug-in air freshener that she had in her house. To this day I cannot have one in my house because the scent reminds me of that day. My son and I now live in her house. There is not a room in the house that doesn’t hold some sort of memory for me from when I was a child and even as an adult. It was Gram’s house and it always will be.
April 23rd 1924 was the day that my grandmother was born and April 23rd 2012 was the day that she left the world, the day that I lost one of my best friends.
The day that my Gram left was probably the hardest day of my life to date. Nothing is the same or ever will be again. Since she has passed I have slowly realized that I will never have her macaroni salad again. At least not the way she made it. Or the Christmas bread she used to put by the fireplace to rise on Christmas eve. No matter how many times I make it, it never tastes the same. If something happens and I need some advice or just to talk she isn’t there anymore. A piece of my puzzle is missing and will never be found again.
One of the biggest things that bothers me now is that my son will never get to know her. Never get to see that great big smile for himself that used to light up her face like a beautiful sunrise when he would come into the room. She loved him so much in the short amount of time that they got to spend together. He does get to spend a lot of time with my mom. Probably more time than I got to spend with my Gram since my mom is retired. My son is the 5th generation to live on the farm. And the 3rd generation to get the privilege of living next to his grandparents.
I have worked in a long-term care facility for the last 15 years. I deal with death quite often. It never gets any easier whether it is family or an elder friend that you have met along the way. The fear of the unknown is probably what gets me the most. You hear so many things and personal experiences people have had but it leaves you wondering. Wondering what will truly happen or what exactly it is that you believe.
I just hope that my Gram is happy, at peace, and knows that she was loved and is missed beyond any explanation. There are so many things that I wish I could share with her still. Things that I would like to know her opinion on. And things that remind me of her. I will never forget my Gram. I have a glass paperweight in my bedroom window that has a teaspoon of her ashes swirled within the colors inside it. I see it every day. I like to think she is watching or that she is with me and telling me everything is going to be ok.
Megan Schiele’s bio: I grew up on a 12-acre farm in Newberg. Two houses on the property — my grandma lived in the other. My grandma bought the farm when my mom was 5. I went to Newberg High graduated in 1997. Thought I wanted to be a florist. Bounced around doing some temp jobs through a staffing agency after High School. My best friend’s mom was a Resident Care Manager at the facility that I currently work; they offered a CNA class for free if you agreed to work there for a year after receiving your CNA license. After a couple of years, I quit for about 6 months to try in-home care but then went back. I have a dental assistant diploma but I never got into it after I went to school and I decided to go back to school to hopefully become an RN after 16 years of being a CNA. I have a 6-year-old son who is in 1st grade in the same school my mom and I both went to and he is the 5th generation to live on the farm. We have 2 Dachshunds, 2 cats, 6 goats, and 17 chickens.
Such a powerful and moving story, which resonates I’m sure with all of us who have relished the grandma relationship. The multigenerational richness that Megan enjoyed reminds us to nourish the transgenerational relationships in our lives!