On Death and Livestock

I spent the last week in California, and then, as has become my habit whenever possible, I swung through Tennessee on my way back to England.

I've made this a pseudo-regular detour to enable me to visit the Critter's namesake, my grandmother, who last November turned 172 years old.

OK, I'm lying. She's not actually my grandmother. She's my mother's first husband's mother.(Back up. Say it over in your mind slowly. You'll get it). I am the offspring of my mother & her second husband. For the last 15 or 20 years, she's been married to her third husband... who's also on his third marriage. Think that's bad? My mother was my father's third wife, and he had married again before he passed away 17 years ago.

My family belongs to the "Practice makes perfect" school of marriage.

Anyway - my brother and sister - actually the products of my mother's first marriage, and therefore only my half brother and sister - grew up with this grandmother in their lives (and therefore mine), and she and I discovered a kindred-spirit in each other early on, and adopted one another. I told her this last visit that this makes it even nicer, because we didn't have to like each other. We chose to.

Note: this doesn't count my other 2 half brothers and half sister from my father's first marriage, or the 3 step-brothers I inherited from when my mother married this last time.

Christmas at our house is Very, Very Difficult™

As always, my visit was both great and far too short. My aging grandmother is still aged, and her generally sharp mind is trapped in a body which is falling apart. I spent many hours at the nursing home with my grandmother being catty about our family, and playing my banjo badly for her to while away the time, and entertain the nurses and other residents of the facility. I dragged her out of the nursing home to get lunch both days: the first day she asked for a hamburger, a chocolate shake and a decent cup of coffee. The second day was a country ham biscuit and another strong cup of coffee. What's it going to do, shorten her lifespan? If she asks me to score some heroine and a bevy of male strippers, I'll be looking for a dealer at the nearest Chippendale's - I figure she's earned pretty much anything she wants at this point.

All things considered, my grandmother has a much better attitude about the whole nursing home thing than I think I would. She's remarkably calm about the fact that she needs the physical assistance to do pretty much anything outside of lying in bed, and that the only realistic exit from the facility is to die. It was both terribly depressing and quite refreshing to talk quite matter-of-factly about her death. I'm not sure if all of my family is as ready to see her shuffle off her mortal coil as she herself is, and I know that when it eventually happens, I will most certainly plunge into the kind of grief-induced crying jag not seen since Tammy Faye Baker (except with more sincerity and less mascara). Ultimately, however, I'm both at peace with and glad that she and I have the kind of understanding connection that allows us to find humor in the face of infirmity and death. I can only hope that I will find the same sort of peace when my time comes.

On a side note from the trip: I've reinforced my belief that my parents are only barely sane. Think I'm exaggerating? They bought a bull while I was there. As in: a giant male cow. Why the hell do a pair of retirees who spent all or nearly-all of their lives within the metropolitan areas of Chicago, L.A. or Atlanta need a bull, you ask? Well, they already have 11 heifers, so a bull was the only natural next step. This is in addition to the 30+ goats, 4 dogs, 5 chickens and 3 guinea fowl. Let me remind you: these are the same people who would not let me have a pet when I was a kid. My mother just broke her leg while chasing one of the goats, and they think it the rational thing to do to buy a bull. They asked me what I thought of their new bull as they were busy trying to get it to hold still in the trailer so that they could stab it with a giant needle full of antibiotics. I assume it's a good bull. I couldn't really say, as I was trying to keep a minimum distance of three city blocks between me and the snorting, pissed-off bovine. I did, however, buy a really cool cowboy hat while I was in Nashville, which at least has "cow" in the name.

I've since made it back to England, where the people are reliably sane and civilized, only to find the weather cold and wet, and - well, very English. After a few days in Tennessee where it was 85+ degrees, it's a bit of a shock to come back to weather in low to mid 40's as it was this morning as I left for work. What the hell? I thought we were supposed to be enjoying global warming?

Damn that Al Gore...

I will post pictures of random Tennessee insanity as time allows.