Above the Horizon I


I never felt particularly close to my paternal grandmother. She was pessimistic; she groused that I sat on the couch and read too much (“Don’t you ever go outside?”); and the candy jar in her living room only ever housed lemon drops and restaurant-style peppermint circles, which are the Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt of the candy world: ubiquitous and completely without redemption.

However, she knew how to cook a goose, and I respected the fact that she was–and remains–the only person I’ve ever known who could actually cook my goose (and trust me, it’s needed a good basting on occasion). Also, she was, fundamentally, a good person, and especially in junior high, a big part of me understood that finding a fundamentally good person was a rarity. I didn’t “get” Grandma–we’d never hitch up into a shoulder-to-shoulder percolation of “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang–we’d never hip hop the hippie the hippie to the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop the rock it to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.

But Grandma was all right.

In the 7th grade, when I was assigned a biology project to collect and identify a slew of wildflowers, it was my grandma (having never sat on the couch and read all day thanks to the 80 cows on her Montana ranch with bulbous udders that had them lowing for relief twice a day) who walked the acres with me, plucking flowers out of the ground and handing them over for cataloguing with a terse, “Think this one’s called Shepherd’s Purse.”

So when she died in January of 1999, at the age of 83, her passing meant something. On a deeply personal level, I wasn’t affected, to tell you true. But she was emblematic of something bygone, and that fact moves me still.

She died in Montana, a handful of miles from her birthplace: a sod dugout on the family ranch, that passle of acres where she spent the majority of her life milking cows, feeding cows, cooking beans to feed the pigs, baking pies to sell to local restaurants. At 18, she married a Finn, and they raised two sons on their ranch of nearly a thousand acres (small stakes in Montana terms). In sum, she was a classic 20th Century Western woman, placing value on work and work again over words and emotions and how big and open the sky loomed above.

Despite my recognition that Grandma had represented something classic, her death came just as I was facing the first week of a new semester, just as personal debt was at an all-time high, just as I was willing to acknowledge that I had never felt intensely linked to this grandmother. I wasn’t sure I’d be flying to Montana to attend her funeral.

Then a sage, in the form of a friend, planted herself firmly in front of my head-down horizon and made my flight to Billings possible, telling me, “Funerals and the like, these kind of things are more important than you know. I think you need to go do this.”

I made my way to Billings to find that my friend had been smack-on right. On that trip, I found that, even though I hadn’t felt a one-on-one connection with Grandma Dorothy, I could, after her death, appreciate anew all those she had left behind, the crazy-quilt of individuals who were patched together due to her life, stitched more tightly in her absence.

Wednesday, January 13th, 1999, was my grandma’s day of memorial.





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19 responses to “Above the Horizon I”

  1. lime Avatar

    i am already glad to know your grandma and grateful that your friend compelled you attend…..i think i shall likely be even moreso till you stitch together each part of this tale….

  2. flutter Avatar

    You spotlessly quoted rapper’s delight and made me teary all in the same post.

    Quite a feat.

  3. geewits Avatar

    I sort of feel the same way about my maternal grandmother. I think she is far more attractive in hindsight. Just out of curiosity, was your grandmother also of German descent?

  4. citizen of the world Avatar
    citizen of the world

    SOmetimes it is hard to see the good qualities in someone until after they are gone. Lovely post.

  5. Say It Avatar
    Say It

    there is something so special in having known someone from what seems a bygone era. What a nice tribute.

  6. Jazz Avatar

    It sometimes takes hindsight to appreciate a person. Your grandma seems like a force of nature.

  7. yinyang Avatar

    I have a dancing toy hamster that sings “Rapper’s Delight.”

    And, good thing this is just part one, because otherwise I would complain. Just so you know.

  8. Patience Avatar

    When my grandfather died, I didn’t know about it until after the funeral. My mother told me that she knew I wouldn’t be able to travel to the service anyway. And since he and I were, to put it mildly, less than close, she didn’t figure I would have wanted to come anyway. Still . . . I would have liked to know.

  9. Claudia Avatar

    I love the way you weave your words. You truly use them to the best of their abilities and spin such lovely visions it’s hard not to read and read them again.

  10. chelle Avatar

    funerals are more than what they seem. Stitched together. I like that.

  11. velvet Avatar

    Wow. What a post.

    Your friend was right. A funeral is more than what it seems. It gets people together to bond with who’s left behind just as much as much as it serves as a memorial to who is gone.

  12. furiousBall Avatar

    i wonder if a marketing guy ever approached the mayor of Billings with the concept of making Peter Billingsley (yes of A Christmas Story fame) the honorary guardian of the town. Maybe equip him with a red rider BB gun, standing guard keeping the good people of Billingsley safe and sound at night. And woe be tide any would be thief in the nite, for the Billings guardian will smite him with a righteous sting with a copper ball.

  13. Chantal Avatar

    a fitting tribute to an honourable person.

  14. Stepping over the Junk Avatar
    Stepping over the Junk

    lovely. hey, I have a Grandma Dorothy in Flagstaff!

  15. Jeannie Avatar

    You are fortunate to have known your Grandmother – I never met either of mine.

    And funerals are very important. They are unscheduled family reunions. A time to reconnect with the past.

  16. pistols at dawn Avatar
    pistols at dawn

    “Ubiquitous and completely without redemption?” How many breakup letters have I read accusing me of similar things?

    Okay, none, but not because those emotions weren’t felt – instead, because I rarely date people who can read or write.

    I did not go to these funerals, which at the time seemed dumb, but now mean that years later, I read an obituary someone saved and learn about my grandparents’ lives that way.

    Apparently, Grandpa at Dawn could fly.

    No, wait, I wrote that in there myself. Apparently, he died of Old, which he’d been steadily catching all his life.

  17. kimber the wolfgrrrl Avatar
    kimber the wolfgrrrl

    A beautiful post, and the picture is lovely. And while I am, in principle, against the late-90’s comedy icon of the ‘rapping granny’, you’ve somehow turned that on its head and made it a sweet symbol of intergeneration bewilderment. Kudos. 🙂

  18. Diana Avatar

    Yes, you do need to go to funerals, in part for your own peace and in part to connect in with the others you may have had in common with the deceased. Seems like the only time I see my cousins are when someone in the family dies. Sad, that, as I really do like my cousins.

  19. Glamourpuss Avatar

    What an evocative post – makes me think of that Jane Smiley novel – A Thousand Acres for some reason.


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