In the fall of 2005 I cleaned out my grandmother’s apartment. At 85 and a widow for years, she finally agreed to move from Cinci to Toledo to be near me. She was “starting to slip,” she called it, forgetting things and having minor accidents at home. Always practical, she decided it was time for a bit of help. After months of planning we made the move. She had expected this would be to a nursing home, but since she needed no nursing or other care she was practically giddy to learn about assisted living. She could keep her favorite things, go out or stay in as she pleased, and best of all, make new friends. She spent the first few weeks writing letters back home about how tickled she was with her new apartment.
Six weeks after moving in, she passed away. She assumed the stomach pain was due to the rich new menu she wasn’t used to: that it was heartburn. In fact, though, acute pancreatitis can creep up and shut down body systems with alarming speed. Literally a here-today-gone-tomorrow crappy surprise if mistaken for a logical coincidence.
Anyone who’s had the heartbreaking task of sorting through a parent’s most favorite and personal things knows the drill. We hoard the awards, the photos, the special books and artifacts. We find homes for the furniture, linens, clothes and knick-knacks. We throw away the medications and threadbare purses and private whatnot that were essential only days or weeks ago. We make use of half a bottle of dishsoap, half pads of paper, batteries still in the pack, rolls of toilet paper, snacks bought just last week.
And half a box of facial tissues on which was written, in black marker in Gramma’s all-caps hand, “MOSTLY LAUNDRY.”
Gramma always made notes to herself – things to remember – so this notation meant something, but what? What do tissues have to do with laundry? These are not dryer sheets (as she well knew). And she wouldn’t designate and go through the trouble of labeling a box of tissues for use only while doing laundry. Even if it was a hastily written note to self using the closest pen and paper at hand: Remember to do mostly laundry? It doesn’t make sense. I still try to figure it out.
“Mostly laundry” on a box of Kleenex. If I could, I’d ask her. “Gramma, why did you write ‘mostly laundry’ on this box of tissues?” She was short and cute and would put her arm around me and say, “Oh! Ha ha!” – seeing the humor in it – and explain why she wrote it, and it would make perfect sense.
How many of us jot down things that make sense only to ourselves? Hell, my own to-do list reads, “Boxes, blog, crickets, chicken, car, camera.” I know exactly what this means and that’s all that matters. We do this all the time. It’s interesting to realize, though, that when someone special goes away, their words – the thoughts they leave behind – take on a bit of mystery, of legacy.
I remember my grandmother for many, many things, as a Gramma should be remembered for. As for the tissues, I put them on my nightstand where a box always sits. I used them almost reverently. Every night, “mostly laundry,” and a fantasy of one of many conversations we might have had.