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This is one of the best ways I remember Grandma Trulove: camping.

While I was in New England, my Great Aunt texted to let me know that my Grandma Trulove died at age 99 on May 16. It wasn’t entirely a shock because she had been declining, but still came with the regret at not having visited her more often, and a discussion about whether to cancel my vacation and go home for the service. I decided to stay in New England. It was a lucky choice, since I never heard any information about a burial or funeral. That wasn’t entirely a shock either.

Grandpa Trulove married Margaret Louise after divorcing my other Grandma Freda. This happened before I was born, so I grew up knowing her as Grandma Trulove, and no amount of understanding legalities made her less of a grandma to me. She was loving and welcoming and fun to visit. Grandma loved creating with her hands, and all the grandkids benefitted from her hobby of sewing stuffed animals for us. My favourite was a large purple stuffed rabbit, and my brother’s was a stuffed green dinosaur.

My earliest memories of her are from hunting camp, when I was a child. The family, and a few friends, would all camp together during deer hunting season. The kids would play in camp and most of the adults would go off in search of deer. Grandma would stay in camp to hand out Kool-aid or in case we needed a bandaid. We rarely reached out to her, busying ourselves with digging holes in the dirt, stacking rocks, hurling pinecones or playing in the creek, but it was good to know she was right there.

At home in Klamath Falls, Grandma Trulove presided over the kitchen. She would ask me to help set the large table, and then I helped carry serving dishes to cover the whole table in comfort foods. She liked to paint, and crochet, and by combining her talents and special finds while shopping, she filled the bottom drawer of a dresser in the spare room with gifts. I was allowed to peek into the drawer, where already-wrapped gifts waited for birthdays and Christmas. It seemed magical to me at the time, a reminder that holidays were coming, and that Grandma would never forget.

Grandma Trulove in a Christmas outfit. Look at those shoes!

Here she is posing with the Thunderbird. It was probably the day she and Grandpa bought it.

She also loved to write, and we exchanged hand-written letters all my life until her last few years, when shaky hands made the writing too difficult for her. Once she got older, Grandma always apologized for the shakiness of the cursive writing and the lack of more interesting things to say. Of course I was so pleased to receive one of her letters that I never noticed the things she thought were flaws.

When I was a teenager, Grandma and Grandpa begged for me to come and live with them and go to Mazama High School, only a couple blocks from the house. When I married Tara’s dad, they were proud to make the trip and attend the wedding. Their love was undeniable, and I adored them both.

The best times we shared were when she lived in Sandy, Oregon, which was only 45 minutes away from my home in Portland. I enjoyed our visits so much. In minutes she would begin telling me stories of her life. She told me about when she left home in the 1940s and went to live with her sister in Portland, and how the two of them worked hard to pay the bills and loved the handsome military men that would come into Portland. She told me about the hard times too: her difficult marriage while struggling to raise her babies before she met Grandpa. Most of all she loved to tell me about Grandpa Trulove, who had died in 2002, how he was the best friend and partner she could have wished for, how he always took care of her, and how he gave her a comfortable life with vacations and friends. She loved traveling with him, particularly to Hawaii.

“I don’t know what it is about you,” she said on more than one occasion. “As soon as you get here I just start talking and talking. I tell you things I don’t talk about with anyone.” I told her it was my superpower: people just talk to me. And I asked her to tell me more.

Grandma hated having her photo taken, but I begged for this one and she acquiesced. This is with Tara in Grandma’s place in Sandy, OR in September 2007. I gave her that clock as a Christmas gift many years ago. She gave it back to me when she had to downsize. It’s hanging in my living room right now.

She loved to tell me about her kids and her other grandkids – estranged from my family for some reason. Maybe because they were from a different marriage. She was so proud of them all and excited to show me their artwork and family photos. She told me stories about my mother and father when I was a baby.

