Monday, December 7, 2009

Grandma Svejda

The name is pronounced shway’-da
by Charlie Leck

I liked the old girl. Maybe it’s because we were a lot alike.

She was extremely self-centered and demanded more than attention. She wanted to be taken care of, served, pampered and she was always at the front of every line. I can see my friend, Fred, and several of my family members, reading these first few sentences and nodding their heads.

"Yup," they say, "yup! Just like his grandmother!"

My grandma's demands wore on people. My brothers and sister didn’t try to hide their dislike. My old man grew really tired of her routine also. Nevertheless, I liked her. Perhaps it was because it seemed unfair to watch the “piling on!” She needed someone on her side. She stood alone for lots of reasons. I wanted to stand with her.

Her name was Emma Svedja – a Bohemian name that’s pronounced like shway’-da. She was my mother’s mother. When my mother died at the young age of 49, my grandmother stood quite alone – except for her 5 grandchildren. Her husband had died 10 years earlier. She had lost her parents, of course, and also all her brothers and sisters and both of her own children. Her son Johnny, a New York City policeman, had died at a very young age (his mid-twenties). Johnny’s only child, a daughter, was born only a day or two before he died. She was eventually raised by her mother and a step-father.

Poor grandmother’s only family, at that point, was really an in-law family. She was dependent upon the fondnesses of a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law who parented her grandchildren. I was never pleased with the way she was treated. In fact, my family really just put up with her. She sensed that attitude and it carved great creases of sadness in her face

I’ve always been inclined toward the underdog. I loved dear, old grandma and I let her know. I was days away from my19th birthday when my mother died. Grandma was at our home in New Jersey on the day mother slipped away and drifted toward the stars. I remember her sitting on a hard, wooden chair in my father’s general store a few hours after “they” had taken mother’s body on its long, last journey. Her eyes were filled with the sad awareness that she had outlived them all -- every single member of her own family except for grandkids. They had all journeyed off and left her here. Her dearest friends were also gone away. The unfairness of it bit at me. If ever there was one who needed to be surrounded by family or caretakers, it was my grandmother. Her grief, sitting there alone, was different than mine or my father’s. Her misery was terrifying for her. She was so utterly alone.

In just a matter of weeks, I was off to the Midwest. It was an immense journey for a young man who had never ventured much beyond the eastern border of Pennsylvania. My grandmother got shuttled off to a nursing home. She was constantly on my mind. It was costly for me, but over the next half dozen years, while she lived on, I would venture back to New York City a couple times each year to visit her. In her final year she didn’t know me and barely knew I or anyone was there. Death had drawn close to her when I visited her the last time. Its blessing was only weeks away. Her loneliness and emptiness was nearly over.

When word came that she had cast off, I remember the relief and gratitude that swept over me. Now, among the stars, all memories would return in truthful detail and she could again be engulfed in the love of her husband, parents, children and eternal restfulness. The old girl deserved it.

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