Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Amazin' Grace

It’s true..there’s a special bond between me and my maternal grandmother. I never understood exactly why, except that I was the first in a long line of chilren’ who called her Gaga. I suppose that could have been short for Geraldine, but most likely it was the first gibberish spoken by the royal princess to the queen of the clan.

Geraldine Inez grew up, though not spoiled, living the good life as the only child of her parents Ethel and Oscar Hamilton. Years later when they were both gone, Gaga moved into their home on Pate Street. When I would spend the night with her as a kid, I slept in the back bedroom where a picture of her daddy, Oskie stared at me through wire- rimmed spectacles in the dark of the night. The door to the dirt basement was in that room as well. Even though I knew there was nothing down there except plastic poinsettias for the cemetery, I always imagined that the ghost of Oskie was restlessly pacing the steps marking time until his return to scare the wits out of me. gaga
Geraldine married as a demure sixteen year old, to a handsome gent named Harold who was an accomplished musician in a traveling band. As far as I knew, she never even had a date following his death at age 45 from heart disease. They were totally and completely in love and they had four children with two sisters surviving today. Harold, my Pawpaw, gave up life on the road with the band and settled down to raise that family as a prominent businessman who owned a Sinclair station and proudly wore the uniform. I’ve never met a soul who had anything but admiring words to say about him…as a merchant or just as a person. I was three when he died, but I still remember the special times that we spent together. Or maybe I’ve just heard about them enough that I think I remember ‘em.
paw paw
There was money for the family when he died….loads of it. Gaga ran the business of managing his real estate holdings for many years. The only boy and the baby of the bunch was her weak spot when it came to money. As far as I know, he never had a real payin’ job prior to his death at the age of 36. What Gaga didn’t spend on traveling and spoiling us kids, he drank and drugged away. Her solemn promise to me was to take me to visit the places that she had cruised on the Queen Mary to visit in Europe when I graduated from high school.

Graduation came and went and, well. You know how things happen. By then she was depending on my Mama and Aunt Nancy to keep her life in the middle of the road , so to speak. She got a job at the hospital where I now work, and hung on until mandatory retirement at the age of 70. All of the property was sold to pay the debts of a lifetime of high living and Gaga moved from the pretty homes she had known into an assisted living facility at her girls’ expense. It was a right nice place with a private apartment for her, close to the entrance. That came in handy when she gave me her dining room table and chairs, with a china cabinet to boot. I got the silver too. Lucky me.

The night that Gaga died, we were all camped out in the waiting room of the intensive care unit waiting for her passage to glory. The nurses, being a compassionate lot, allowed us free visitation during her last hours. Death don’t come easy, even when you’re pumped full of morphine. The midnight hour came and went as we trekked down the hall at sporadic intervals. Gaga was restless and weary, doing the work of dying. Around three in the mornin’, something woke me up. Walking in my socked feet into her cubicle, I listened to her moan and suffer. My alto voice was in good shape then, and I crept up to her bedside and held her hand as I sang “Amazing Grace” quietly next to her ear. The fidgeting stopped and she became peaceful as a lamb. And you know what? It was right then and there that I knew all was well. To this day, when I get weary and restless and afraid I can hear my own alto voice singing that song solo, just as clear and bright as if were right here and now.