26 July 2011

Hello, Insomnia, my Old Friend...

Most anyone who knows me beyond a passing acquaintance knows the following:
  • I enjoy historic pursuits
  • I enjoy being Lutheran
  • Cancer is bullshit.
I think that most people know the latter anyway because who can really disagree that cancer is bullshit? The two former facts are, if we trace them back to their origins, brought to you by my mother's parents, my grandma and grandpa, Anna Lou and E.H. Grote. Doing a bit of math, which I had heretofore not done, I discover that they were, respectively, fifty and fifty-five when I was born in 1984. My mother is presently fifty-five.

My grandma, Anna Louise Heidensohn (for whom I am named), was born on 1 April 1933, which is the same day that the National Socialists began a boycott all of the Jewish businesses in Germany. It only made it three days because most German shoppers viewed it with a shrug, and when my grandma was three days old, they called it off.

My grandpa, Ehler Herman Grote, was born on 25 June 1928, on which date, as far as I know, nothing else of note occurred. However, it is important to note that 25 June is Leon Day, and thus my grandfather shares his birth date with the half birthday of one of the most influential men in western civilisation.

I spent a significant amount of time with them when I was smallish to medium. When Grandma and I were not running errands in town or fixing fences or some such, she would draw our family trees (which are large) and explain to me who all is related to whom and how, and tell me stories about their lives. My favourite stories were about her parents. My great-grandfather, Walter Herman Heidensohn, immigrated to San Antonio from Germany in the twenties. His movement has inspired a paper which I am hoping will meet success in the next eight months or so; he grew up in World War I Germany and his elder sisters gave up their rations so that he would be less malnourished. Less. He was a man of short stature since there was no food when he was meant to be growing, and I suspect that the malnourishment caused him to have a weak heart. He died of a heart attack on 4 July of either 1958 or 59.

Grandma told me stories about the Berlin Wall (the only time I ever heard her say anything which could be construed as profanity was when she was explaining that they built it right through cemeteries, and that it was a "hellish" thing to do. I can think of some significantly stronger words to describe it, but the impact was there), and about her cousin who was in the German Army (the Wehrmacht, says twenty-seven year old me) and was captured and taken to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he spent the remainder of the war. My great-grandfather wrote to him often, and as a result was investigated, so the story goes, by the FBI. Men in suits came to his workplace, Central Power and Light in Corpus Christi, to question him.

Fortunately, his boss, a Mr. Floyd Salmon, informed the men in suites that he was "no damned Nazi," and we lived happily ever after. Lucky, that, says twenty-seven year old me, because while the Japanese took the brunt of the internment during World War II, there were Germans at Crystal City. It is a very real possibility that had Mr. Salmon not stood up for him, Grandma and Aunt Dene would have come home from grade school to find their house empty, as happened to a not insignificant amount of German- and Japanese-descended children at that point. The government would just haul off the parents. Twenty-seven year old me is relieved that ten year old me did not know that, because ten year old me was paranoid enough as it was.

My grandpa could do anything, and he often did. He built the addition to their house. Without plans. Seriously. And he used a good deal of recycled material to do it. He taught me how to use a scroll saw when I was ten, and I was fourteen when he taught me how to use the lathe. He crocheted. He built a large bird house for his sundry birds (twenty-seven year old me wishes that I had met Amber earlier, because they could have talked about birds). He taught me to ride a horse and to not be afraid of large hooved creatures.

Amber is concerned because I have not gone to church in a very long time. The thing is, church, to me, is not an activity to its own end. If I want to experience G-d, I can sit right here, or outside, or on a hill. Church, for me, has always been about tradition, and history, and ritual (notably, the opposite of what the average evangelical thinks church is about. Church, I have been told, is not about tradition, or history, or ritual, and in fact, if one thinks that it is about those things, they are in danger of going to Hell. Yeah, they can go to Hell). Church is sitting between Grandma and Grandpa while they sing "I Love to Tell the Story" or sitting next to Aunt Carol while she pokes me in the ribs during "Lead On, O King Eternal" or listening to Uncle Don sort of yodel his way through "Earth and All Stars," (I defy anyone to try to sing it without yodeling, in his defence) and after the service making jokes about the folks behind us bringing buckets in which to carry the tune.

Church is sitting to my mom while she inevitably cries during "Lift High the Cross" -- something which disturbed me profoundly until I was about seventeen -- and makes notes on the bulletin about what the pastor is saying during the sermon.

Church feels kind of empty without all of that, and I fear that the memory is not enough. I have to conjure up my grandma's voice on a weekly basis or I feel I will forget how she sounded when she was praying with me, or calling the cats for breakfast, or explaining to me about Germany and Germans and how we are not, in fact, like Hitler (who was "an evil, evil, EVIL man"). Now I am going to have to do the same with my grandpa's, because when he called me last Saturday and I missed the call, he declined to leave a voice message.

I fear that I am going to lose myself now that I have lost them both. I have not slept worth a damn since last Sunday and I am awake right now because when I tried to sleep earlier, my overactive imagination went on a bender bringing up images of my sundry forebears dying. If I did not have Amber right now, I do not know what I would do.

Actually, I know exactly what I would do because I know what I did eleven years ago: I did not eat, I did not sleep. I watched Designing Women for three weeks straight and never left the couch. I cried all. the. time.

Right now, I am merely not sleeping, and I cry only most of the time, and I eat every so often. No Designing Women yet. I even managed to have a good dinner with two of my best friends and some slushy vodka lemonade with no repercussions.

A lot of it is still really surreal. I mean, I made the bulletins. I called the church where my grandpa and I were both baptised so as to get the date of his baptism. My sister and I had them printed. My aunt and cousins and I folded them. My other grandparents and two aunts and an uncle came to express their condolences. We went shopping in San Antonio so that I would have something to wear. Amber drove to Austin and back so that we would have pictures and a hymnal. I gave what was possibly the worst eulogy in the history of mankind, and none of it seems real.

Yet I grieve.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you. It's been 10+ years since I lost 3 grandparents within 3 years. Once the grief fades, it will just magnify the love and admiration you have for them. Carry on their traditions and stories; and continue sharing them with the world.

They've permanently shaped you as a person; therefore will always be with you.

9:12 AM  

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