Friday, March 12, 2010

A Little Bit of Rita's All You Need

I missed my paternal grandfather's funeral.  My sister and my fiance (now husband) and I had just rented a house with some friends in Arizona when my Grampy underwent open heart surgery, following his second heart attack.  We didn't even have a phone yet, so we found out he died when we called home from a pay phone outside an Albertsons grocery store.  None of us could afford to travel back east for the funeral, nor could my parents afford to bring us home, and so we missed it.

My parents had just sold the house where I grew up, which happened to be the house where my dad grew up as well, and they were waiting to close on their new house, where they live now.  In the interim, they were staying with my maternal grandparents, which wasn't easy.

My grandmother, Rita, has been dead for over two years now, but remains one of my favorite people on the planet (or other planets, or heaven, or maybe hell; I'm not entirely sure where she is now, people; the point is, she's still my fave; death does nothing to combat her status in this regard).  I called her just days before she died to tell her I'd been invited to Oktoberfest, at Fall Festival in EllicottvilleI wish I were going with you, she replied, We could have a few beers together down there!  And so did I wish it, badly.  I had to pull my car over to the side of the road, sobbing at the thought that we wouldn't be going together, as we had in a couple of years past, my husband officially joining the family when he poured my Gran a beer from the keg.  She was loved beyond measure.  But none of this means she was easy to live with.

The story, as it was told to me, or perhaps I should say: as I remember it being told to me, goes like this:

My parents (and younger sisters) had been living with my mom's parents for a few weeks, waiting to close on their new home.  It wasn't easy, staying there.  She snapped at my sisters, wanted more quiet than a family full of girls was accustomed to, didn't want friends to visit, enforced archaic rules about snack times, and generally bossed everyone around.

One evening, my parents got a call.  The new house was finally theirs!  My parents had been slow in buying their dream home.  Slow in their willingness to assume debt.  In fact, their advice to us was: be bolder than us, take on more debt and be more capable to pay it off, assume you will be successful, then be successful, don't necessarily wait, simply assume middle class status.  And so, after their own long wait, and slow economic scramble upward, they got the call; the house was theirs.  They drove over, went inside, and danced across the hardwood floors, smiling at the new setting of their lives.

On their way out, my dad's cell phone rang.  His father had died during open heart surgery.  Right around the same time he finally received the keys to his new home, and--leaving behind the house where he grew up, and then, in turn, raised his own children--walked into the house where he would eventually become a grandfather. 

A few days later, on the drive to my grandfather's funeral, the radio began to play Lou Bega's Mambo #5.  Suddenly my youngest sister popped up from behind the backseat of the baby blue station wagon with the brown replacement door: hazel eyes sparkling, blond hair bobbing, chubby face smirking as she sang along loudly with just one line of the lyrics: A LITTLE BIT OF RITA'S ALL I NEED!

My whole family burst into laughter as they drove to the funeral.

My dad's dad was the first of my grandparents to go, and the only funeral I missed.  By the time my mom's parents died (within a few short months of each other), I was living back in NY, and able to attend both funerals.  My paternal grandmother is still alive; the only one of my four grandparents still breathing.

But I was always closest to Rita; we all were.  Despite her snappiness, archaic snack time rules and general bossiness, she was Gran.  And she was always there for us, always had our backs, always loved us no matter what.  She never met my son, and I'm still saddened when I think about that sometimes, although I have no doubt that she's watching over him from above (or *ahem* wherever she might be now).

And what I wouldn't give for a little bit of Rita, again, some day.  I'd be more than willing to forgo cheese and crackers for the requisite number of hours before dinner, and accept a sharp smack on the backside when I leaned in for a hug, if it meant just a little bit more of Rita, again one day.

I miss you and I love you, Gran.  Happy Saint Patty's Day weekend, wherever you are!  And please gather both of my grandfathers together for a pint and a bout of family nostalgia, will ya?  If anyone could make a party happen in the afterlife, I've no doubt it would be you!

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