Miss Ginger has been thinking a lot about death and dying lately, for obvious reasons. Not only has she dealt with the death of her beloved Jackson, but a few weeks earlier, one of her best friends, with whom she shares an unfortunate connection to death, lost his Dad, and Boy G drove up for the funeral. Despite her cheerful exterior, death and dying is always on her mind. It comes from being the youngest in the family.
Miss G's first loss was her maternal grandfather, whom she had only known at her young age to be a sick old man. When Zha Zha (that's another blog post!) and Grandaddy would come over to the house, Grandaddy would sit in Momma's chair, and cough, and cough, and cough. He had terrible emphysema, and when he would cough into a kleenex, he would fold it the short way, then roll it the long way, into a neat, anal-retentive log, and throw it into the trash can that always sat by momma's chair for the bits and threads she'd clip from her knitting. When they went home, Momma would immediately send one of us out to empty that can! It would have 100's of those little "logs" in it, and it broke her heart to see it.
When Grandaddy died, Miss G and the family received a "funeral ham", the first of many! Zha Zha, Aunt Selma, then Paw Paw. By the time Paw Paw died, Baby G had the gig down pat. He walked home from school, as always, and instead of Momma standing in the kitchen making dinner, Aunt Nen was there. A ham was on the counter.
"Hi, Aunt Nen!", said a cheerful Baby G. "Who died?"
She said "your Grandfather died" to which I replied "Aunt Nen, Grandaddy's been dead for years!"
"No", she said, "It was was your Father's Father. I'm so sorry."
"Paw Paw?", I asked. "But he hasn't even been sick!"
Paw Paw was 83 years old and the picture of health- or so we thought. He had gone to the doctors office for his physical. The doctor gave him a clean bill of health. He went to the front desk to pay the bill, and dropped dead of a heart attack, right there in the doctor's office. Paw Paw was kind of mean, and had a mean Boston Terrier named Totsie. I was scared of both of them, so I wasn't sad that Paw Paw had died. But he was the first person I had known who died without being pitifully sick. That was scary!
My Grandparents had lots of sisters and brothers, so lots of old people died when I was little. Baby G's first brush with the death of a friend happened at the ripe old age of 12. Our next door neighbors, a family of proud Italian heritage, owned the town's nicest gift shop, where the most well-heeled brides registered their patterns, and Poppa G went for special gifts for Momma G. The shop had been owned by Pete's parents, the late Pete Sr. and Momma Rose, and when Pete was 8 years old, his parents took him to Italy on a buying trip for the shop. When Pete's oldest son turned 8, the store was doing extremely well, so Pete stayed home to tend the shop and sent his mother, his wife, and his oldest of 2 sons to Italy to repeat the trip. They flew on ill-fated Eastern Flight 66 from New Orleans to JFK, which crashed due to wind shear and killed everyone on board. This poor man lost his mother, his wife, and his firstborn son in this tragic accident, and from what I understand, never really recovered. And Baby G lost his best friend.
Our neighborhood had service alleys between the rows of houses, and across the alley from us was a lovely family that our family knew very well. They had adopted 2 children, a popular girl who fell between the ages of brothers 2 and 3, and a son, who was a somewhat troubled fellow, but only a couple of years older than me, so someone I liked to hang out with. Chances are if I got in trouble, he was involved. Back then, everyone in town used natural Christmas trees, so after Christmas, all us kids in the neighborhood would collect the discarded trees and drag them to vacant lots where we would make "tree forts". Of course, each group wanted to have the most trees, so we would often raid each other's forts to steal their trees to add a wing to our own construction. It was all innocent fun, playing with trash, really!
When your group made a tree raid, you needed to be able to get in, get the loot, and get out quickly without getting caught, so my friend taught himself to tie a hangman's noose, and created a series of them on one rope. This way, we could quickly nab several trees each, noose them swiftly behind our bikes, and speed away to add them to our fort before anyone missed them! It seemed ingenious and innocuous to me.
One cold January night, Momma and Dad called me into the dining room- never a place you wanted to be summoned!
"G", said a very serious toned Poppa, "we have a very important question to ask you. It's very important that you tell us the truth."
"Sure", replied an always obedient Baby G. "I know better than to lie to you."
"Do you know where K is? If you know where he is, it's very important that you tell us the truth"
"No, Daddy, I have no idea. He got mad at me when I lost 4 trees on the last raid because I couldn't pedal fast enough! I haven't seen him in weeks!"
"Are you sure?", prodded Momma G. "If you know where he is, you must tell us- no matter what you may have promised him or no matter what he may have asked you to keep secret."
"Momma, there are no secrets. I have no idea where he is! What's going on?"
Momma and Daddy explained to me that K's parents could not find him, and that he had not come home the night before. They had called the police, and were worried sick. Of course, I would have told them if I knew where he was.
All weekend long, both families worried. K's parents waited together by the phone, hoping he'd be found. Monday morning, K's Dad went to his office/warehouse to update his staff and let them know he was going to take some time off. When he walked into the warehouse, there was his son, hanging from one of the rafters by a hangman's noose.
None of us will ever really know exactly what happened, or how it happened. There was no sign of foul play or forced entry, so the authorities were pretty sure it was not a murder. Was it really a suicide, or just a curious kid's experiment gone horribly wrong. I guess we'll never know.
In a lot of ways, Aunt Nen was as much a Grandmother to us as our own Grandparents. Aunt Nen was Grandaddy's sister, and she was Momma's favorite aunt. Momma and Zha Zha had their own tumultuous mother/daughter relationship, but Momma and Aunt Nen loved each other unconditionally. Aunt Nen and Uncle George, my namesake, were unable to have children, so they treated Momma and Daddy's brood of boys as their own, and the older boys' stories of fishing with Uncle George are legendary! Uncle George died before I was born, but the stories told by Daddy and the older boys make him sound like Earnest Hemingway, with a fascinating, swashbuckling lifestyle and a joie de vivre to be recond with! He was a fisherman, woodworker, and collector, and Miss G still has treasures from around the world that they collected during the 30's and 40's as they traveled in search of black gold! Uncle George was a driller, so after the geologists found oil in places around the world, he arrived close behind to figure out how to get it out of the ground. Give Aunt Nen a bottle of scotch and a box of chocolate covered cherries and you were in for a long night of hilarious, spirited stories about their travels and experiences! Aunt Nen was the last of the "old people" to die, and I loved her very much. The cuckoo clock Uncle George had imported from the black forest for her shortly after their wedding is one of my prized possessions, and even though it's very difficult to keep an 84 year old clock working, it still hangs in a place of honor in my home. Most of the interesting artifacts in my home were, in fact, inherited from Aunt Nen and Uncle George.
The 80's brought the horrors of the AIDS crisis into Miss G's life,and she lost many, many friends, as did many of her readers. These were the years that formed her intent toward philanthropy, and she is proud to do her work in honor of these remarkable souls.
The 90's brought the death of her beloved Poppa G, and in the 21st century she lost Momma G and her oldest brother. There was another terrible death during this time, still too raw to blog about, but it was the experience, more than any, that taught Miss G just how fleeting life can be, and how important it is to live each day as though it were your last!
Of course, with each of these deaths came a funeral, and in her next post, Miss G will opine on the modern McFuneral model, and share her wishes for her own departure from the worldly. Hope you'll stay tuned so you'll be able to help see our girl out in style... IF you can outlive her!! Good luck with that!