Monday night and Tuesday I carried a pack of matches. No, I haven’t become a smoker or a pyromaniac. Nor is it for work, or Calvert House, or any friend. Nor is it Chicago pride, even though the book was made by the Superior Match Company of Chicago, U. S. A. The saying on the top of the matchbook, “The People’s Friend”, isn’t particularly exciting either. It’s the slogan for a political candidate, who has her picture on one side, and her name and office on the other. As offices and officeholders rank, she’s not very important. Although she did attend the 1984 Democratic National Convention as a delegate, she doesn’t even appear in Political Graveyard. Besides, given the result in 1984, involvement with that nomination is no electoral accomplishment. Actually, I don’t even know if she won that election, though I know she won that office at least once.
As you might have guessed, there’s some personal reason. The picture on the striking side is of my mother’s mother, my grandmother. It’s the only picture of her I own. The other side states “Elect Gloria V. Rankus Mayor of Reynoldsville”. It was a Tuesday 17 years ago, March 1, 1988, that was the last day of her Earthly life. And I miss her.
I barely remember her husband, my grandfather. He died when I was 7 or 8, after a hard life in the mills. I remember him mostly as really tall, with hard hands, although my parents say I’m taller than he was. I do remember my grandma Rankus. The matchbook picture is a lot younger that what I recall, maybe in her early forties. If you look closely, you can see the wood paneling I remember from the house. I knew her in her later years, her late fifties. I never remember her without her walker. When my parents would take my brother and I to visit, Thanksgiving, Christmas, during the summer, she would treat us so kindly, as grandmothers do. She had a song for me, which I can’t listen to anymore. No, I won’t tell you what it is. Also, my brother and I would always mark our heights on the inside of a kitchen cabinet. Our two cousins did too. The marks are still there, along with my cousin’s son as he grows.
When I think of my grandmother’s death, I always think of the books and the door. For a while, my mother had been spending her weekends in Danville, three hours away, at the Medical Center where her mother lay. One weekend, mom and dad said that we were all going, so we did. I can still remember how to drive there from my parents’ house, and that it took about 3 hours and 5 minutes, because I timed it on my stopwatch. Crazy what we recall, eh? Ray and I took these fantasy books to play with. I saw them this at home this Christmas. Actually, the books had a really brilliant idea; they had an adventure for two people, with two slightly separate quests in the books. While one person travelled, the other person played the part of the monsters. Then you would switch. We spent a lot of time in the lounge outside the patient rooms, with the books. Saturday went on, and on, and on. Occasionally, Mom or Dad would come outside and see how we were, but then head back in. In the evening, we left, had dinner, slept in some small motel, then headed back for Sunday. Eventually the books were done, as was our homework, so we doodled or played around until it was time to leave.
“Everyone just keeps disappearing behind those doors.”
Then there’s the door, from which Mom and Dad entered and disappeared. Occasionally other adults would enter and disappear. Why not us? Well, we were 13 and 10, and at that time (being 1988) one had to be 14 to enter the patient wards. I’m sure that someone thought this was a good idea, that children would be traumatized by seeing people with tubes and machines and the like. Of course, at 13 intellectually I was smarter than most adults. But that didn’t matter, and my parents aren’t the type to break rules. I can’t remember the last time I saw Grandma alive; I only saw her at her funeral, after the director had fixed her up. The director wrapped a rosary through her fingers. Besides the matchbook, I took one of her rosaries as my own. I carried it in my bag for years. About two years ago it fell out, and I couldn’t find it again. I don’t think I’ll carry another.
You might say I stopped being a kid at her funeral, because things changed. It’s not just the loss of a grandparent, for that’s something. My viewpoints on alcohol changed. After her death, within a year I had my first major depressive spell. I didn’t want to have pictures of myself, or pictures in general. The matchbook is the only picture I have of her, intentionally. There are good things. I’m generally a Democrat because her Democratic party was one of unions and workers and logical government. Her Pennsylvania Democrats were the pro-life party, as with Gov. Bob Casey, as they should be. She became mayor of a rural PA town despite looking not very white; she and Plessy v Ferguson make me Hispanic in the eyes of the law. Most importantly, she was always so gentle to me, so caring, so loving. It wasn’t different than the love of other grandmothers for their children, but it was an example of goodness. I strain very hard to act like how I see her, to be gentle, to be kind when I deal with others.
March 1st is usually the worst day of my year. The seasonal aspect of my depression is peaking after the sunless winter. Here in Chicago, it’s around ninth week of Winter Quarter, a bleak time in student life. Plus there’s the history. Usually I remain private, but this year I decided against that. Part of leadership is showing weakness, to not stray away from the parts of life we wish to neglect. Thus, I had the Mass Card for Gloria Rankus on Tuesday. And I sat in the chapel and cried. I wondered if I would sob throughout the entire Daily Mass, roughly 40 minutes. I didn’t make that; there were a couple dry spells. I still used 22 tissues (statisticians always count). And I found out that once tears dry on glasses, they leave spots that look like road salt. Streaks were all over the lenses.
Remembering isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. That’s why I do it.