The long slow goodbye

dadanniebanWith great difficulty, given the morphine drip, Annie-Bananie was struggling to keep her eyes open Sunday afternoon to acknowledge all the visiting family members.

“Wie gehts?” asked Dad when he arrived with my brother Brian and his family, visiting from Brownsburg.

“Gut,” she replied in a barely audible whisper.

It wasn’t the truth, of course. But her grip was firm as she held a succession of hands, making eye contact with each descendant if no words came.

I told her how, on her last visit, Colleen had held her hand without her ever waking. This time, Great Grandma wouldn’t let go. Colleen’s hand remained locked in position as my Uncle Stan told the kids stories about drag racing on country roads when he was in high school in the 1960s.

Back in those days, he told them, the police had no radar guns to help them catch speeders — and sometimes no inclination, either. He recounted one tale in which a local law enforcement official took in a race or two before suggesting the boys take their vehicles and head on home.

This is not what I want Ben, who just got his learner’s permit, to hear. But it’s a time-transporting tale that takes our minds off why we’re here.

My dad grew up in a family with four boys, and now my brother Brian and his wife Dawn have four sons, too. This was taken on Memorial Day, when Garrett's Brownsburg High School team won their baseball sectional.

My dad grew up in a family with four boys, and now my brother Brian and his wife Dawn have four sons, too. This was taken on Memorial Day, when Garrett’s Brownsburg High School team won their baseball sectional.

Stan’s story reminds Dad of a hay mow skirmish, in which he used a pulley to hoist up hay bales to make an impressively deep fort, only to have his younger brother and a pal fill it in with loose straw. They’ve got an endless supply of stories about the kinds of shenanigans the four brothers got into back in the old days — some Annie-Bananie knew about, but many she didn’t.

The statute of limitations has long since passed. The Annie-Bananie Century is winding down. We wonder how many games of Skipbo and Aggravation she won over her hundred years. How many of her famous chocolate chip cookies she baked. How many states she and Grandpa visited back in their traveling days.

They were in their 70s when they finally got to Europe to visit the 400-year-old family farm near Bern, Switzerland, one of those classic house-barn structures in which Grandpa’s third cousin, Hans Isch, still lived. Hans didn’t speak English, and Grandpa never learned much of their Germanic dialect of Swiss.

Luckily Annie-Bananie, who didn’t learn English until she started attending the local one-room schoolhouse, was able to serve as interpreter.

“It’s hard to believe Grandpa’s been gone 15 years,” Stan said.

That sounds about right. Ben was a baby then. On Sunday he drove us to the nursing home. Time marches on, and all we can do is hold on for the ride, never knowing how long it will last.

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