On Saturday I stood between my wife Kate and my first cousin once removed Barbara as my grandmother Dawn was laid to rest. Surrounding the gravestone was my family including my sister, my cousins, my uncle, my parents, and those conducting the memorial service. It was supposed to be a cold rainy day, but Dawn was too nice to have a funeral on a grey day…so the clouds cleared and let the sun beat down as crystal clear blue skies opened up overhead. My black suit jacket stuck to my back, Kate squeezed my hand, and Barbara read a poem her daughter had written as Dawn Kathleen Preston was finally free from the confines of her body. Tears rolled down my face hidden behind sunglasses as I stared at that little marble green urn and came to terms with the fact that I was never going to see one of my most favorite people in the world again. Grandma Dawn was gone.
I’m not much of one to read deep into things but funerals make you question the meaning of life and the happenings of the world around you. It didn’t rain a single drop during the 48 hours I was in Bolton Landing, NY though it was supposed to be riddled with thunderstorms. Aside from my flight to Albany being delayed by 3 hours, travel was smooth. The lake was warm, the air was warm, the water wasn’t rough, and I got a mini vacation…as odd as that sounds…but I like to think that was the purpose of this trip. I know Saturday, August 2 is a day I will never forget…but it is a day I’ll remember for good reasons. The service afterward was conducted by my uncle and father in which they set the tone by telling funny stories from my grandmother’s life and our family’s trolley car diner. They got the whole place laughing hysterically and quickly tears of sadness turned into tears of joy as we celebrated her life instead of mourning her death. Then, people from the town of Bolton started standing up and adding their two cents…and it was the same message over and over…Dawn had touched their lives in some way that had brought them there that day in love of her. She was simply put, “A nice lady.”
She was never mean, she always carried a smile on her face, she was generous, she was loving, she gave hugs and kisses, and she cooked for every single person in that town at some point or another whether it be from the diner days or baking later in life. Her pancakes are still a well guarded family secret. Her love was felt by all…and if you were forced to think of something bad about her you’d find yourself with nothing to say. She was just a good person who left a wake of happiness in her path.
My sadness came for my dad and my uncle…watching them in the cemetery as their mom went to rest next to their father Bill and their sister Jeanine, both whom died far too young. Jeanine was 53 when she died of lung cancer and I never smoked a single cigarette since. Bill was 69 when he passed, the same age my uncle is today. Barbara clenched my hand and I couldn’t help but realize she and her brother Bob were the last of that generation. Dawn was my last grandparent, outliving my mother’s mother by 18 years. 18 years I got to bask in the sole adoration of one grandparent…Grandma Dawn. I was 17 when my maternal grandmother Florence passed away and 10 when both my grandfathers passed away in the same year. I was a child then. Now…as an adult, the full consequences and emotions were apparent to me as I tried to process it…and I couldn’t. It was easier when I was 10…I just cried and cried and cried. When I was 17 I lamented for time I should have spent. At 35…I just keep thinking about that green marble urn and I don’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. So when the skies cleared and the sun came out I did what I think Grandma Dawn would have wanted me to do…I took a little vacation.
Kate and I ate sushi together in Chicago, drank to my grandmother’s memory at 30,000 feet, dined on lobster with family at the club, and plunged into the dark waters of Lake George for a skinny dip on Friday. Saturday we took an early morning waverunner ride to Huddle Bay, caught up with old friends and family, swam in the lake together, drank together, had a big boisterous meal together with friends, and again…plunged into the cool waters of Lake George to cap off the day. Sunday we had a big family breakfast, we swam off the dock, went for a long boat-ride, and went to my favorite spot on Lake George: the buoys off of Commission Island. Kate and I explored the tiny islands to the north, swam along the point, stacked rocks to make a structure above water in the middle of the lake, swam the channel, and enjoyed the company of our family. It is one of the things we didn’t get to do during our planned vacation to the lake 2 weeks prior. It was a blessing. It was like desert. Its my Heaven on Earth.
My hand clutched a tiny rock I snagged from Commission Island Point as Kate and I ate sushi at Wicker Park in O’Hare before the final flight home. We took our time during our 2 hour and 45 minute layover to savor each bite, sip our drinks, and enjoy our “date” before returning to our lives as parents with jobs, responsibilities, and needs. Grandma, however you want to take this, gave Kate and I a date weekend…and it was lovely. I still see that green marble urn in my mind, I know what I whispered to it before leaving the cemetery, and I know it hasn’t quite sunk in…and that’s okay. My only fear is that when my father processes it, I won’t be able to be there to hug him the way he has hugged me so many times throughout my life since we are 1,500 miles apart right now. Mom is there. My sister is there. My uncle is there. Friends are there. I just wish I could be there, to comfort him the way only he can comfort me. So I woke up my 1-year old son Dodge on Sunday night and showered him with kisses before handing him to my wife to do the same. I then climbed into bed with my 3-year old son Max and hugged him as tight as he’d let me hug him while stroking his soft blonde hair and whispering over and over, “Dada loves you, Dada will never stop loving you…” Then Kate took my hand and led me to bed where I slept for 10 hours…and I dreamed Grandma was standing on the boat waving while I swam around Commission Island Point.
“Look at me Grandma!” I shouted as I stood on a rock. She waved back and gave that sheepish smile of hers. I slipped on the rocks and caught my balance, Grandma gave me her look of goofy surprise. “You can see so deep today!” I shouted back, then dove into the water. My ears should have popped at about the 12 foot mark but they didn’t and I swam past the point where I normally turn around til I touched the bottom. Rocky and smooth. Calm. Peaceful. I placed my feet on the rocks and pushed upward toward the surface and emerged victorious! “Grandma! I touched the…” But she wasn’t there anymore. Just a warm summer day with blue skies, perfect water, and my favorite swimming spot.
I can’t wait to get back there next year and go for a swim. I discover something new every year. It is a special place to Kate and I and for some unexplained reason other than that dream…it will always be a place for me to go and connect with my grandmother, perhaps because it is a better way to remember her than thinking about that small green marble urn. I don’t know where she is, but for me…I think she’s on the boat some days waving to me when she’s not drinking a beer on the couch or jabbing Grandpa Bill in the ribs for saying something embarrassing. So…no “So Long Grandma.” How about, “See you next summer.”
Me and Grandma, 1980.
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