Family picture, 1983. My grandmother is the little pack of dynamite in the middle.
When I think back on my memories of my grandmother, Kathleen Jane Smith, I can't help but smile. Love suffused every action that she took, and it showed.
Born Kathleen Jane Claffey in November of 1918, she lived through the Great Depression and came through it unscathed. She married my grandfather, Wilson Leroy Smith, and had three children: Patricia (my mother), Kathleen Jean (my Aunt Jean), and Michael (Uncle Mike). After his honorable service in the Navy, my grandfather died at the age of 35 due to severe coronary issues secondary to a heart murmur. Grandma was left to provide for herself and her three children.
It wasn't easy. Though NYC experienced an economic boom in the late 40s, finding a job was no easy task for a single mother then, as now. However, she found a job as a cafeteria worker at I.S. 192 in the Bronx. Supplemented by survivor benefits from the Veteran's Administration, she was able to provide my mother and her siblings with a normal, happy childhood.
My first memory of my grandmother was when I was under two years old. It's very rare for a child of that age to form any permanent memories, but I can recall her smiling face as she placed a blue and white plaid bunny doll in my crib. While I'm sure that she must have visited my family while we were up on the farm in upstate New York, I don't have any clear memories of her doing so. My next memory of her was when we lived on Mulford Avenue in the Bronx. She'd come over for dinner and would bring Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies. She'd give us birthday cards with a couple of bucks in them, which at the time seemed like a fortune. She also loved M&Ms, and would dole out handfuls to us when the mood took her.
She was there for my family when we hit some snags. In 1983, she took us in when we had nowhere else to go. Those 6 months living with my grandma should have been miserable, but they were some of the happiest days of my early childhood. Grandma taught us things, like when you wash silverware, always put them in the drain board sharp ends down, so you don't cut yourself when you reach for them.
She was a gentle soul. She wouldn't yell or curse or even get very mad, that I can recall. Even when we kids were being lazy and trying to get just a few more minutes' sleep, she eschewed the typical methods of rousing layabouts in favor of a simple damp washcloth. She would gently drag it over our faces until we woke up. I can still remember that feeling.
She was a fixture in my life. A touchstone that everyone in my family always counted on and assumed would always be there.
In 1989, she moved from her apartment on Schley Avenue, where she'd lived for over 40 years, to live with my Uncle Mike in New Jersey. In 1991, she moved from there to a senior citizen center back in the Bronx. Something changed about her after that. She grew forgetful and suspicious. She became convinced that the attendants in her new building were stealing from her.
My older brother Andrew and I would go and visit her after school. She was just... different. Sometimes, it would take her a moment to recognize us when we arrived. Then her eyes would brighten and she would escort us in. She would have the customary chocolate chip cookies waiting for us, along with her ever-present smile and a great big hug. After a few months, those moments of confusion became more frequent, and lasted longer.
In early 1992, Uncle Mike was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He went from a strong, vigorous man in his late 40s to a man trapped in his own body. Despite MS having only a 3% mortality rate in men, he passed away in June that same year.
In September of 1992, circumstances that I'm not privy to caused grandma to have to move in with my family. It seemed to me that everyone treated her like a fragile porcelain doll. I chose not to. She was still Grandma to me, and though my siblings report varying degrees of cognizance from her, she acted more or less normally towards me. We would talk about myriad topics, from my early childhood to her memories of working in that school. From growing up in the depression, to losing her husband.
I came to know her better in those two months than I had in my entire life before that. She was so strong, but stayed so kind and loving her whole life, despite living through things that would have broken other people. She had loved my uncle more than anyone left on this earth. Losing Uncle Mike had been the last straw, though. After he passed, she finally broke.
On September 29th, 1992, I had a dream. I dreamed that Grandma was sitting on the bed in which she had been convalescing since she moved in with us. She seemed somehow younger. More focused, more like the grandma of my younger days. She beckoned me over to her. Despite her minuscule stature, she had always had a way of making me feel like a little boy. She gave me one of her huge hugs, then took my head and kissed my forehead.
"Goodbye, Douglas." she said, a content smile on her face. "I love you, and always will. I'm going to see your uncle and your grandfather. I'll give them your love."
I replied, "I love you too, grandma."
That was it. The dream ended.
My sister Trish woke me up that morning with tears in her eyes.
"Grandma died in her sleep." she said, her voice husky from crying.
"I know," I said, seemingly unfazed.
I turned over and went back to sleep, wishing that I'd feel that damp washcloth brushing my face to wake me up.
I knew that I never would again, though.
As a side note, after speaking with my mother regarding dates and circumstances regarding her mother, I learned that there were more oddities than just my dream the day that grandma died.
My mother had a routine. She would wake up, jump into her clothes and go around the rooms, seeing who needed to be woken up. For some reason she found herself wearing all black clothes that day. She would normally go to her mother and ask her what she would like for breakfast. She found her in bed, having apparently passed away in her sleep. She didn't get hysterical, as she put it. She called 911, asked for the coroner, then called her sister Jean. Not wanting to give out the details of her mother's death on the phone, she asked Aunt Jean to come to the house as soon as possible, but didn't say why. Aunt Jean showed up also wearing all black.
My mother recalls that one of our cats, Mack, gave a yowling scream in the middle of the night. She says that it sounded mournful. Animals are said to be able to see and sense things that humans can't. Who can say what he saw that made him make that noise?
I know that his post isn't the paranormal-est one I've made, or will make, but it is important to me to portray my grandmother as my family remembers her, to give context for the impact that the dream I had the morning she died had on me.
Thank you for reading, and as always comment below if you have comments or criticisms.