377: No Wolf Dare Hunt Her Alone
Theresa Marie Gebel George, 89, died in her grandson’s arms Wednesday morning.
I was not that grandson.
I am, though, one of Theresa’s fourteen other grandsons. I’m writing this from my living room—485 miles from Gramma Tee’s house. She made her home on Pinecrest Road in North Java, New York, my entire life. A mile from her driveway, her mom was born in the same farmhouse where she died more than 100 years later. I haven’t lived near my parents since Christmas break of my senior year in college, and I’ve collected my mail in more states than my grandma has lived in houses. Gramma Tee and I have not lived in the same state since 1982.
I’ve visited with my dad’s mom only about a dozen times. Much of what I know about Gramma Tee is from my parents and relatives, but all their tales and details ring true of my experience with her. Spark plug. Firecracker. Conversationalist. But also: plant whisperer.
As I ponder the rare moments our lives intersected, we are very much a study in contrasts. Gramma Tee was so slight that she once needed to add weight to her Cub Cadet seat to keep from triggering the kill switch. In contrast, I’ve spent the past 15 years flirting with a red “200” on the LED screen next to my toilet. My grandma looked up to Tom Cruise, who needs Oprah’s couch to look me in the eyes. While my grandma nurtured massive gardens, I tend a tiny blog. My grandma named her son (my dad) after their local Catholic church; and I’ve never known anything but protestant evangelicalism. My grandma owned a bar; and I limit my intake of caffeine and fried foods, let alone products that require an ID. Gramma Tee wanted to make America great again. I’ve canoed the Rio Grande in places I hope no wall is ever built.
Apparently, we had a lot in common, too. We’re both known for dominating conversations, for making people laugh, for not having a filter. Guests to both our houses remove their shoes by the door and hear about recent spiritual pondering. My Gramma bought cigarettes in bulk out of barrels to avoid state taxes charged on packs; and I’ve driven ten hours each way to purchase tax deductions in Western New York. Gramma Tee and I shared both fear and joy in the backseat of her Mustang GT convertible, as my uncle got it up to 90mph on Wyoming County roads. We both thought she should’ve been allowed to grow marijuana.
Even from three states away, Gramma inspired me by her example. Not to garden, keep an electric organ in the parlor, or wallpaper over speakers hidden in the sheetrock of the den. No, I aspire to her grit and gumption, her endurance and resilience. I am not yet worthy of her legacy—too dependent on WiFi, on Amazon, on food someone else cooks.
Gramma Tee earned her place in the greatest generation. She survived farm life with a bunch of siblings during the Great Depression. She weathered unbelievable lake effect winters before Under Armour, Gore-Tex, and heated car seats. One of those winters was warmed—by a house fire. She birthed six children before ultrasounds and epidurals and preschool. She sent her oldest son to Vietnam and outlived her youngest daughter. She said goodbye to her husband more than thirty years before she said goodbye to us. Her collars never shrunk after the 80’s; and her broad smile never shrunk to the restraints of her fixed income.
The last time I was in North Java, her gnarled fingers sliced fresh vegetables for a robust homemade dinner—while she raved about the furniture she was refinishing with those same hands. Even with a wooden back in her later years, Gramma worked the earth on her hill—while contemporaries lived along cold corridors punctuated with nurse stations. She willed herself to live on her terms. In her last month, she punched back at the heart attack, pneumonia, and sepsis that surrounded her like wolves. She rejected doctor orders and forewent the expensive, stalling medicine. She chose her Pinecrest Alamo to fight Fate’s invasion.
Though Death took her there, it didn’t win because it had to come to her. It had to play by her rules. It had to waste multiple arrows. It had to face the “rage against the dying of the night.” She wore Death out a little bit, enough to give the rest of us more time. I can’t speak for the rest of my family, but I’m going to use that time to make sure I’ll be missed as much as she will be.
Any photo without me in it courtesy of Jordan George.