Friday, February 24, 2006


A couple of weekends ago and shortly after the one-year anniversary of the death of my grandmother, after whom I was named, I finally bit the bullet and set out for Malibu to dispose of her ashes.

Several of Granny’s children and grandchildren were offered some portion of her ashes. I took mine home with me on the plane from her home in South Carolina. I also acquired a nice little pair of stainless steel needle-nosed pliers that she had set aside for me in her will. (This gift makes more sense if you understand that we shared a passion for charm bracelets.) Of course there were items of more monetary value as well, but none of those were unusual enough to arouse the curiosity of airport security. They took the pliers from me, saying that I was not allowed to bring any “tools” on board. And since I was forced by a flight cancellation to check all my bags at the gate, there was nothing I could do about it. They took my pliers. I started to cry. I explained that they had been willed to me by my dead grandmother. They looked understandably skeptical.

Then they pulled out the velour drawstring bag containing my Granny’s ashes. They peered inside.

“What’s this?” one screener asked.

I looked at him for a moment and said simply “My grandmother.”

I was too exhausted and morose to be snarky or indignant. I didn’t want to fight with airport security, I didn’t want to struggle to make the flight, or worry about the snowstorm at O’Hare and the repercussions throughout the United schedule. It had been a long sad week, and I just wanted to go home.

Suddenly something changed in the dynamic between me and the screeners. My luggage was zipped up in a flash and handed back to me. I was waved on. As I turned to walk away, one of them held up the pliers and said “Sorry. We’ve got to keep these.” I nodded and ran for my gate.

Some time ago, it occurred to me that one of the best things my Gran ever gave me was a love of the ocean. When I was five, she took me on a trip to visit her sister in Washington state, and soon after we got there it was determined that Gran and I would join her sister's family on a clam dig at the shore. I remember that day vividly still. I remember screaming with delight at the sight of the ocean. I remember that I screamed so long and so joyously that the adults all laughed. And Gran showed me starfish, and sand dollars, picking them up gingerly with her fingers, and then setting them back down in the surf. I remember digging for clams, even though, having seen a clam, I couldn’t understand how they could dig. “He digs with his foot,” Gran said, “he has a foot inside his shell that he digs with.”

I remember peering into Gran’s bucket of clams, afraid and yet half wishing that this mysterious “clam foot” would pop out of one of those shells.

I was no good at clam digging, and that was just fine with me, except for the fact that Gran kept asking me about my progress. She would look over her shoulder as she flung shovelfuls of sand and say “How many clams do you have in your bucket?” And I would say “None, Granny.”

She would then urge me to dig faster.

Gran was, of course, a wiz at clam digging. She was a refined Midwestern lady and yet could roll up her sleeves or her pant legs and dig clams or fish or build a fire with the best of them. She was nothing if not absolutely self-reliant, at least in those days.

I wasn’t allowed to fish, because I wouldn’t bait a hook. And if you couldn’t stand to put a worm on a hook you had no business fishing, according to Gran. Years later, I took her philosophy to its logical extreme and became a vegetarian. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the result she was looking for.

See, even in those early outings with Gran, the pattern was set for our interactions ever after. I guess I never much remembered the endless things I did that pleased her or made her proud, but I agonized without end over the ways in which I disappointed that remarkable woman. And yet despite my girly squeamishness, I loved the ocean, and I wanted to run in the waves and collect shells and watch it churn forever. And I thought that there must be something kinda magic about my Gran, that she had the power to reveal such amazing new sights to me.

So it follows, I guess, that I thought that the Pacific was a good place to scatter what remained of her.

My boyfriend Spooney, endlessly patient, accompanied me on this errand, perhaps just a tad motivated by the promise of calamari and a bloody mary afterward at Paradise Cove.

We climbed the cliff above Point Dume in Malibu, but of course the wind was blowing in, so any ashes that I threw from the top would only come back in my face. I was very concerned that this not happen to Gran’s ashes, as it seemed like the height of indignity, and Gran was really the essence of dignity. I mean, she could look dignified while she nailed you with a snowball.

Also, I was mindful of an episode involving my ex, in which, due to a wind shift, his own grandmother’s ashes ended up scattered across the stern of the boat they stood in, instead of in Lake Michigan. At the time, my ex and I were in contact from the shore via cell phone with the tiny boat, and right after some mournful words were intoned, we heard laughing, and then someone said, “Uh-oh. Grandma’s all over the boat.”

No such fate for my Granny. No siree.

So down to the shore Spooney and I went, and out into the surf among the rocks underneath the Point, and I waited until a wave rushed in, and stalled for a second or two, and then just as it began to rush back out again I threw my handful of ashes across the water.

Success. Out she went, and then sucked underneath into the tumult of competing waves.

Goodbye, Granny. I miss you so much. And one more thing.

It has occurred to me that I wasted so many years trying to earn your love, when really it was mine all along.

And I wonder if that ever occurred to you.


david said...

Absolutely beautiful.

Spooney said...

I can't agree more. Very nice.

dad said...

Thanks for sharing your memories.

GETkristiLOVE said...

I think she knew she had your love too. I hope so anyway. I spread Granny's ashes on a run at Vail called "Cloud Nine."

Judy said...

I'm crying and smiling at the same time. I dug clams with her once too and was told all about the clam foot. I know she knew she had your love, she told me so, and she also told me how much she loved you too. We were so lucky to have her in our lives.

Thank you for your beautiful words, Cuz.

love ya!

Henry David Thorough said...

Wow!!! Who wrote that piece? Yours was one of the first blogs that caught my attention when I first started looking at them a bit ago, and it wa the one about the ridiculous sign comparing freedom of speech to terrorism. Pretty understandibly, I had you pegged for a tough chick. It was wonderful to experience your soft side. Very Beautiful memory of your childhood innocence... and your Grandmother. Thank You! Just goes to show that labels really never stand up to closer contact.

Mom said...

you paint good memories with your words and tender wit. Mom

vikkitikkitavi said...

I knew this post was going to ruin my rep!

Oh, well, even Bogie had his maudlin moments...

Bro said...

Well we have both oceans covered, I took the flower from her service and let it go in the sound outside of the resteraunt in South Carolina (I knew the flower would not survive airport security) There must have been a tide as it was drawn out to see rather quickly. A lone pink flower floating on the ocean.