Back in Bloomington #2

The past few days I have had the opportunity to see some extended family on the Owens side of things!
Being back in Bloomington means being blessed to be near my parents in Pontiac, IL.

Grandma Sue Ella

My Grandma Sue Ella Owens is having an extended stay in Pontiac due to falling at my Fathers Church in May and breaking both ankles. She normally resides in Montana.

Due to this, we have been able to see her, she has been able to see Eleonore, and extended family have come to visit her!

The first treat was my Great Aunt Rae her sister who lives in Michigan. I have always viewed my Aunt Rae as absolutely lovely. Just a lovely older woman. I also had a special affinity for her husband, my Great Uncle Ron before he passed away. And then just yesterday we were able to see my Aunt Cindy and Uncle Joe from Oklahoma. Aunt Cindy is my Grandma’s eldest of five children, and at sixty-two, I can only pray to look as good as she does, I think her skin is smoother than mine! She has become a Southern Belle from her humble roots in Rantoul, IL, and is another lovely woman in my life.

Great Aunt Ra

All this has my mind whirling a bit. With family extended all over the country, the meetings are more infrequent than everyone would like. And, oddly enough, as I continue to get older, so does everyone else.

I wonder with my Aunt Rae if I will see her again in my lifetime here on earth. I wonder this with my Grandma Owens at each visit from Montana.

Is this morbid?

Perhaps.

And I have to admit, it does make it hard to focus on the present, and the person, in the short time that you get with them.

So, all I can do is try to focus more, try to listen more, try to experience more in these brief moments, and be thankful for the blessing that they are.

With seeing some of the Owens family, I was trying to remember the last time EVERYONE (all five siblings) were all together, and I think it was my Grandpa Albert Owens funeral.

For my Father’s birthday a few years ago, and for personal recollection, I wrote a recount of that experience.

How my fashion philosophy has been formed (to some extent)

My love of fashion started at an early age and I believe can be coincided with my obsession of JC Penney catalogs. At about age 5 I would take the JC Penney catalog into my room and look at all the pages and make up stories in my head about everything.

I would choose outfits I would wear for specific occasions and to this day I can still recall some of them. (I think I suffer from “selective” photographic memory. Useless information to minute detail I can retain for years, but anything I need to remember like the fact that Seattle is indeed not in Oregon will continue to evade me).

In particular there was a black dress. This lovely slender woman with long blonde hair, long legs and a toothpaste smile wearing a large brimmed black hat was leaning against the side of a building, one leg slightly bent peeking out from under her hat with a look that signaled to me anything could happen and she was ready for it all. In my five year old mind this was due to the fact that she was wearing a classic black sheath dress with cap sleeves. In a dress like that everyone must look like that and be ready for the unexpected. But I had to delve deeper. In my imaginary story, I was wearing the dress and with semi realistic expectations had grown up to have long dark not blonde hair. But I had everything else, the legs, the smile the hat. Little did I know then that I would always have baby teeth and that thanks to my mother and father both, calf definition would be something that would always evade me. But as a five year old noone could tell me what I would look like. The only event that I could think of to correlate with a black dress was a funeral. And the only person in my life at the time that I didn’t think I would care if they died was my Grandpa Owens. I had trouble understanding why he didn’t play with me like Grandpa Molloy and why he just sat in his chair watching T.V. during my visits when there was so much to be explored in his old Victorian house (I would learn later that he had had brain surgery, as well as very traumatic experiences during WWII).

So I made up a story that I was off to Grandpa’s funeral as a young woman and perhaps I might meet a man there to help me with my sorrow, but I would tell him I wasn’t really sad that I was just acting because Grandpa was never nice to me. This was all well and fine and my story kept me entertained for a while. Then bedtime came and I was racked with guilt for having Grandpa Owens die in my story just so I could wear a black sheath dress and meet a nice man. One disappointing thing that wasn’t worth the guilt was that the men in my stories never had faces because the men in the JC Penney catalog were extremely unattractive in my opinion, especially the underwear models, which didn’t help when I was doing my imaginary wedding night stories (but don’t worry, those didn’t come until I was 6 and a half).

I couldn’t fall asleep, and for about three days I was positive that I was going to kill Grandpa Owens with my imaginary stories and so I would compulsively ask how he was everyday.

The reason it only lasted for three days is because on the fourth day a new catalog came. And my imaginary house needed a new bedroom set, so Grandpa’s death was lost somewhere between maroon satin comforters and country blue duck quilts. I think I chose the maroon for that particular bedroom.

