Thursday, March 8

A Death in the Family

Bad things always seem to happen when you are no position to do a thing about them. Say, perhaps, 8000 feet above sea level nestled in the mountain pines for a little ski vacation. With no cell towers within any kind of reach, I felt severely cut off from civiliziation. At least, cut off from "the grid" - SMS text messaging and twitter which is about as much contact I have with civilization these days.

It was in this state of incapacitation I recieved a text message that slipped through a crack in the trees. My grandmother, back home in England, had been taken suddenly and seriously ill. Don't you love those brief and vague snippets of info, that may as well have come through in morse code. "Dot dot dot dash dash. House gone. Fire. tornado. Send info later." So, desperately I try to reply to the message to confirm I am now in the know, but as luck would have it the crack in the trees mysteriously closed and no message came or went for the rest of the weekend.

You know its bad bad news when the details are too bad to be left on a cell phone. Upon our arrival home it didn't get any better. Several messages on the answering machine from my mother, and no more details. Due to the time difference between the US and UK (and a continuing bout of less than solid number 2), it was the following midnight before I was able to contact my mother and get the full scoop finally.

Indeed the news was not good at all. My grandmother, Celia Levitt, passed away due to congestive heart failure on Friday evening, a day before I even received the message she was ill. In line with Judaic doctrine, the funeral was shortly after, on Monday.

All of this bad news at once was obvioulsy quite overwhelming. My grandmother was old, as grandmothers tend to be, and she had a history of ailments that caused her to spend more than her fair share of time in the hospital. But she did not appear to be in "failing health" as far as I understand it from all the way over here. So it was very sudden and a shock to everyone when she faded so quickly.

Remembering Celia Levitt the past week, I recalled memories of her high-rise flat in Inner London. Pale blue walls with pictures of Telly Savalas and John Wayne cut out of the TVTimes. A freezer full of small parcels of leftover food from the meals-on-wheels service. A funny looking painting of a man with oversized nostrils. My mother would take my sisters and I to visit her on Sundays, which meant a drive across North London into one of the scummier parts of the city, at least for a kid from the 'burbs. Finchley, Highgate, Finsbury and eventually Stoke Newington. These towns would become synonimous with the trip to see Grandma. Trips in the back of an old Ford Cortina singing Cum By Ah and games of Eye Spy. It's been so long since I last saw those streets, but I could recall every step of that journey, from the North Circular Road to the long view down Highgate Hill. It's funny that mourning a lost family member, and I'm recalling the London A-Z. Like I said, synonimous.

Looking back too, I can't help but feel sad for my Grandmothers life. A tough life, like anyone from her generation. We have it so easy today in comparison. She had many of her family killed by the Nazis in WW2. I believe her family escaped to England to avoid the same fate, but I am not certain of the exact details. Despite her eventual dimentia, I imagine she took her loathing for Germans to her grave.

As long as I can remember, she had medical problems. It became a family joke that we go round to Grandma's flat and spend 3 hours listening to her complaints about knees and toes and back. I remember one time she took us 3 kids to Finsbury Park to play, and as far as I can remember that is the only memory I have of her being healthy.

Visiting her flat was never exactly a cheery affair. Like I said it was not the best part of town. I always felt parking your car on the street was a bit of a risk. She had been mugged and assualted twice. I remember the crappy elevators in her housing project - three concrete monoliths towering over the Victorian houses like alien invaders. The elevators were the kind you kept fingers crossed in, praying you get to complete your ascent/descent. Once inside her flat, 9 floors up, there were large windows from which you had an amazing view of North London. The trees plugging the gaps in the concrete madness made it all look so much less grotty from up there. But view got old after a few hours looking at it. I can't imagine living in semi-isolation 9 floors up for so long.

I remember one of my earliest performances as a showoff and a ham, standing on some kind of ottoman in my Grandmother's living room singing I Love You Love bt Gary Glitter, but being embarased as I had to say the "L" word. I must have been about 6-7 years old, and seeing my little Sprite dance, flirt and ham it up for anyone who'll watch, just reminds me of that day. The cycle comes round again.

I wish Grandma could have met my son. More than anything. I had been thinking we had better get back to England soon as we don't have much time. Indeed, time ran out. We are always contemplating the best time to take a hyper hyperactive toddler onto a jetliner for 11 hours, and it never feels right. How do you entertain and contain that energy for that long? Anyhow, despite her dimentia and memory loss, it would have been great for her to witness his goofy personality. I'm sorry she never got that chance.

I wish she could have had a happier, healthier life. I wish she did not have to endure such hardship. I wish she could have lived somewhere safer, cleaner and more comfortable. I wish I could have been closer than the other side of the world at the end.

Celia Levitt. We love you and miss you, ailments and all.

1 comment:

Documentally said...

A really touching post. Thank you.