I was so fortunate to have spoken with her about Callie's Mariner this past summer and actually watched while she read the first post I ever wrote about her, anxious for the reaction. I shouldn't have been surprised when she looked up at me and said, "Cantankerous, huh?" despite the fact that I'd spent over a thousand words of praise on her within the piece.
"Yeah," I shot back, with a big, fat smile on my face. "It's true. Ask EVERYONE." She laughed quietly, then spent the next 10 minutes or so asking me about the site, who read the posts, where were they from, did they seem to like it. It seemed a curious enterprise to her, but in the end, anything that had to do with her precious and perfect grandson was a project worth doing.
Our beginning, 11 years ago, wasn't so successful. After finding out she was a lover of scotch, I purchased Chivas Regal hoping to win her over with liquor on our first meeting. "Oh, thank you," she said unethusiastically, then set it aside to settle into a big bear hug from Beady. She didn't have a drop of it that day as I watched her refill her glass, twice, from a large bottle of Cutty Sark. Thinking I'd failed, I was shocked to find out several years later that the Chivas Regal had been promptly hidden, to be consumed for her own personal use. She shared the Cutty Sark, but not the good stuff. And yes, no one in her family told me this because they love to watch newbies struggle with her. Sick.
And there was the time a few months later, while sitting at the dinner table for a big family gathering, she looked at me and said in a low, but serious tone, "If you hurt my grandson, I'll kill you." Mind you, the woman was about a foot smaller than me and I had at least 100lbs. on her.
I smiled, then chuckled nervously waiting for the rest of the family to laugh as well, but nothing. Silence from everyone. "Okay, Satan," I replied, "I'll be in the living room if you need me." And there you are. Looking back now, it seems so obvious that the only reason we ever came to "blows" was because of her love for Beady and the worry that he might be hurt again. It took so much time, but I think she finally realized that I loved him just as much as she did and that I would take care of him forever, she didn't have to be anxious anymore. At no time was that more evident than when we left New England for the south this past December and she pulled me aside to say this,"You take care of him, Jennifer. But, you take care of yourself, you hear?" She reached up to hug me as I nodded yes, then pulled away and continued quietly, "...and listen to me, look at me...if you don't like it down there, if it's not what you wanted, you can always come home. Okay?" I was stunned, but so very flattered that her concern had more to do with me than Beady, I think I might have even rubbed it in his face when we got into the car to leave. Yup, that sounds like me. Looking back, I wonder if she was putting herself in my place and remembering just how difficult it was to be the center, the rock while your spouse and partner moves in and out of your life. Whatever the reason, I appreciated her concern and honesty. It was a perfect ending for us.
Over the years, I've certainly had opportunity after opportunity to be a vigilant observer of Callie. Because our start was so contentious, she became a curiosity to me, someone I needed to figure out, so I'd know where and how to sail, so to speak. Funnily enough, it took me nine years to realize it was me I needed to figure out, not her, and that was when the boat hit its calmest waters ever. Yet, those nine years hadn't been wasted, not at all. There were so many things I learned about her, what made her tick, and those are the things I wanted to share with you.
She loved to begin her day with coffee and a crossword puzzle from that day's newspaper with her son. She went to every child and grandchild's graduation from high school and college. She bowled every week, even when an oxygen tank became a permanent fixture in her life, for the pure fun of the sport and to catch up with her friends who meant so much to her. She made the absolute best mashed potatoes and peas EVER on this planet. She loved and missed her husband every day. She loved black Labs, always had them, and was in fact distressed about leaving her last one, Holly, behind when she passed away. She has been to countless baseball, softball, basketball, football games in which her grandchildren played, prouder than anyone else in the stands I would imagine. She loved scotch, especially Cutty Sark, but you could get her to drink a higher quality one if you paid for it! She would sit often with her youngest daughter, whispering and giggling as if they were sisters or best friends and not the other way around. She loved to keep track of the baby ducks that swam on Pushaw Lake each summer and watch them grow and leave their mother. She would often point them out to her great grandchildren and listen proudly as they counted the entire group each time the ducks passed the camp. She once "gently" stabbed a loved one in the hand with a fork because they took more than their share of oysters out of the oyster stew. She loved to keep the temperature in the house around 78 degrees, no matter the season and despite multiple protestations by her over-heated family. She loved to open up camp every year around Memorial Day and ensure the flag was put out with respect and care. She would sometimes sit so quietly, chin in the palm of her hand, staring out of the dining room window looking towards the large hill on the back of her property. She never let anyone speak ill, even in jest, of her oldest daughter. She kept a collection of coffee mugs from each of the colleges her children, grandchildren, and even grandchildren-in-law, graduated from. She could knit like a fiend. She loved the color red. "What are you getting into out there?" was her favorite and most famous question whenever anyone would wander into her kitchen. She loved, loved, loved, loved her first son-in-law, treating him so much like her own son as the years went on. She sent birthday cards to her family every year that included as many dollar bills as the age they were turning. She loved Cuckoo clocks and didn't mind being called Cuckoo-Grammie by the countless little ones who paraded in and out of the house. Though she'd traveled many places over the world in her lifetime, she loved being home, it was the best place for her and she could never understand why anyone would want to leave. She loved to play Double Solitaire with her family and has even been known, on occasion, to throw all of the cards on the floor when she was losing. She celebrated 21st birthdays with nearly everyone of her grandchildren. She faithfully checked the obituaries every day to make sure she wasn't in them. She loved to mow the lawn, even in hellish temperatures, just because. She loved living in the house her husband built. Loved making Angel Food Cake for her loved ones. She went to countless family weddings, including the last one, which she was proud to hold on her own land. She loved to make a ridiculous amount of desserts for every holiday. She loved tacos from a box, but denied it bitterly even when confronted with evidence proving her consumption of them. And she loved to dance...
Three days before her death, Callie sent me an e mail telling me how sorry she was to hear my uncle, the man in the picture with her, had passed away so suddenly. She remembered how much fun they'd had dancing at my wedding and that she kept this picture up in her house always. As it happens, he preceded her in death by a week exactly, so I like to think he waited around for her and they danced on their way to loved ones like this after sharing a fine glass of scotch. I can think of no better escort for her than my wonderful, hilarious, good-natured, and absolutely adorable Uncle Rock. It must have been nice.
As for Beady, he's left with a trunk full of memories he's so happy to have experienced with her. She wasn't a typical grandmother, full of sugar and spice, but I think that's what he loved so much. She gave as good as she got and he was never happier than when teasing her he could elicit the yelling of his name. His eyebrows would go up, he'd smirk, then look at her slyly waiting for her to laugh. Sometimes she would, sometimes she'd smack him on the back playfully. Either way he knew he'd won. She loved to spoil him rotten when he visited, buying him special things to eat, making sure he had whatever he needed, asking him time and again if he was all set. She let him finish those crosswords in the morning, even if it meant erasing what she'd already put in. It didn't matter, she loved it. And he'd laugh every time he called her just to check in, for the holidays, or her birthday. Why? Because she'd talk for about a minute then rush to get off the phone since it was "costing him an arm and a leg" to speak with her. But most importantly, she was so proud of where he'd been, what he had accomplished in his life. She followed him around the world with that special map of hers, plotting his career from year to year, so anxious to talk to him about it every time he visited. And Beady was so glad that she lived long enough to see him promoted to captain this year and to speak with him from the ship as he took his first turn in that position.
She was his biggest fan, and now she can watch over him all the time and won't have to wonder and worry as to where her mariner is.
Copyright 2014 Callie's Mariner