Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Grand inheritance: unconditional love

From Saturday's Briefing:

My grandparents created riches for me.

They fostered a love for words, a strong work ethic, a dose of whimsy and an appreciation for beauty.

They created for me a sense of home.

Gramma and Grandpa have been gone for more than a decade now, and their house is at last for sale. In a few weeks, the tangible place that they called home during retirement will belong to another family.

It’s a modest house on a treed lot in a sleepy cul-de-sac. One story. One-car garage.

That home was my comfort zone. It provided welcome shelter during some of my toughest years. It contains memories of card games and brisket suppers, of Wheel of Fortune and Hill Street Blues, of bird feeders and bocce ball.

I didn’t always make the best choices there. One long summer afternoon, when Gramma was napping (after The Young & the Restless and Days of Our Lives), my sister and I had exhausted our usual we-don’t-want-to-nap activities. It was too hot to venture into the Central Texas sun. So we investigated the refrigerator.

In the cold cuts drawer was the most inviting, strictly forbidden snack. An entire package of Lit’l Smokies sausages.

We knew that we should resist because, one, the vacuum-sealed plastic wrap was intact and it would be obvious we’d snagged a couple; two, Gramma probably had purchased them for a specific recipe (likely pigs in a blanket); and, three, to replace the package would necessitate a trip into town, and it was inadvisable to manufacture a reason to drive into town.

Yet nothing would stand between us and those tiny treats. We gobbled them all up, straight from the fridge.

Gramma, upon waking from her nap, was not pleased with our piggish behavior, but she recovered quickly. (Quicker than our upset stomachs. I strongly advise against devouring half a package of cold, processed meat.)

When she wasn’t napping, Gramma was creating meals, poems and 78-point words on the Scrabble board. Among her most prized creations were Batista, Antonio and Barty — life-sized dolls sculpted with wire, stuffing and nylon and dressed in adult clothing. They often posed on the living room sofa.
Gramma, never one to conform to the crowd, didn’t like her standard rectangular back patio, so she hired a contractor to pour a larger, curvy one. The contractor didn’t understand her vision, so she unhooked the garden hose and snaked it around the backyard, showing him the boundaries she expected.

Her eccentricity was balanced by Grandpa’s steadfastness.

Grandpa was the son of working-class English immigrants who settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He was a World War II veteran and hero who dodged all my questions about the war. He managed the auto parts warehouse at a GMC dealership.

When he wasn’t working, he was likely feeding birds and deer in the backyard (and shooing squirrels), or perhaps reading and jotting notes. He spent hours outside, soaking up sun, making up for those early years on frigid Lake Superior.

My sister and I would climb into his truck for nightly trips to the community pool and Saturday morning drives to the mall in town, where he’d treat us to an early lunch at Whataburger, followed by a spin through the bookstore.

Grandpa died three years before Gramma. After her memorial service, the family gathered at their home. We stood on that custom-designed patio and read her poetry.

Then we took turns scattering their ashes. Under the trees they loved. Outside Grandpa’s window. Around the rock where he would place cracked corn for deer.

Their physical bodies, reduced to ash, returned home.

I won’t be returning to the house before it sells, but I don’t need to. I carry with me the most valuable inheritance of all — their unconditional love.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Grandpa and me, 1974ish

Batista (wearing a flesh-colored swimsuit), Antonio, Gramma and Barty 

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