Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Shaking the family tree

My rhubarb harvest, about 25% of the stalks. This yielded 6 cups of cut up pieces, enough for 2 crisps
I took this crisp to my relatives stopping at a store right before their house to get caramel ice cream
my cousin loves to collect bird carvings, particularly of crows. She must have had close to a hundred
her husband has a variety of carved Great Lake fishes made by a local artist
My grandma painted this years ago. My aunt, my uncle and my cousin all had her paintings. I assume my mom had some too but I did not have access to her house due to a mentally disturbed squatter living in there
My 95 year aunt looking very much like my mom. Her voice is very similar too. She shows very little signs of ageing. Very sharp and mobile

Me and my 92 year old uncle. Still quite handsome but now is lost in a cloud of dementia. My aunt was the oldest of 7; my uncle was baby #3 and my mom #5. My mom's younger sister, #7, is still alive and doing well

Steve and I made the 2.5 hour drive to the west coat of Michigan to Spring Lake, both a town and a lake-like body of water. It turns out my bicycle ride will begin on its northern side in Fruitport. It actually is the mouth of Michigan's biggest river, Grand River. My cousin lives on one of its many inlets. It is just a short pontoon boat ride to Lake Michigan though she prefers to take her boat to a quiet bayou to just sit on her floating island reading and drinking beer. Her condo is full of many collections: carved birds, carved fishes, antique miniature sewing machines, antique dolls, big clay jugs. She has a sewing room with 3 sewing machine, a huge loom and lots of other equipment I couldn't identify. She makes many quilts and wall hangings, which were on the walls along with her mother's paintings and our grandma's paintings.

We went to pick up her mother, my 95 year old aunt who was 6 years older than my mom. I wanted to find out how much did she remember about my mom growing up. But by the time my mom was a teenager, my aunt had long since disappeared. Mostly I learned more about my aunt, how she butted heads with her mother. So why did my mom leave home and school at 16? Still a mystery.

My grandma loved babies but didn't have much use for older kids. Just on to the next baby until she outgrew that child. then just have another baby. My aunt as the oldest, observed this over and over and thus wasn't a big fan of Grandma especially as she felt compelled to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, her mother-in-law moved in when my mom was a teenager. Grandma hated her and left her care to my mom and her younger sister. Maybe that is why my mom left. I must talk to the younger sister at some point. My grandma was a musician and an artist. What she didn't feel like doing is feeding her kids and taking care of them. She presumably grew some special lilies for my mother's wedding. Unless she had a hot house, it would be hard to have lilies bloom in mid June here ( I might get some lilies by the end of June). At any rate, my father's mother, who had planned the whole wedding, probably would not have used them anyway. I see no lilies in the photos.

My aunt is an amazing picture of health with skin of someone younger than me even though she is out in the sun (and has a good tan). She does not need a walker and strides quite quickly. She has a slight tremor and has difficulty focusing her eyes on small objects due to macular degeneration but otherwise is quite alert and sharp. My mom must have gotten the short end of the  stick in many ways. She was lost in a large family of strong personalities and I feel, forgotten about.

We went out to lunch in a bakery based café. There is a huge artisanal coffee roaster nearby whose coffee was featured at the café. They had a fairly innovative menu for being out in the boonies. I had fejoda, a Brazilian stew. We took home a freshly baked apricot scone and a huge brioche.

Then on to my uncle's. He was doing fine until a few months ago. Now he has congestive heart disease and dementia. He no longer remembers me. I told him that I was my mother's daughter (his sister). Oh, how is she doing?

How do I answer that? In the past, he knew she had died. Do I want to remind him of that? I was told to tell him the truth. He just shrugged. His own wife had died last year.

We left to do some sight seeing. Steve and I had stayed in nearby Grand Haven years ago on a Sunday. A good portion of south west Michigan had been settled by puritanical Dutch (leaving their liberal, fun loving brethren behind) and they enforced 'blue' laws for everyone. I had asked where I could buy wine. Oh we would have to go to Muskegon County (fortunately not far away) for that. Later we ate in a restaurant that had a note on the menu that although the powers that were in Ottawa county had forbidden the sale and consumption of beer and wine on Sunday, they had forgotten to mention mixed drinks, so we could have that. When my cousin first visited the county wanting a beer, she was told she needed to buy a mixed drink instead. So she randomly decided upon a Long Island ice tea not knowing until she was almost comatose that it contained 5 shots of alcohol. But things have changed in Ottawa county so we can drink (useful as we will be there on a Sunday night in 5 weeks).

We returned to my cousin's for some of the crisp I had made and some Nicey Spicey beer from Short's (they are beer collectors  and have a refrigerator just for that). It was a nice time. My aunt will try to find some childhood photos of my mom. I had seen only one and have no idea where that is. We (I) had planned to stop in East Lansing for dinner but during a moment's inattention , Steve blew by the exit. Oh well, I still had my apricot scone.


Elephant's Child said...

Dementia is one of the cruelest illnesses isn't it?
We like to believe a whole lot of warm things about family don't we? And some of them are simply not true.
Your aunt looks amazing for her age.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

My grandma was always so sweet to me but to her kids, she presented a different face I guess. My mom was presumably her favorite.

My mom died of dementia, much younger than her brother who is in the early stages of it.


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