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An early-morning phone call triggers a flood of memories

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5ksandcabernets: An early-morning phone call triggers a flood of memories


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An early-morning phone call triggers a flood of memories

My phone rang at 4:48 Monday morning.

I listened to the phone as it rang and rang and rang and wondered who the bad news would be about.

I thought about letting voice mail pick up the call, for I just wasn't in the mood to hear any bad news. I mean, who is, right? Sunday had been a good day. A real good day. I was in Austin for the baptism of my 20-month-old son, Noah, who loved the way the water ran down his face. Noah was talking real good and doing a very good job of being the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Yeah, Sunday was about celebrating new life. But here I was, some 15 hours later, lying in an Austin hotel room, listening to the phone ring and ring and ring, wondering about whose life, presumably, had ended.

"Kevin," my brother said to me as I picked up the phone, his voice more grave and groggy-sounding than mine. "We lost Grand Ma Betty.'

"Damn," I said.

Betty Collins - she went by the lovable name of Grand Ma Betty - had broken her hip in a fall at her home just two weeks earlier. (Isn't that the way it always happens - a broken hip signals the beginning of the end.) She had lots of people coming in and out of her hospital room. I last saw her on Good Friday and she was lamenting the pudding the hospital staff was trying to make her eat.

"They are going to kill me with this stuff," she said.

By the morning of the Boston Marathon - I'm a runner and had to throw that note in - Grand Ma Betty was gone. Some kind of liver infection, the doctors said. She was 78.

I'm not using this space to get sad or weepy about losing a loved one. As I told Cedric later Monday, we were lucky. I have friends who've lost both parents and never knew who their grandparents were. Before Monday, both sets of my grandparents were still alive. So for 40 years, I've had both parents, and all four grandparents.

I'm the only one I know who has had it that good.

We are a sturdy stock of people. Grand Ma Betty was my dad's mom. Worked her whole life before retiring in the early 1990s. She and Ernest Collins - her husband of more than 50 years - went to Vegas more times than a lot of people went to church. (When they courted, "Grand-daddy" was a cab driver and some of his patrons were women who danced in Jack Ruby's cabarets).

Grand Ma Betty lived in pretty much the same house my entire life. Hers was the place where my dad's entire family congregated for pretty much every and anything. Fourth of Julys, Thanksgivings and Christmases, Super Bowl watching parties.

There was always plenty of food (and adult beverages). Lots of domino or card-playing and good music. The times at Grand Ma Betty's were often like a scene right out of Ernie Barnes' "Sugar Shack" painting - black folks just having a good old time.

And often, Grand Ma Betty, the matriarch of my dad's family, was right in the middle of everything. She'd Bid Whist you to death. She drank. She cursed. And she loved. Really loved.

And something else. For the longest time, Grand Ma Betty had one of those rooms that she did not allow kids in. Seriously, there was plastic on the couches and the carpet was crystal clean and she didn't want her grandkids tracking dirt in that room.

The funny thing is if you had to go to the bathroom in the worst way, the quickest way was through that room. But damnit, you locked your bowels as tight as you could and took the long way through her kitchen to the bathroom because you'd rather pee on yourself than make her mad at you.

When we lay Grand Ma Betty to rest Friday, those are the kinds of stories that I'll remember.



Blogger rodney said...

Man, I'm sorry. And I know what you mean about the phone ringing at that time of night. It could never be good news. Sounds like her house was the place to for holidays. Kinda like my mom's place.

April 21, 2009 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Billy Burger said...

I'm sorry man. Young or old, it's never easy to lose a family member. My grandma's well into her 90's but it would still be tough to lose her and imagine our lives without her.

Hope she went peacefully at least. Thoughts are with you and yours Kevin. My condolences.

April 21, 2009 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger T said...

What a great tribute!

I had all four of my grandparents until about 4 years ago. My mom's dad died and my mom's mom died a year later. My dad's parents are still around and, sadly, outlived my dad.

Thinking of you...

April 21, 2009 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger DawnB said...

sorry to hear of your loss. God Bless you all.

April 22, 2009 at 6:57 AM  
Blogger lindsay said...

great memories kev, she sounds like a fun and amazing woman. sorry about the loss, 78 is not that old! will be thinking about you and your family this week.

April 22, 2009 at 7:09 AM  
Blogger Run For Life said...

I'm sorry for your loss. It sounds like she was a wonderful grandma.

April 23, 2009 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger fraizerbaz said...

I am so sorry to hear about her passing. I lost my grandmother the same way - starting with a broken hip. It was 18 years ago this past August, but I remember it just like it was yesterday. She was 89.

April 25, 2009 at 5:45 PM  

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