Sunday, March 30, 2008
April 30, 1917
My grandmother was born 91 years ago. Her name is Anne Gordon Doring nee Ross. I call her Grangie.

My grandmother is dying. Right now, in Arizona, my mother sits by her side as hospice workers care for Grangie 'round the clock.

She waited for my mother to get to Arizona before she fell silent. The morphine and methadone keep her comfortable enough, but she no longer eats nor speaks. For a few days, she suffered hallucinations. Her facial expressions mimicked those of a woman in labor; a nurse told my mother Grangie is remembering those pains. My mother says she looks like a dolly, but Grangie is no longer pliable. It is as though her mind has already escaped, and now we wait for her body to catch up.

Pictures of my grandmother in her youth are refreshing reminders of her fabulous life. She was born into wealth, but she never 'acted' wealthy. She told me of her days in college, spent flitting around to parties, getting sauced, skipping classes, having fun, reading. Oh, she was always reading some wonderful novel or terrific commentary. She traveled extensively. She worked for the wife of the owner of Carson Pierre Scott, so her buying trips would take her to far-off Egypt, the Orient, Paris, Germany, England. Her summers (as well as my mother's and my own) found her at Madeline Island in Lake Superior, where the days were languid and filled with trees and lemonade and long walks along the beach. I remember her wading into that frigid Lake Superior water without batting an eye.

My grandmother was a Daughter of the Revolution. She is a direct descendant of Queen Mary of Scots, as well as a Mayflower descendant. She was a gardener of pear trees and flowers. My grandmother was always an active member of her church, whether it be the Episcopal cathedral in Chicago or the quiet sanctuary in Tucson, Arizona. She adored my grandfather, a formidable and handsome man. When my grandmother met my grandfather, she was engaged to a doctor, but knew immediately that her heart belonged to a poor man with strong character. My grandfather joined the Marines and served in WWII; when he came home, he met his daughter (my mother) for the first time.

She wrote such long letters, filled with bits of her days. She visited the sick weekly. She drank gin martinis and smoked; she never officially quit any of those activities because in her mind, it was still the catchy thing to do. In her younger days, she wore Chanel suits and riding boots. As she aged, she tended toward bright, tent-like dresses and loafers. But style was never of the utmost importance. Cocktail hour, though, was very important. Cocktails and bridge. My word, that woman has been playing bridge since 1925, and until recently, she was still cheating at it. "Oh, did I do that?" she would always ask with a glint in her eye as she surreptitiously switched cards around or accidentally dropped one in her lap.

Grangie and I always lived far apart. By the time I was born, she and Grandpa had moved to Arizona, but I spent many weeks with them in the summertime. One summer, she and I were alone at the cottage on Madeline Island, and I remember how wonderful it was to be cared for by her. It meant lots of naps and strange food (like duck pate) for breakfast. It meant slow walks to town for ice cream and socializing with the neighbors. It was a pristine summer of sun and joy and many, many books.

Grangie and I are duplicates. My mother laughs at our similarities. On a beautiful day, one could easily find Grangie and I inside the house with the window open, snoozing, rather than doing anything productive. Grangie and I are social butterflies and like to be the life of the party, but we aren't concerned about details like cleanliness or fresh napkins. "After all," Grangie would sniff, "that's what the help is for." Of course, Grangie hadn't had help for over sixty years when she was retired, but I believe she still thought she had help, and that was what counted.

How can a life be wrapped up in one writing? It cannot. But for her, I wish wish wish I could show the world what an extraordinary life she led, what a kind soul she was, what an elf she could be. I wish I had known her as a young woman; I believe we would have gotten on fabulously.

On Thursday, my mother held the phone to Grangie's ear while I told her goodbye. She made soft sounds, like she recognized my voice. I would like to think so. I would like her to know that I intend to carry on her legacy of divine class, outstanding humor, and reluctant task-completion. I would like her to know that I believe in reading, and in card games, and in beautiful gardens. I hope she knows that I love my husband with the same verve she loved hers. We are cut from the same cloth, and I am a lucky woman for having such a magnificent lady of a grandmother.

Now, I only have the hope of my grandmother's heaven. I hope it is filled with songs of Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, of good coffee and better wine, and of endless summer breezes that lift my grandmother's auburn locks and twist them round her bright blue eyes. And her friends. I hope she could be with them and her husband and all of them, chuckling at how wonderful it all is, how absolutely astounding life is. I hope with all my might she can go with a smile and some mirth, and that her beyond is as rich as her life.

Wind on the Hill

No one can tell me,

Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It's flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn't keep up with it,
Not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes...
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.

-AA Milne

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    We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning; At the source of the longest river The voice of the hidden waterfall And the children in the apple-tree Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea. Quick now, here, now, always— A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything) And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one. -T.S. Eliot "Little Gidding"

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