I remember when you sent me sweet cards for birthdays and Christmas, and the envelope and paper inside was saturated in the scent of your perfume. You always included crisp 2 dollar bills inside the card that my child’s mind thought you magically bought wrinkle free and soaked with fragrance. As a child, I learned to play piano on the beautiful ivories of your wooden upright. I’d come to your house weekly to practice scales and then we’d watch a show like Bill Cosby Himself while we ate ice cream and howled with laughter at our favorite jokes again and again.
We always had a special connection – from our music to our love for ‘puppy dogs’ to our heartfelt talks –for as long as I can remember. I’ve come to realize next to my Mom, I was the closest to you of anyone in my biological immediate family. Even when we were miles apart and could only squeeze in phone calls or a quick hug and conversation when I breezed through town–you were a rock to lean on.
You gave me a precious glimpse of my DNA on this Earth–proof that I still had a living biological immediate family member other than my brother who loved me like my Mom. The primal link we shared in our blue eyes, our German faces and our biological bond in blood always gave me hope that perhaps I wouldn’t end up like my parents–who died much too young. My instinctual traits of tenacity and fighting the odds were a generational blessing, in part from you. Anytime I see platinum nail polish, I think of your classic style and the beauty of your well manicured hands.
You and my grandfather instinctually understood what my love for singing and acting meant when I played the lead in a community theatre musical at 17. My Mom told me stories of you coming into her room to kiss her goodnight when she was a child wearing your work uniform – a sequined evening gown donned when you sang with your Father’s Big Band. When I was studying voice and singing occasionally with our college jazz band, I gasped over the fact that the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker wrote you numerous vocal charts. (Which I sadly could never find). I asked you over and over to tell me the stories of your days singing with Big Bands on the radio, touring cross country with the likes of Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey. I loved your re-telling of the times Count Basie came through your small Nebraska town and had dinner and long conversations with your Dad.
I will never hear another jazz standard by singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney without thinking of you. The songs I’ll Be Seeing You, Summertime, September Morn, and He’s Funny That Way will always belong to my memories of you. Always.
I have always known whenever the time would come to say goodbye to you, it would be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I know you can never be ready to lose someone important in your life, no matter how much you prepare for it. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about the waves of grief that have washed over me countless times since you went to the heavenlies. For the first time, losing a family member doesn’t feel real. I still drive by the nursing home where you spent your last days, and feel like I could so easily pull off the road and find you in your room, chirping hello’s and calling me Sera (As in Que, Sera, Sera).
Today is your birthday, and you would’ve been 87 years young. I have no doubt you now have the eternal blush of youth wherever you are in the celestial realms, and I thank God for that with every fiber of my being. I realized I had to find a way to honor you with my words, as we did with music and eulogies and flowers and tears on that sweltering summer day this past July.
You will always and forever live on in my memory and in my heart. I will carry on your love of music and jazz and dogs and the color navy. (Rest assured, my husband will contribute to your love of college football every chance he is able.) I will give thanks for the years God gave us your breath and beauty on this Earth. I will honor my memories of you as part of my legacy, my birthright, my inheritance.
I love you Gramie.