Week 20- Brian Weeks

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Brian Weeks, Week 20

When I’m Calling You…

Two weeks after I moved back home to New Hampshire last December, my grandmother on my father’s side passed away. She had a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, and I had, selfishly, I will admit, not been to visit in several years. My last visit was much too painful to relive.

My father is the youngest of seven children, and our family lived the closest to the family homestead down on Meredith Neck. I spent a lot of my time at Grammy & Grampa’s house as a kid, frequently spending the weekend, or school vacations.  I think that out of all the dozens of cousins in the Weeks family, I spent the most time there.

On weekend nights when I wasn’t staying at the house, I would often call my grandmother and spend hours on the phone with her, talking about everything, and about nothing. Looking back, if I were to ever have to name my best friend as a kid, I’d have to truthfully say it was my grandmother.

No one had a greater impact on my upbringing than Christine. Picking fresh raspberries to make her special sauce to put over ice cream, going out for walks to Shep Brown’s Boat Basin, playing all sorts of card games (Rummy, Slapjack, and Butterway being her favorites – I can’t begin to tell you how to play anything but Rummy today), and sitting in the screen house watching the cars go by and listening to music ( she liked all of my then-contemporary music, she called it “peppy”) and singing.

Oh, Lord, did she love to sing. Not that she could carry a tune in a paper bag, mind you, but she just loved to sing songs that seemed so old and romantic… I still can hear her wailing away to “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life and “Indian Love Call” (which up until three minutes ago I thought was titled ‘When I’m Calling You’).  I still have a cassette I made from 1982 when I was just five years old with the two of us singing. I haven’t listened to it in years for fear of the tape disintegrating.

She taught me that love in unconditional and non-judgemental. To say that I was an eccentric child would be a grave understatement. I was overweight, and bullied and teased not only for the way I looked, but also for my personality traits that were not the accepted norm for a young boy of the 1980s. My differences were embraced and celebrated at my grandmother’s house.

Instead of hunting, fishing, and getting dirty, I preferred to indulge in hot fudge sundaes and gossip, watching soap operas, and making collages from movie star magazines. While my male cousins would draw pictures of war and guns, I would draw a runway ready fashion extravaganza. I never came out to her, but I don’t think it would have been a great shock.

She was always dieting… sort of. It is from her that I get the habit of ordering a side salad and a Diet Coke, dressing on the side, followed by a huge slice of cake. She always had Diet Sprite in the house. It was a perfect complement to the afterschool snack of saltine crackers slathered with mayonnaise, or a peanut butter and butter sandwich. Any meal could be considered “diet” if you had a scoop of cottage cheese on the side of your plate.

Far from overweight, she attended weight-loss meetings weekly for most of my childhood. I found it was more of a social event, when after the weekly weigh-in, “the girls” would go out for fried clam dinners and hot fudge sundaes.  But, that was my grandmother.

My grandfather passed away when I was a freshman in high school.  After that, we still talked every week and I still visited but it wasn’t the same. How could it be? Her own life had changed so much – the man she was married to for almost 60 years was gone. Because Grampa had complications at the end that were the result of smoking what seemed to be endless cartons of unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes, she used to get on my case about quitting smoking. This all came to a head toward Christmas 1999. Grampa had been gone eight years.

I received an “anonymous” letter with literature from the American Lung Cancer Society. While there was no return address, the shaky, almost cartoonish printed letters on the envelope were unmistakable. I called and asked her if she had sent it. She claimed innocence. Her heart was in the right place, but subtlety is not a strong suit in my family, and really not anything we aspire to anyway.  I didn’t speak to her for several weeks.

The relationship changed slightly after that. There were still phone calls, visits, letters and cards, but I had asserted myself as an adult. I think we both needed for me to do that, but I just wish I hadn’t chose something so harmful to myself upon which to stand my ground.

My last visit to the house was in mid-2004. It was in early June, a week or so before her birthday. I went to Walmart and bought her a fluffy white sweater – she was always cold, so sweaters and sweatshirts were always a great gift choice. I also copied a couple of photos that I had taken of me and my sister the previous summer, to add to the thousands of family photos she displayed all over the living room.

I first sensed something was wrong when she opened the door. She didn’t recognize me. While I hadn’t seen her in several months at that point, I had spoken to her at least within the previous two weeks.  After a few moments, I reminded her who I was, and gave her a big hug. Oh, how tiny and frail she seemed, all of a sudden.

I sat on the couch, and she on her chair, just as we had for more than 20 years, and we talked. But she began to repeat herself. I showed her the photos I brought for her, and she remarked that I had a beautiful girlfriend.

That was the moment that I realized that I didn’t think I would be able to visit again.

The visit went downhill from there. My uncle was out grocery shopping, and she told me that a couple of times, but he called him by my father’s name. Toward the end of the visit, it’s no longer clear to me, but I think she asked me how and if we were related.

I cried almost the whole way home. I still retained all the wonderful memories we had, but hers were lost. I spoke to her a few times after that, but it became increasingly more painful that she had no recollection of who I was. But, selfish as it may be, that’s how I wanted to remember her – as who SHE was. Not the person she became.

Of course I felt guilty and selfish when she died. I’m not attempting to be absolved of that guilt by writing this. I don’t think I can let go of the guilt for a very long time. As per her final request, there were no calling hours or funeral. No obituary was published.

Now, some time has passed, and the family homestead has been sold. In about ninety days, the place I considered my second home will belong to someone else, but the memories will forever be my property. I will be making one last trip there this weekend, to take photographs of the places I loved, but nothing can bring back those yesterdays.

I’d like to think that I carry part of her essence with me wherever I go. Without her influence, I surely wouldn’t be the adult I am now. This  is simply my way of calling her to say goodbye. I know she’s listening.

By the way, I did quit smoking a few years ago, Grammy. I know it meant a lot to you that I do.

I’ll leave you with a poem she used to recite a lot when I was little – “Sea Fever” by John Masefield:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

I always had a great time. Thanks for the memories…

Christine S. B. Weeks

June 16, 1915 – December 15, 2010

  1. sue OConnor says:

    That was very beautifully written and Im sure making her smile.

  2. Robyn says:

    Oh, Brian… what a beautiful submission this week. I read it at work, and –darn it– you made me cry at my desk. Very embarrassing. 🙂

    I remember the first time my brother and I went to my grandparents house and my grandmother didn’t recognize Bill. She said hello to me, then asked “who is this handsome gentleman?” It’s like a kick in the stomach, isn’t it? That inexplicable feeling like the world is unraveling around you. Nothing feels right. I didn’t think it was possible to explain the feeling to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but I think you may just have accomplished it. Thank you.

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