She was very proud of her life, and not the typical mooshy grandma stuff, but her individual adventures and accomplishments. When she was in high school, she and her best friend used to stop by the local courthouse on the way home from school, just to sit and watch the hearings. She said it was the best entertainment in town. She got jobs to support the family when she needed to, and she got good jobs, taking over secretarial and financial posts for companies and delighting in the well-earned praise that she received. One of her favourite jobs was in Shasta Lake, California and to the end of her life she marveled at her great luck in getting that job. She talked about creating a whole filing system for Crater Lake National Park in Oregon when she and Grandpa lived and worked there as full time residents. The system was effective and efficient, and she became a valuable resource for the Park offices, being called back now and then to help them on a temporary basis, even after her full-time employment had ended.

Grandma Trulove was a voracious reader, even with poor eyesight. She went through books like meals, eating them up and gaining sustenance from them. She kept bookshelves with her favourites as long as she could, and loaned me some of them: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Gone With the Wind, and anything by Louis L’Amour.

Because of her sharp intellect and subtle wit, she was frustrated with her counterparts while living in the retirement home in Sandy, and later in Lebanon, Oregon. She was 92 when she complained to me, “Everybody here is old. All they want to talk about is babies, and their sicknesses and which medications they take. I want to talk about interesting things. There are so many more interesting things to talk about, but they don’t want to.” When she did find close friendships there, it was when she found someone who shared her fascination with the rest of the world.

Grandma’s optometrist was far away in Portland. She needed a good eye doctor because she was legally blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other. “I’ve got to take care of my good eye!” she pronounced. Once I found this out, I took advantage of my employer’s generous family leave policy that allowed me to take a paid sick day to take care of my grandmother. I looked forward to our long days together: the drive to the eye doctor, the waiting room, the visits themselves (she invited me in so I could help explain anything, if necessary), stops for prescriptions afterward, and the long drive back home. She was exhausted by the end of those days, and I was able to keep her spirits up because I was having so much fun.

Grandma and me March 2013 in the waiting room at the optometrist’s office. This is the very last photo I could get her to agree to.

I was broken-hearted when she moved to Lebanon, separating us by 3 hours instead of 45 minutes. That made it much harder for me to visit, and the frequency dropped dramatically. I am sorry about that to this day. My Great Aunt and Uncle live just a few minutes away from the assisted living home, and as a pastor and pastor’s wife, insisted to me that it is part of their church work to visit the elderly in their community. They offered to visit Grandma Trulove, and soon became an active part of her life.

On a visit not too long ago, Grandma was talking about my Great Aunt and Great Uncle, her relatives who had been to visit. I tried to correct her. Grandma was in her nineties and of course things were hard to remember. “No, Grandma, they are from my side of the family. They aren’t actually related to you, but they love you!” Oh my goodness, the look I received. Grandma was almost never angry with me, but that time she made her anger evident. It was as though I was talking trash about her beloved family. She let me know that she was my elder, and she knew more than me, and those two were her family and there would be no further discussion on it! Well, I laughed about it later. But what better compliment than for someone to love your visits so much that she decides you are related!

For at least the last decade, Grandma Trulove wanted to die. I think it was mostly because she missed Grandpa so much, and also because of all the “boring old people” she lived with. She had wretched arthritis and her crafty hands were always in pain and not flexible, so all the hobbies she most enjoyed: painting, sewing, crocheting, and crossword puzzles, were lost to her. She was not interested in computers. Television bored her, and though she always had a set, I never saw it on. She told me without hesitation that she wanted to die, every time I visited. With dry humor she would say, “Well, I was at the doctor on Tuesday. He said I’m in good health as usual.” She would sigh. “I’m ready to go any day, but my body won’t let me: I’m just too darn healthy.” She tried to take it into her own hands by not eating, but her care providers at the home were required to make sure she ate every day. That frustrated her too. She just wanted to sleep and never wake up.

Well, Grandma, finally your battle is over and you won. Thank you thank you for loving me, trusting me, and sharing so many of your stories with me.