When my Grandpa did die I was a sophomore in high school.

When we got to the hospital he was already pretty much out of it but this would last for three days.

When we got to the hospital there were already others there.
It might be wrong to say that I had never really had a relationship with my Grandfather, but I didn’t. There was a hug when I came in and a hug when I left and as I got older I would simply situate myself in the kitchen in front of that TV or on the porch swing to read the newest book I had gotten my hands on.

I would sit paralyzed when he came in to the kitchen from the living room and saw me there, thinking he was going to hit me or something. And my mind would go a flutter with my retaliations from scolding him to throwing Grandmas strawberry shaped cookie jar at the wall, to say to him, look buddy I got the Owens temper too so you better know who you’re dealing with.

Of course my Grandfather never laid a finger on me. My imagination took that route because he had spanked my father and Aunts and Uncles with a belt and growing up I figured he could do it to me as well. Only one time did I start actually moving toward the cookie jar when he came in. Because he got very close to me and then turned the TV down and said it was too loud, even though I knew everything that was going on with the plot line of Murder She Wrote blaring in the living room. He said “it’s too loud” again in exactly the same monotone cigar scratched voice as he ad the first time, and went back in the living room.

I was sitting in his hospital room scared that someone was going to find me out. They would realize I was an imposter and perhaps my Aunt Dana would jump up, point and yell, “you never really loved your Grandpa, get out of that uncomfortable orange vinyl seat, you don’t deserve to sit there.” That never happened though. Instead, during a lull in the conversation, my mother said, “do you want to hold Grandpa’s hand?”

I thought perhaps I could communicate NO to her with my eyes. That for once the mother daughter bond could allow me to telepathically connect with her but good old Mom insisted and I realized that if I didn’t perform this task they would immediately find me out. And what worried me most about that was perhaps not getting to eat at the hospital cafeteria. With family histories of horrible health and a mother who was a nurse for a while, plus a father who was a minister and would make numerous hospital visits, (although I only got to go into the hospital on rare occasions. The majority of the time I got stuck in the Omni with my older brother Brian and I was left to his what I considered evil torture, but I would get rewarded for good behavior with a Nehi soda. Even then I could convince myself that cheaper things, close to generic sodas, could be just as spectacular if I just willed them to be. I can still do that with Payless shoes if I try with all my might). I developed an appetite for overly processed overly priced things. I especially appreciated the dinnerware that was disposable yet had no insignias, only little abstract swiggles. This unified a lot of the cafeterias as if it was their own logo, the sign of economy bulk bought paper goods.

So I held my Grandpas hand and something happened.
I started bawling like a baby.
Staring at this close to catatonic man who had smoked Dutch Masters and worn zip up boot loafers and turned the kitchen tv down. In that one moment he did have his eyes open. And whatever overcame me was a combination of this.
Of growing up in an instant for being so near to death.
Realizing that this man gave my father life.
That this man was my Daddy’s Daddy, and that he really had loved me regardless of what my imagination or myself had led me to believe.

I leaned over him crying and said
“I love you Grandpa.”

I think one of my Aunts or maybe even my mother saying “well of course you do”.
As if it might have been silly to say that then, like Grandpa knows plus he probably can’t hear you. But I think he did. Because right after I said it he squeezed my hand. And in his eyes I knew that he was saying it too.

His was the first of many funerals I would sing at.
I didn’t get to wear a black sheath dress.
I wore a polyester black top and a paisley print skirt bought from the Famous Barr that had just come to our local mall.
I didn’t meet any nice men, I didn’t get to wear a hat.
But I got to watch my father do the funeral of his father.
And I got to be a skinny white girl in the back of the funeral home singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, something much more fit for Ella Fitzgerald, or if we need something more modern to attach it to, Jennifer Hudson .
Nonetheless, I sang it, because it was my Grandfathers favorite song and I cried while I did. It was one time I would perform, not do so perfectly, and be ok with it.

Because having told my Grandpa I loved him, and knowing he loved me was much more happiness and contentment than a $39.99 JC Penney sheath dress ever could have given me.

Besides, now at 23, I would rather have a Chanel one anyways.

(originally posted/published May 29, 2007)
*I would also accept many vintage black dresses, just in case anyone is needing to know!
peace to you,
meredith

Eleonore Bay with her
Great Grandma Sue Ella
Eleonore Bay with her
Great Great Aunt Ra
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