i held my breath.
gray, rectangular, a little lumpy on the top (because i overpacked, as per usual), with a slip of red, green, & yellow striped ribbon trailing from the zippered front pocket.
i glanced to the left; to the small knot of four waiting for me. my dad, uncle, and two brothers were engrossed in conversation. other, mostly black, suitcases serenely moved past, intent upon reaching their owners. i was afraid that if i averted my eyes for longer than two seconds, up my bag would pop and i'd miss its grand entrance.
after twenty minutes of waiting, i found myself in a line with three other bewildered passengers who, like me, hadn't seen their bags since departing raleigh earlier that day. i was handed a navy bag of essentials to get me through the night, assured my suitcase would be delivered by 3PM the next day, and sent on my way.
it was an unexpected beginning to my weekend in rochester, ny. my mamele ("muh-meh-le") died last month at the age of ninety. after she got dementia, mamele had been living with my parents for the past five years. there are so many terrible diseases and dementia is one of them. it takes a world that's big and wide and shrinks it to the size of a bedroom. memories are stolen, tastes are re-defined, and conversation ceases. my siblings and i pitched in, driving mamele to hair appointments; staying with her when my parents were out of town; taking her to the mall. but at the end of the day, my mom, dad, and little sister, katrina, were the ones living the day-to-day. and anyone who's had a family member with dementia knows that's the hardest.
now that she's gone, the happier memories are what i remember.
the trips my sister and i took to st. pete beach, staying with mamele four to five days at a stretch. she would make us cocktail smokies and pasta with lots of butter and cottage cheese. we'd eat sitting at the little fold-out counter in her tiny kitchen, our short legs wrapped snugly around the wooden legs of our stools. the three of us would take long walks on the beach, eager to reach cinderella's castle (a pink hotel that stood grandly in the far off distance). at night, we'd slip into pajamas, snuggle on the couch (which was carefully swathed in bright beach towels to keep the pastel couch pristine) and watch old movies.
i remember her patience with kiddos who snuck in her room in the wee hours of the morning (try 6AM), begging to watch saturday morning cartoons; her generosity when i was in college and needed to buy a car; her sense of adventure when she spent hours scrambling up and down a mountain in search of juicy, sun soaked blackberries.
i have so many amazing memories of the classy, spirited woman that was my mamele.
i miss her. but i know she's partying it up in heaven: reminiscing, playing catch up, and sharing laughs with people who left long before i ever had a chance to know them. i can only image the reunion in heaven when mamele caught sight of my grandpa (whom she had lived without for over twenty-five years); the joy when she hugged her son, algis; the tears when she reunited with her parents, brothers, and sister. mamele's in a place where age spots don't exist; coffee never ever burns your tongue; and physical limitations...what are those again?
my suitcase was delivered the next day, 3PM on the dot. i pulled out a skirt, my patterned black tights, and a polka dotted blouse and my family and i went to mamele's funeral. it was small and initially, that made me sad. but a lot of the people mamele knew, her friends and her family, are already gone. those who needed to be there--the people who wouldn't be on this earth if it wasn't for mamele--we were there. and we'll carry those memories of mamele for the rest of our lives. one day, i'll tell my kiddos about their great-grandmother; about the sassy lady who loved me and my siblings with every fiber of her being. and damn, if my grandkids do the same for me one day, i'll consider myself extremely blessed.
iki pasimatymo mamele. aš tave myliu.
such a wonderfully happy smile.
aaand hmmm...i land the goofy shot.
me, drew, and mamele, being rather ridiculous on christmas eve 2012.