Friday, December 11, 2015

Personal Prerogative: Remembering Grandma Easter

My Grandma Easter
Today's post is personal, not political.

The anniversary sneaked up on me again this year, but December 8 has come and gone again and all day I remembered my grandmother, Twila Easter.

I had a unique relationship with my dad’s mother. Grandma Easter helped raise me because she essentially lived with us. She had her own space on the first level of our house in a built-out basement (though you better never called it a basement when she was within earshot), but she was my babysitter, grandmother, and best friend growing up.

Grandma could tell a story like no other. Sometimes she would, let’s say, change some of the details to make them more interesting. For example, she worked at the lunchroom at Haag’s downtown on Illinois and served an ever-growing number of people a day as the years passed. Her last career was as a school cook at Stephen Foster School 67 in IPS. She retired in the early 70’s. 

After my grandfather passed in 1972, Grandma Easter went back to work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the gift shop part time. She worked there for the next 10 years. I came along in 1975, so I ended up with all the cool racing stuff you can imagine. My bedroom was decked out in Team Penske and A.J. Foyt gear. I loved racing before I ever loved football or basketball or any other sport, and it’s because of my grandmother. She taught me so many other things.

Grandma told stories that had nuggets of gold buried in them. She always seemed to have some point. She was always passionate about education and was adamant that even though she barely had a high school education that knowledge is something that can never be taken away. 

Sure, she’d bribe us all with her divinity fudge or her world-famous “pound-of-bacon” sandwiches, or the best macaroni and cheese you had ever eaten, but we, and I mean the grandkids, all loved Grandma because each of us had a different relationship with her. You could tell her almost anything, and she would dispense honest advice.

One of the most memorable times of my life was the time I spent with Grandma travelling out west to California after I graduated from high school to see my cousin. All of the other grandkids had gotten to travel with her, and it was something she absolutely loved to do. This was my time with her, and we had a blast. She was 83 at the time. I can still remember being on the plane and feeling sorry for the person we were sitting next to as Grandma drilled on with questions about life. Inevitably, Grandma found a way in and made a friend before the plane landed. That was who she was. She never met a stranger or was afraid to talk to anyone.

When she was able, Grandma would spend months at a time travelling to see her sisters in Oregon or Washington or Florida. She visited my cousin in Denmark (where she almost caused an international incident by taking two toy guns through security…they were gifts for my cousin’s host family’s young son). She took a cruise. She went to Europe and Hawaii (or Ha-why-yuh, as she called it). She and my grandfather once hopped a Greyhound and explored the great American West stopping in Yellowstone Park and seeing anything you could imagine seeing.

Grandma was a giving person. She would give you her last penny if you needed it. She never complained. Unfortunately, life caught up with her though she seemed invincible.

An accident scared her from continuing to drive about the time she turned 80, and a fluke accident during cataract surgery caused her to lose most of the sight in one eye at 84. She also developed a serious infection that took its toll. Around Thanksgiving of 1996, she developed pneumonia and went into the hospital. She missed our family Thanksgiving.

In true Twila Easter fashion, she rallied. She was released from the hospital a few days after Thanksgiving and spent the next few days ordering Christmas presents for everyone. Unfortunately, she took another turn for the worse and went back into the hospital. This time she wouldn’t recover.

I received a phone call from my mother saying that my dad, my brother, and his fiancé would be coming down to take me to dinner. I knew Grandma was not well and had been checking on her a lot. I knew what was coming. In the lobby at Read Hall, I got the news that Grandma Easter passed on December 8, 1996 at about 4:30 p.m. She was 86.

A few days later, the family gathered, and we had a celebration of a great life. There was the inevitable crying and sadness, but how could you be too upset for a lady that lived the life my grandmother did. To her, she was always just one of 14 kids from Stringtown on Indy’s Westside. 

In reality, she went all around the world and squeezed all the juice she could out of life.
It was tough after she was gone. I’m not sure my father ever got over losing Grandma Easter. A huge hole remains in my life that has yet to be filled by anyone, and that’s ok. It’s a special place no one could ever fill up, and I’m ok with that.

I know that I’m not alone. We all lose people we love. 

We, however, move on. We get older, and we try to spread the story of a remarkable person that we all loved and will always love so we don’t forget, as if we ever could.

So here’s to my grandmother, Twila Easter--my best friend ever. I miss you.

No comments: