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In memory of G.K., West Coast edition

September 19, 2008

A couple months back, I mentioned that my beloved grandmother G.K. (short for Grandma Kay) passed away at 92. There was a very small gathering of family and very close friends at the funeral home, then she was cremated. Nothing real fancy, but then, G.K. always said she didn’t want any falderal. (Family joke.)

Being as G.K. was a California girl (and was to the core) before moving here to Springfield a few years ago, my aunt and uncles decided there needed to be some sort of celebration of her life in California, for the benefit of those who could not make the trip here to Illinois in early August. They scrambled fairly quick to get something together and, long story short, there was a gathering this past Sunday (9/14) at my Uncle Steve’s house in Roseville, which is outside Sacramento.

Once we initially found out there would be such a gathering, Dawn started looking at airfares. I had mentioned prior to that that I would like to go, but didn’t really figure it was in the cards (i.e., budget), so I didn’t think much more about it. Suddenly, Dawn calls me to the computer room to look at a flight she had found and asked if I wanted it. I said, “if you’re willing to send me, then hell yes!” So we booked it.


My flight out there on Friday was more or less uneventful, save for the fact that my flight out of Lambert was over an hour late due to Southwest redirecting a bunch of planes out of and around Houston because of Hurricane Gustav, or Ike, or Tina, or whichever one it was. I made my connecting flight in Phoenix literally by six minutes. They were boarding my group of passengers as I arrived at the gate after a fairly long {pre-killing spree and theft} O.J. through the C terminal, and six minutes later we were in the air. But whatever; I made the plane, and that was all that mattered.

I got to the Budget counter in Sacramento, rented my Dodge Caliber, and drove to Roseville to Uncle Steve’s house. Holy crap, what a friggin’ palace this place is. And I’m guessing that, by California standards, it’s really not all that “fancy”. But considering what I’m used to, it is positively beautiful. Gorgeous house, pool in the backyard with a waterfall, nice landscaping… striking. So basically, those first couple days, I really did nothing but sit on my large rotund ass and eat and vegetate. It was great. Being a slug rocks.

So Sunday morning rolls around, and there are a few last minute things to do (get ice, get the food warming up, things like that), but we basically had little more to do than wait for guests to start arriving. Later in the morning, Uncle Phil and Aunt Pam arrived from Santa Cruz. U.P., as I call him, brought with him copies of the DVD that his friend Brad had made from a bunch of recent and not-so-recent photos of G.K. and her myriad of offspring, offspring of offspring, offspring of offspring of offspring, etc. He popped it in the DVD player, and the water works was turned on from there. Brad did a terrific job on this DVD. It was only about 14 minutes long (13:46, by his count), but it very nicely summed up just under 93 years as well as 13:46 can. He put it to some of G.K.’s favorite songs:

  • “(I Had) The Time of My Life”, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, Elvis Presley
  • “Moon River”, Perry Como (I’m pretty sure that was Perry Como’s version…)
  • “At Last”, Etta James (one of the most beautiful songs EVER!!!!)

So after it was finished, it was quiet for a few moments, then there was a giant SNIFF. Mission accomplished, Brad. Thanks.

So people started arriving (probably at least 100 by the time the evening was over), the beer, wine, and soda started flowing, the food started getting eaten, and a feeling of genuine love hovered over Uncle Steve’s house.

Eventually, Uncle Steve got everyone’s attention and sort of called things to order. He welcomed everyone, thanked them for coming, said a few words about G.K. and about things leading up to the day’s events, and then turned it over to me. He asked me to read the blog entry I’d written right after she died. As hard as it was to write, it was 1000 times harder to read it, especially in front of a hundred people, probably at least 40 of which I’d never met before that day. Three sentences in, I’m getting misty and my voice is cracking already. This is not a good sign, as I’ve got two full pages to read. Anyway, I quivered a few times along the way, but I got through it after what seemed to me to be about an hour. I felt self-conscious about it afterward; I was certain people were getting bored or restless or whatever. But for hours afterward, people (many of whom I had no clue who they were) were coming up to me telling me what a great job I did and how beautiful the words were, so I guess I did something right.

Anyhooze, my dad spoke next, then U.P. spoke, then Uncle Cal and Aunt Marilyn, my dad’s cousin Kristen, my cousin Jennie, cousin Murph (I am still unclear as to how he is related, but he is related), Uncle Steve’s wife Kathy, my cousin Anna, who sang a very beautiful African song about a family matriarch, and one of G.K.’s friends, Janice. Pretty much all of them teared up during their speeches. We’re a family of criers. Even my dad welled up a little, and he never cries. Ever. That got to me.

