Monday, November 29, 2004

CLARA STACK: 9/15/1926 - 11/29/2004


This one goes out to a pretty special lady. A few of you have had the privilege of meeting Grandma Stack over the years, and any who missed out have surely heard her name mentioned at least a time or two dozen. I sincerely doubt that too many grandsons had a closer relationship with their grandmother. Despite my growing up 4 hours away, she would drive out to visit us three or four times every year, usually travelling by herself. Every visit was filled with hours of Uno, Rummy Cube, Parcheesi, you name it. She was a poor (if enthusiastic) game player, and a very classy loser, who loved every minute of it. She could be counted on to always bring at least four or five boxes of wonderfully marshmallowy pre-sweetened cereal for me to devour before my sisters could even get near them (it was a real treat for us country kids - all readers should know how much I enjoy these things).

One of my fondest early memories is the time my younger sister and I tried to sabotage her car by shoveling snow into the grill, in the vain hope that she wouldn't be able to leave. Sure, it didn't come close to working, but grandma got a kick out of it, as I'm sure my dad did before he very sternly made us go down to the barn and hose it out and then dry off the engine by hand. Or the time (grandma must have been quite a bit younger) when she and I made family portraits of everyone with snowmen. On another occasion, grandma urgently had to leave, and then proceeded to make it almost 20 miles before turning around and coming back to steal another precious hour or so getting whupped by her grandkids at Uno.

When I went to college, in the big city (at Le Moyne) my roommate, Slim Colt, and I would visit every week or so to chat, help grandma grocery shop, eat a sumptuous non-cafe dinner, do a little laundry, and play some cut-throat pitch. We usually ended up laying on the floor and rubbing our distended tummies, albeit victorious, and quite happy. Grandma never seemed to fare too well in these games (despite the fact that she kept score), but she certainly enjoyed them. Slim continued to visit, sans me, even after we graduated - and has stayed in contact, even with his recent move to Atlanta. He is a good man.

I know she had, for 30 plus years, a weekly game with her "Uno Ladies" right up until last Friday. For the past 15 years or so, the ladies had to mark the blue and green cards, just so they could tell which was which. It didn't hold them back much. She and I had a high-stakes pitch series going, with a first class steak dinner on the line. I think I ended up leading by about 80 games, but she never had to pay up. And that is the way we both wanted it. It's not that she wouldn' t have been happy to do it. I don' t think I've ever known anyone who took more pleasure in good food. Or even fast food. How many grandmas love Taco Bell chalupas and burrito supremes? Mine sure did, she was cool that way. Wendy's burgers, Dinosaur ribs, hawaiian pizza, e-mail, gameshows, she'd even try to enjoy a four hour Yankees game if I wanted to watch it. Yeah, the whole thing.

I had the pleasure of living with her, at two different intervals, for a total of almost a year. It was hardly by design either time, but I know I wouldn't trade that time for anything now. I had my freedom, just so long as I did the shopping every Tuesday night. It's funny to me now, I guess, how well a septuagenarian and her 50-years-younger grandson can connect.
It was really never forced or uncomfortable. Sure, she'd get upset when I said Alex Trebek didn't have the personality to interact with contestants. Yeah, there was the incident with the wing joint, and the cheeseburgers, and the sleeping on the living room floor. But, in all honesty, I can say she was more of a friend than a grandmotherly figure. Anyone who ever saw us interact would testify to that. There were plenty of nights when we would both sit there, in our matching blue recliners, reading our respective books, and watching PAX.

I guess what upsets me the most, maybe the only bad thing about her going when she did, was that I was supposed to set up her Christmas tree this week. That was always one of her favorite things. As kids, we always came to Syracuse for Thanksgiving. After the feast was consumed, and the Cowboys game ended, it was time to put up her tree. Tradition. The next day we would open our Christmas gifts from her (invariably the best ones we recieved). Justine and I gave her a new tree for Christmas, two years ago, which she loved. Setting up the tree would have been a great opportunity for us to hang out. I hadn't seen G-Stack in about two months, which is probably a record (at least for the last ten years). I'd only talked to her a couple times since her 78th birthday in mid-September. Thank God I got a chance to talk to her this past Friday. She'd had a nice Thanksgiving, was looking forward to having the tree to look at, and hoping to feel better soon. I know she was very happy to know Justine and I were planning to visit my parents for Christmas, and wondering if we could stop in to visit along the way. We wouldn't have missed it for the world.

The editors would like to apologize if this isn't exactly what bojanglin' is normally all about. At times the screen may have been a little blurry, but it is really not an unhappy occasion. Grandma Stack was a very religious person, and wanted desperately to be able to live on her own, and avoid an "old folks" home. Just last Christmas she visited one to spread cheer and sing carols. As would perfectly befit her, the picture at the top of this entry is both musical notes (she played organ at her church for 35 years) and a chocolate mold (I told you about the food thing).

God bless you, Grandma Stack.

2 comments:

d. dunford said...

Rest in peace and happiness, Grandma Stack.

Ban-dingo said...

I never met Grandma Stack in person, but I did talk to her on the phone a lot, and Grandma Stack and I have the same birthdsy, except for the year. It was my grandfather's birthday too. I only hope I can somehow get one person to remember me as fondly as people remember Grandma Stack and my grandfather. I think that's a sign of a pretty good life. Oh and by the way....what the hell is Bojanglin really about?