Friday, September 2, 2011

The Long Road

This week, my great-grandmother passed away after eighty-eight years on this world.  She had been suffering for some time, though I understand she went peacefully.  She traveled a long road on this earth, both in terms of her years and in terms of battling pain and illness for so long.  Though "long" in this context sounds difficult, arduous, and trudging, that's not entirely true either.  There was much happiness, abundance, and love that she was blessed to experience in her lifetime.  Eighty-eight years of life.  That's a good run for anyone, and Grandma Cooper made the most of it.

Esther Cooper, 1923-2011
Of course, I don't know much about Grandma's early years.  She was born in 1923 in Belmond, Iowa, a town not more than 20 minutes from Hampton, Iowa, the town she called home with Grandpa Cooper.  There, she worked as a nurse's aide for decades.  There, he owned houses around town and was a handyman.  It was in Hampton that they lived in the old farmhouse by the railroad tracks -- a house where we spent many weekends and holidays when I was young.  I loved hanging out with my older cousins in the playhouse above the garage, finding various unsafe things to play with in Grandpa's shop (I especially remember the time I lost a tooth as a result of some horseplay in which we took turns getting inside a tire and having the others roll the tire down the hill), and then coming in to dig into a tray of Grandma Cooper's famous Rice Krispie treats.  These were no ordinary Rice Krispie treats, either -- one pan would be covered in a thick layer of chocolate, while the other pan would appear normal, but there was a layer of gooey caramel hidden in the middle of the cereal crisps.  Never were her goodies dry, never did they scrape the inside of your mouth, and never were there any left in the pan by the end of a family gathering (if my dad, my uncles and I were all in the kitchen at the same time, they wouldn't last more than a couple hours, as it almost became a competition, with each of us trying to make sure we got our fair share of goodies).

Grandma and Grandpa Cooper's house was our gathering place in Hampton.  My dad was very close to his grandparents, being the oldest of their grandchildren, and having been taken on vacations all around the U.S. with them when he was young.  Grandma and Grandpa Cooper were pillars of the community in Hampton; they were leaders in their church, they were involved in city-wide events, they owned property all around town, and they had generations of family growing up under their wings in that town.  In fact, one of my dad's cousins (who is really closer in age to me -- in fact, he was involved in my clubhouse memories and the rolling-inside-a-tire-down-the-hill story) now lives in Grandma and Grandpa Cooper's old house with his family.  I haven't been in that house in years.  It might be jarring to me to go in and not see the shag carpeting, church-style organ, the same photos and art on the wall (including a picture of Jesus at the bottom of the stairs that changes depending on your angle when you view it), etc.  If I climbed the steep, winding stairs and went into the first bedroom on the left, would that large, creepy doll still be standing in the corner of the room?  For the sake of my cousin's kids, I hope not! 

I have many fond memories of Grandma and Grandpa Cooper -- their 50th wedding anniversary, them hosting my cousin's wedding in their backyard, holidays and reunions, great food from the kitchen.  Grandma and Grandpa Cooper visited my family in Austin once, about twenty-five years ago, during the brief stint my immediate family had there in the mid-80s.  I stayed home from school to spend the day with them while my parents worked.  I don't remember if our shopping excursion that day was a grocery trip, or browsing for pleasure, but I do remember holding onto Grandma Cooper's purse straps for dear life and being lead around the crowded store amidst a sea of torsos and backsides.

Grandpa Cooper -- a man who used to entertain us all at family gatherings and campouts with his guitar and songs (my favorite, "The 50 Cent Song," was about a young man on a date with a woman who ordered one of everything off the restaurant menu, all the while he worried about what would happen when it was discovered that he wouldn't be able to pay the bill with the 50 cents in his pocket), a man who had as much talent for poetry and wordsmithing as he did in his machine shop, has been gone for over ten years now.  Grandma has been talking about him increasingly over the past few years, as their spirtual arcs have grown closer.  Now, they are finally in the same place again.  For that, I am thankful.  Of course, I'm sad that the place they are together is not around a table in Hampton, Iowa, surrounded by family members singing along with Grandpa and eating Grandma's famous desserts.

Still, what a life.  Eighty-eight years is a good run.  Grandma Cooper leaves behind generations of family to carry on her name and tradition.  We should all be so blessed. 

Rest in peace, Grandma Cooper.  We love you and we will miss you.

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