September can be brutal

Grandmother's death makes tough decision easier; family matters

Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2003

September usually is a bad month for me. It's sort of like the pennant races every year for Boston Red Sox fans or the entire pro baseball season for Chicago Cubs fans. Great effort, but no championship. This year's ninth month seemed to be no different for me.

This all started two weekends ago. My beloved pro football team, the Tennessee Titans, was handed a good ol'-fashioned butt-whoopin' at home against the Indianapolis Colts. I got a stern "talking to" from my boss for assorted communication snafus which, by then, unfortunately, had become standard operating procedure for the month.

To top it all off, my car started shooting sparkplugs through the engine hood before keeling over 12 miles from home in the middle of the night. It was the first real cold snap on the peninsula, so not only was I out a reliable ride, I caught a miserable cold that I'm still trying to shake.

And then I learned that my grandmother died.

I'm one of Cora Ann McCants' 21 grandchildren who journeyed to Birmingham, Ala., last weekend to help her eight children and countless other family members, friends and loved ones lay her to rest. She always had been one of my favorite people because of her ability to find joy and humor in everything around her, regardless of the situation.

I was staying with her in Birmingham the summer of my fifth birthday when I managed to wrap myself and the neighbor's bike around the fender of a Dodge Dart. The results included one completely totaled bicycle, an angry friend, a pair of worried grandparents, a concussion and 12 stitches in my forehead.

During surgery, either out of fear or shock, I wet my pants, and afterward Grandmomma took the opportunity to have some fun at my expense.

She showed up to the recovery room holding a switch and wearing a frown. (For the record, a switch is a long, slender, pliable branch from a tree or bush used to administer corporal punishment. In the South, kids often were sent out to choose the switch they were to be punished with, but, obviously, I couldn't on this occasion.)

I immediately knew why she had come and began to plead for mercy.

"Grandmomma-pleasedontbemadItold-themIhadtogobutthey-wouldntlistentheyjustputthatmaskonmyface-andthenIgotsleepy!" Replying to my stark retort, she snarled, "You should've taken care of that before you went and hit that car!"

But she could barely contain the grin and laughter that exploded from behind her honey-colored cheeks the moment she completed her feigned angry words. She hugged me and softly kissed my wound as she continued to chuckle, and I immediately got the joke and the reason behind it.

She saw the accident and was worried sick. Not only was I injured, she had to tell her daughter my mother that the son entrusted to Grandmomma's care had sustained a head wound. I can't imagine the stress she was under.

Her comic act, along with subsequent humorous comments, helped to relieve a lot of my family's tension as well as her own. And it helped keep me from wigging out about the whole ordeal.

Our birthdays are a week apart, and Grandmomma had always acknowledged that we were kindred spirits. Equal parts gregarious and standoffish, loquacious and quiet, generous and staunchly independent.

For a while after her first stroke, she was determined to continue to do things on her own as much as she could, like climbing the 20-plus steps that led to her home. Eventually, Grandmomma would relent and let her family help, as she needed more and more each day.

Likewise, my notion of moving to Alaska progressed to full-fledge action the more my friends and family protested the idea. But I began to soften on the concept of being so far away from loved ones the longer I was here and the more I grew to miss them.

Two other qualities we shared were resolve and a strong commitment to family. These qualities held Grandmomma through more than 50 years of marriage that weren't always easy, because she was determined to preserve her union and her family.

And when sunset was upon her on Sept. 12, this resolve rescued Grandmomma from eternal sleep one last time to speak a final farewell to her youngest great-grandchild, a toddler who bobbled into "G.G.'s" room to kiss her good night.

Although my own steadfast ways haven't always measured up to Grandmomma's, I recall that promise I made to myself when I moved to Kenai: Take two years and decide where I want to be.

So on the trip to her home-going celebration that included four hours of driving through torrential rain and flooding, six takeoffs and landings and 18 hours of flying with a cold that made me feel like my brain was being sucked through my ears, I determined that family is what is most important to me. And when the opportunity presented itself, I decided that near my family is where I want to be.

Before the end of October I will leave Kenai and Alaska, and all the wonderment, beautiful places and beautiful people I discovered here to move to Chicago. It's at least a little closer to Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and New York City. I'll be giving up this pristine paradise that I've grown to love to be nearer to the people I love.

Grandmomma's demise actually was the first piece of bad news I received in that long string of misfortunes that started the second half of this month. But as September comes to a close and I prepare to go on to my next adventure in life, her spirit stays with me and fills my thoughts with joy and song.

And if I listen to my heart, I can hear her spirit singing a hymn she used to hum a lot: "I'm so glad trouble don't last always."

Marcus K. Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.



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