the last one

and yesterday I got a phone call about something that might add to the coming chaos: my maternal grandmother is in the hospital with pneumonia. she’s almost 91 years old and has late stage parkinson’s disease; my aunt has been taking care of her for about a year, before that, she was in a facility (not a nursing home – that is a long story). I don’t know a whole lot, because mom and aunt Jane don’t communicate very well; she may be doing fine, relatively speaking, or she could die any minute.

grandma dillon is the last of my grandparents, and the one that I had the most contact with. if my scanner were hooked up, I’d post a picture. my mother’s parents lived fairly close to us (they lived in Arcadia, we lived in Altadena), as opposed to my dad’s parents, who lived in Arizona, and grandma took care of us on many occassions when I was a kid. Edith & I were left with grandma when Elizabeth was born, and grandma was watching us when mom came from the hospital to tell us that dad had died. she took us to the LA County Art Museum, helping to foster my love of art (and museums – she also came with us when we went to the Natural History Museum). I think I still have the orange & blue hat that she wore as a volunteer at Santa Anita Racetrack for the 1984 Olympics (it’s probably packed in with a box of books).

for many years, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners were held at their house, which I can still see in my mind as clear as day…many hours spent sitting at the kitchen table, listening to her & mom talk, staring up at the corkboard covered with coupons and notes in her precise handwriting. the glass jug of water in the fridge. the metal tin of cookies. the huge old white stove. the white sofa with the plastic covering. the fishpond in the backyard, and the prickly st. augustine grass. the freeway, practially across the street – it wasn’t there when they moved in, back in the 1940s.

not that she was a sweetness & light grandmother, either. she had a slightly sarcastic sense of humor, hated flowery greeting cards, and could be quite firm with us girls, about our manners or cleaning up after ourselves. I gather that she was even more so with my mother and her siblings. she knew about 5 words of german from her mother, who died when grandma was a child, and while I don’t remember the actual word, I remember that one of them amounted to “sit the hell down.” 🙂 mom says that when the nuns at mom’s elementary school gave grandma a hard time – because uncle Sean had been sick a lot – she chewed them out.

I always wanted to sit down with her and get stories, but she was reticent, and then I moved away, and (as my email friends already know) was a lousy correspondent. she did meet Chad once, at Elizabeth’s high school graduation, and he was wonderfully gentle with her, and she was quite gracious with him, though she was even then not in terribly good health.

and while I shared a birthday with my other grandmother – and look more like her – I was named after grandma dillon (full name: Helen Madera Gillen Dillon), Elaine being a variant of Helen, and she was a huge part of our day-to-day life growing up.

I hope that she dies peacefully, when it’s that time, that my aunt lets everybody know what’s going on, and that maybe my mother and her siblings begin to communicate again. (not that I’m one to talk. I should drop Edith an email.)

the sad thing for me right now is that I’m realizing that I don’t even have any pictures of her, except in the album that Aunt Susie put together…and those are from my parent’s wedding!

[photo: my parents and maternal grandparents, at my parent's wedding]
right to left: Grandpa Dillon (died 1995), Mom, Dad (died 1983), Grandma Dillon. taken at the reception, May 1973, in grandma & grandpa’s backyard. yes, those are avocado trees in the background.