After the remembrances were done and the “party” portion of the party resumed, I was wandering around taking pictures, trying to be as inconspicuous and unobtrusive as possible, in hopes of getting pictures of some people I hadn’t seen in 20, 25, 30 years or more, and likely might not see again for 20, 25, or 30 years or more. I took so many pictures that I lost track of whom I’d taken pictures and whom I hadn’t, so unfortunately there are some people of whom I never got a {decent} shot. Of the 75 pictures I wound up taking, I was surprised- and shocked, quite frankly- as to how well so many of them turned out. There were a few that I wish had come out better, but that P.O.S. Kodak Easy Share camera of mine takes a pretty decent picture. I have a great shot- purely by accident- of my cousin Joe’s wife April. Unfortunately, I did not get a clear shot of their 4-month-old daughter Nia. There were a few people of whom I got a great shot of the back of their heads.

I think the biggest thing I wish were different was that Dawn and the boys could have come with me, as well as Mom, Jennifer & Brian and the girls, and Jeff & Kathy and their kids. Mom doesn’t fly, and the rest couldn’t get out of work/school. That’s why I couldn’t bring my family. Dawn had to work, and Ian was in school. It would have been nice to have been able to have everyone out there.

But, selfishly speaking, it was wonderful getting to visit with people. There were so many people I got to see again, some for the first time, but I think of all the people that were there, and this is not meant to diminish anyone else in any way, I was most happy to see my dad’s cousin Kristen. She and I just kind of clicked when we first met {when I was an adult, anyway} several years ago at my cousin Laurie’s wedding. Even though she lives in Los Angeles, I feel strangely close to her. I can’t really explain it. She came up with her daughters, 21-year-old twins Amanda and Lauren. Kristen says I had met them at G.K.’s 80th birthday party, but I sure don’t remember them being there for the life of me. Folks, words cannot describe how beautiful Amanda and Lauren are. Holy Stromboli. They are both basketball players, but both have more or less had their knees destroyed, so they’re pretty much done. From what I understand, there was talk of Amanda one day heading to the WNBA, until she blew out her knee. ACL, MCL, meniscus, you name it, she’s torn it and had it operated on. Amanda is on the PRESIDENT’S list at Long Beach State (she denies that, for some reason; I’d be taking out a billboard on the Santa Monica Freeway if that were me), and Lauren is at Cal Poly Pomona. I could have sat and talked with them and Kristen for hours. They are all very charming and extremely engaging. Again, that is not meant to diminish how happy I was to see and spend time with anyone else, and I hope nobody reading this that was there takes it that way, but there is just something that draws me to Kristen that I cannot explain.

So once the party started winding down and people started leaving, I started feeling a sense of relief, sort of like “it is finally over”, as bad as that sounds, and also a feeling of total emotional exhaustion. Then I still had a 90-minute drive to Lake Tahoe to make. It was pretty much dark before U.P., Aunt Marilyn, and Dad and I began our caravan up I-80. Folks, the moon was so bright that night, we could have driven up with our headlights off and you would have barely been able to tell any difference. It was SO beautiful. The only thing was that I had to pee about 25 minutes into the drive, so I was dying by the time we made it to U.P.’s cabin. I have the bladder of a puppy- sue me.

So we make it to the cabin- friggin’ gorgeous. It is just as beautiful now as I remember it being 20 years ago when I was there last. The four of us again did pretty much nothing but vegetate. We got up Monday morning and had breakfast at the Old Post Office- yum- and then sat and drank beer all day. Well, okay, I drank beer all day. U.P. cooked a wunnerful dinner for us, this delicious pork stir fry with rotini noodles (those are the “corkscrew” noodles, right?), then we watched a wild Monday Night Football game (“Get ’em! Get ’em!”- another family joke), and that was pretty much the extent of my 36-hour stay in Lake Tahoe.

I might try to get some pictures put up eventually, but for one thing, it will be extremely hard to choose which to post and which not to post, and besides, every time I try to post pictures something always seems to get FUBAR’ed.

My flights back home on Tuesday were far less eventful. I made my connecting flight in Phoenix with plenty of time to spare this time. The coolest part was that on the flight from PHX to STL, the pilot gets on the speaker and says to look out the left side of the plane (the side on which I just happened to be sitting). We look out and there was a Stealth bomber out there. It flew perpendicularly underneath us, and was pretty much right even with my window. It was friggin’ awesome. There was no way I could have gotten my camera out and ready in time to get a picture, and considering how little light was left outside, I doubt the shot would have come out if I had taken it. You could easily tell what it was just by looking at it, but I really doubt you would have been able to tell in a photo. It was still cool.