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Before the show starts is often the only time we are allowed to take photos.

Somehow, the culture people of Portland got my email address, and now I’m at their mercy. I get periodic emails that show up with special price offers at irritatingly convenient times, like Just In Time For Christmas Gifts!

I’ve mentioned before that Tara is crazy about Broadway shows. I sent them a text last Fall. “Hey, Finding Neverland or RENT?” The response was 19-year-old appropriate: “Duh.” I should have guessed that they would want the classic show inspired by La Boheme.

“Classic” sounds kind of funny, because I actually saw RENT not too long after it came out, and that wasn’t terribly long ago. Right? Ahem, the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour is what we went to see. Apparently, I’m old enough to be classic.

The first time I saw the show was in rural Arcata, California, in the late 90s. I remembered that the storyline addresses AIDS, which was still a national scare in those days. And racy for the time and location were the homosexual relationships on stage. Most of all, I remember Angel, the dynamic cross-dresser who was the voice of love and reason for the group of young, desperately poor New York singles.

Arcata is a college town, but most of the audience was made up of patrons of the arts in their 40s or older, who didn’t know the story. And don’t forget that I said “rural.” The audience first sees Angel dressed in masculine clothing, when he meets and falls in love with Tom Collins. But soon comes the big entrance as *Angel!* with glitz and glitter and makeup. Angel pranced out on stage in a white and silver skin-tight costume, ruffles, high heels, red lips, and a dazzling smile that lit up the theatre. She came right up to the edge of the stage – so close I had to tilt my head – and struck a pose.

You could hear a pin drop.

I think I could actually hear people snapping their mouths back shut when they realized they were gaping. There was no cheer, no laughter. Total paralyzed silence. Maybe a muffled sneeze in the back. I had been just about to give a “whoop!” but then realized something was wrong and held it in.

This time the show was different for a few reasons. Notably, I’m in Portland, which is like a baby San Francisco, for all the tolerance we’ve got. And furthermore (it’s apparently 20 years later, and) concepts like homosexual love, drug use, diseases that kill you, and breaking into empty buildings because you’re homeless are not as shocking to find on the stage anymore.

This audience was fully on board. No, not just on board, but cult followers or something. The scene when Angel comes out in drag was preceded by raucous cheers before I even knew what was happening. The outfit was different this time, but the people went crazy for it!

The production still uses telephone answering machines to bring in missing characters (like parents) and to make connections in the story line. And it still works. The difference is that the first time I didn’t pay it any mind, and this time, it caught my attention every time. Answering machines! I remember those!

The first time I saw RENT, there was one relationship that carried it for me. The interactions between Angel and Collins are lovely at every stage, from the joy in the beginning, to their successful negotiations to unite their friends in times of trouble, to the heartbreaking hospital scenes when Collins takes care of Angel. Their love is pure and immense – big enough for all of us.

This time the relationship that carried it for me was between Roger and Mimi. He’s a musician struggling to be true to his art. However, his bigger struggle is with self-worth. He doesn’t really believe he’s good enough to be a musician, so he never finishes a song. And then he and Mimi fall in love and he suspects he’s not deserving of her either, so they break up. She’s an addict and really really wants to quit, but just can’t admit to herself or to Roger that she is weak, and she wants to be loved and forgiven despite that. They wrench apart, and fall together, and wrench apart again.

It was just awful, watching their pain, and knowing we so often bring our pain upon ourselves like that. We are happy or satisfied or loved purely based on our perception of who we are. Arggh, humans!

The ending is sad and hopeful, and Tara and I were still wiping the backs of our hands across our cheeks when the actors bowed. I wonder if art is supposed to make its audience find a truth? Maybe that’s why the same story hit me two different ways at two times in my life. When the artists don’t use direct words, we have to give it our own meaning, and then, it has a distinctly personal message for the most dramatic impact. Oooh, those artists. So clever.

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