When Daddy died in 1981, life changed drastically for all of us, but for our paternal grandmother it changed in an unnecessarily dreadful way.
When Daddy died, my mother, who had not worked outside the home in close to two decades, had her hands full with four kids to feed. Surely, she felt overwhelmed. Certainly, she grieved and, I have to believe, did the best she knew how in the context of enormous loss.
However, my mother also made one massive mistake, in my mind. She made one decision, I wrongly didn’t challenge at the time, but find incomprehensible now. Namely, within two months, she moved her four children several states away from their only remaining grandparent, my father’s mother, the one we had lived with for nearly twenty years.
Kimmy, as we called my grandmother, had owned a huge house in Pittsburgh—one my great, great-grandfather had built—a home my parents had moved into when my mother became pregnant with me.
Kimmy lived on the first floor of what was essentially a duplex; we occupied the second and third—had lived there essentially rent-free for more than nineteen years.
It was the only home I had ever known until Daddy died.
And Kimmy had been an undeniable source of comfort and security, of endless home-cooked meals and countless butterscotch pies.
I had not known life without her, and I didn’t, when Daddy died, imagine what it would do to her to lose, not only her son at such a young age, but, almost simultaneously, the grandchildren who had lived with her.
For, in fact, after the moving van was loaded that July, and we were on the road to Kentucky, where my mother’s sister and brother-in-law lived, I only remember seeing my grandmother twice again before she died, and only once when she was coherent enough to know that we were there.
The fact of this move—the fact that we had, in effect, left Kimmy alone in that huge house—one that had been full of life and laughter for so long—haunts me to this day. How must she have felt to lose her son and grandchildren like that, in nearly one fell swoop? I can’t comprehend the enormity of that loss—how lonely she must have felt—how devastated she must have been.
I should have known better than to leave her like that. I was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. I was nineteen when Daddy died. I should have stayed behind to care for her. I know that now.
However, I, too, was devastated by Daddy’s death. Perhaps, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was young. I was naïve. But, mostly, I was wrong.
For one year later, Kimmy died, mostly of loneliness, I suspect.
During the nineteen years that we had lived together, nineteen years that she had baked for us and played Old Maids with us—nineteen years that she had tolerated kids racing from one side of her house to another, Kimmy’s favorite admonition to us had always been, “Don’t run; you’ll make dust.” But in the end, after Daddy died, it was our running away to Kentucky, leaving the house empty and dust free, that ultimately killed Kimmy.
In other ways, however, this running generated the most desperate of dust for me, one that has yet to settle, for I, to this day, have not forgiven myself.
I only hope that Kimmy somehow has.
Note: If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family. This post is part of that story. To read “Kids Make the Best Bookies” (another post that addresses what happened when my father died), click here.