Anyway, I’m back home now- well, that’s not true; at this very moment I’m currently sitting in a St. Louis Bread Company in St. Louis (go figure). It’s Dawn’s company’s Management Meeting weekend, which is basically no more than a 2-day free drunk. Maybe I might report on it a little later. I’m waiting for Dawn’s golf outing in Fairview Heights, IL to finish up, and then I’ll meet her at the hotel. I might go to Union Station and spend her money. Or I may just sit here and play on the internet all day. Or I may go to Forest Park and sleep.

I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to my CA family for the fantastic job you all did in arranging this get-together so quickly, and for what a terrific time it was. I want to say thanks to Uncle Steve and Uncle Phil for housing me 2 days each. I want to say thank you to ALL the people that took a car, plane, train, horse, skateboard, balloon, or anything else to make it to the party. And I just want to say that I am so very, very lucky to have the family I have. I’m confident G.K. was extremely pleased looking down upon all of us Sunday, even with all the falderal that was made.

I love you, G.K., and I love you, Family and Friends. You are all amazing. As I said, I am so fortunate.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Kathy permalink
    September 19, 2008 12:44 pm

    You did get “home”…not tree’d by a bear in Tahoe somewhere! %^)
    You said it so well – the tribute was awesome. GK would be proud of her clan. And the best part was the reconnecting with family & friends after long periods of time. Can’t wait ’til you can post the pictures you took. I didn’t even take my camera out!

    Our places are always available for a gathering…tell me when to get the Cuervo Gold!
    Aunt Kathy

  2. Jeff permalink
    September 19, 2008 1:14 pm

    I’m glad you had a good time. I bet it was nice seeing all those people.

  3. Kristen permalink
    September 19, 2008 8:01 pm

    John, I love reading your blog because you are so right on just about everything. The DVD sent me over the edge (up to that point I had been holding up fairly well) because it also included Aunt Naomi and my daddy (Uncle Cliff) with my mom, Aunt Mickie. (I know you know these people,John,this is strictly for the benefit of outsiders…..I’m new to this blog stuff….do other people read this?)
    Auntie Kay would have LOVED that party. I am so happy we were able to come up and be with all of the fam… doesn’t happen often enough. My girls hardly know some of the cousins, so it was fantastic to spend time. I was really sorry we had to leave to get back to Los Angeles so early.
    Love you! Kristen
    PS BTW, I think that was Andy Williams singing Moon River not Perry Como (ok, so ya goofed on that ONE teeny little thing. Everything else, spot on!) :- D

  4. Johann permalink
    September 20, 2008 1:06 pm

    Aunt Kathy: Yeah, I need to be more teknolojikly advanst so I can more easily post pictures. But like I say, posting some pictures would do an injustice to most of the ones I don’t post, and posting all 75 that I took would take a year and a half to load the page!

    Jeff: It was. I really wish you and your clan could have made it.

    Kristen: Andy Williams, Perry Como… I was close. Sorry about the faux pas!!! I agree- G.K. would have loved the party. I think it’s exactly what she wanted… minus the tears, of course.

    (Oh, and rest assured, virtually nobody reads this!) 😉

  5. Aunt Pam permalink
    October 10, 2008 12:41 pm

    Hi, John! Thanks for the memories. I want to see the photos, but, being a cyber klutz, I’m not sure how to view them. Please advise.

    Also, I want to tell you how Cousin Murph is related. His mom and your Grandpa Cameron were siblings. In the 50’s the two families lived close together in the citrus groves in the eastern part of the San Joaquin Valley near the Sierra foothills. Remember the time you drove up to the Sierras with us and got kind of woozy on the narrow curvy road? We visited the citrus groves before moving on up the mountain.

    Sure wish you and Dawn and the boys and the rest of the Illinois clan could visit us in Santa Cruz. I’m thinking we’ll have a family reunion here someday. Love to you and all the Illinois family……..Pam

  6. Johann permalink
    October 10, 2008 12:50 pm

    Aunt Pam-

    My understanding is that my dad is putting all the pictures (i.e. mine, Kristen’s, Brad’s, and anyone else’s that he has possession of) onto one (or maybe two…) CDs and making copies and distributing it. Ask Uncle Phil, but like I said, my last understanding was that was how it was going to work.

    Thanks for explaining Cousin Murph’s relationship. I’ve never been able to figure out upon which branch on the tree he rested.

    A reunion in Santa Cruz? Sounds good to me!! Keep us posted!
    Love to all!

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