Sunday, July 17, 2011

A farewell

I’m a lucky man to count on both hands
The ones I love...
Some folks just have one,
Others they got none...
--Pearl Jam, Just Breathe

That song has been floating around my head all week. It feels fitting today.

I feel incredibly lucky that I've had six people in my life who I've considered grandparents. Six! Can you even imagine the love?

There were my four biological grandparents: Grandmom and Grandpop on my Dad's side, with whom I lived all my early years, and Nana and Grandpa on my Mom's side, who lived in Florida but who I was fortunate to visit with at least twice a year for most of my life. They were all unique and loving in their own ways, and I feel lucky to have known them all. All of them passed away in the last fifteen years or so.

And then, well....when I was two, my mother befriended a woman who lived on our street. She had children whose ages matched my two brothers and me, and it at her house that the most defining friendship of my life was formed. I met Amy, five weeks older than me and destined to become my non-biological sister. We have been best friends ever since.

Amy has a HUGE family. Really, it dwarfs mine. Seven brothers and sisters, tons of aunts, uncles and cousins, and their house was always full to the brim with kids. And yet no one ever flinched to see another kid, a skinny blond girl with big glasses, whenever I showed up at to play. I was just part of the family. I never had to knock; the front door was never locked. No one was ever surprised to see me there.

That included Amy's two grandmothers.

There was Grandma Paczkowski (yes, I did just google that spelling!), who lived around the corner from me. Amy and I used to walk to her house to play Labyrinth, and eat M&Ms and drink Coke.

She passed away when we were in our teens, and we still talk about those times. Good, fun times.

Then there was Grandma Eberle.

If you ever wanted to know the true meaning of the word "matriarch," you needed look no further than Grandma Eberle. She was Amy's father's mother, and I swear she ran the family show. Things revolved around her. She was at every family party (of which there were hundreds, though the years), and it was always expected that you'd filter past at least once to say hello to her. She had a...presence. Like the Godfather, only she was the Grandmother.

Nowhere was this presence more felt than at Frog Hollow, the swim club to which both our families belonged. Grandma Eberle was there every day of the summer. I can still see here there with her white curly hair, in her skirted one-piece bathing suit, sitting in the shade with the other ladies, the other matriarchs of the pool.

They watched out for us kids, and only now that I'm a mom do I understand the importance of what they did. My mother often dropped my brothers and me off at the pool for the day, with strict instructions for my oldest brother to keep an eye on us younger ones. But he didn't have to, because Grandma Eberle was always there to watch.

And let me just tell you - she kept us in line! She had that "look." One glance from her when you were misbehaving and, well, you stopped. You could get away with no crap when Grandma Eberle was around. She was old-school, and she single-handedly kept the vast majority of us Eberle and Soltis kids out of trouble. I know now how grateful my parents must have been.

And yet, she wasn't always all about intimidation. She was also at every swim meet, cheering for her grandkids. She always had a special word for me if I had a good race, or a bad one.

She was always there. A constant in my younger days. I was afraid of her, sure - that "look" was intense - but I loved her.

As we all grew up, the family of which she was still the leader grew and expanded. Her grandchildren had kids (I won't even attempt to count them all...the number is vast), and those great-grandchildren loved her too. And she loved them.

And for me, even though I'd moved far away, she was still excited when I did come to visit. The last time I saw her was at Amy's college graduation party, and I swear to you, her face lit up when she saw me walking over. It didn't matter that I wasn't related by blood - I was a proxy grandkid, and she was happy to see me.

In recent years, I've sent pictures of Zoe, and while I can't guarantee it (she moved to Florida a couple years back to be with her daughter), I imagine Zoe's picture was up on her fridge along with all her other great-grandchildren. I'm sure it was.

So, you can just begin to grasp the love with which Grandma Eberle's life was filled. Her family adored her, and she them.

She passed away Friday night, and I feel as though I've lost my last grandparent. It's an orphaned feeling, in a way, but then I stop and think.

Six. Wow. Six.

Damn, I am a lucky girl.

And for you, Grandma Eberle. You are loved and you will always be missed.

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