Thursday, October 16, 2008

Last one out of Nebraska

My last grandparent, my father's mother, passed away on Sunday.

One more, and possibly last trip to Nebraska.

I left late Tuesday morning, arriving in Johnny Carson's hometown of Norfolk (pronounced 'Norfork' by the locals) around 6:40 that evening. I checked into my hotel (I would have stayed closer in Wayne had there been a non-smoking room available at the Super 8) and drove up to Carroll, the Hansen Family hometown (population 225) in the rainy darkness.

It doesn't take long to drive all the streets in a 225 person town, but I did, remembering my summer vacations over 30 years ago. My grandmother operated a 2 1/2 aisle grocery store, and was quite the business woman. When the regular beauty salon owner retired, she remodeled a back storage area into a beauty shop, where my aunt Karen and later other women practiced the fine arts of hair coloring and cutting.

My grandfather passed away in 1980, and grandma retired from business shortly after. The store stayed mostly empty, and gram busied herself with the church ladies, running the various socials and funeral luncheons. When she had the store, she would load groceries into the back of her Chevy Blazer and delivered food to less fortunate farmers during the winter. She was always busy busy busy.

Her memory and her health started to go bad about 10 years ago, and about 5 years ago she went to a nursing home. Her house and most of her possessions were sold, all the money going to pay the nursing home bills. She was practically penniless when she died.

As I drove down mainstreet, I found that her store had been demolished, now a parking lot for a small trucking company. The old tavern was still there, but I didn't feel like going in for fear that all my childhood memories would be shattered. I drove back to Norfolk, stopping at Applebees for a decadent rack of ribs, two large bills, and after the waitress twisted my arm, dessert.

The weather had improved overnight, and I got dressed and drove back to Carroll for the funeral service. I did a quick jog over to Pierce, my mother's hometown, so I could drive past her childhood home. The large cottonwoods were gone, but the 'new' owners (they've lived there at least 20 years now) had made lots of improvements and I found myself happy that the old place looked so good. I made it to Carroll at 9 am and made my way into the church.

My older sister and dad were there, along with his brother, Uncle Den, and over the next hour, various relatives trickled in. My grandmother outlived many of her friends, except for Phyllis, who worked for grandma at Hansen's Grocery. She gave me a hug and told me how much she loved and respected my grandmother. I told her that gram really loved her, too, and we all appreciated their friendship. How my grandmother made enough money to have a full-time employee I'll never know.

All my Nebraskan cousins came to the funeral. I hadn't seen many of them in almost 20 years. I realized that we had all grown up now, and was proud that they all had stable family lives, and were successful in their own ways.

The service was nice, and as usual, the younger minister did not know grandma (her nursing home was about 40 miles from Carroll), he did make an effort to learn about her in the days prior to the funeral and was able to talk about her community service, but her love of gardening and flowers.

I busted the chops of my fellow pallbearers, making sure that no one slipped down the two flights of stairs from the chapel to the hearse. Two cousins, one cousin in-law, and two friends of the family carried my grandmother's silver casket to her final resting place next to grandad, and one row and four plots from my Uncle Doug.

We went back to church for the luncheon, and I thanked the ladies who prepared it. Knowing I had and eight hour drive back home, I left at 12:30, slipping out. I'm not one for goodbyes. I arrived home exactly eight hours later, glad to be home.

The drivers in Iowa need some serious lessons about how to drive on the interstate.

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