Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remembering Thelma

Thelma at 19 Years Old

My grandmother, Thelma Marine Pascal, was more a mother to me than anyone. She was always there when I needed her, the last point being from 1980 when I was 16 until I moved out of her house in 1985.  Here is a list of some of my best, funniest, or most poignant memories:

  • When I was real little, she could be found in the garden wearing a wide brim gardening hat and her grey sweats. She needed those sweats to pick blackberries, because the thorns were so big.
  • She threw huge parties back then when the family was still intact.  They were usually on Sundays (I think) and she gave one lucky person a door prize.  It was always an eggplant themed basket of goodies.
  • She came to all my shows in dancing school.
  • She made me practice the piano, even when I hated it.  And I really hated it.
  • She never drank, but she loved to eat.
  • She really enjoyed country music, and thought Ann Murray was awesome, even though no one else in the family understood it.
  • She loved to read, and treated herself to trips to Barnes & Noble on the Boston Post Road in West Haven when she could justify spending the money.
  • Her idea of a vacation was driving five hours to visit her sisters in Utica, New York. She could hit 90 miles per hour in her Cadillac on the turnpike, and always left my grandfather at home.
Thelma and I
Reed Street, Milford

  • She put up with all my strange friends, even the ones she didn’t like.  For example, she loved Jody and gave him pie. She fed him whenever she could.  But she couldn’t stand Gina or Mel for reasons that were her own. She was still polite to them, though.
  • She let me take out her grey Cadillac even though in the end I hit something and destroyed it.  I still don’t drive much.
  • When something terrible and unexpected happened in our lives, Thelma was the one who galvanized resources to clean up the mess.  There was always a mess, at least every couple of years or so, and she was always the one who cleaned it.
  • One summer when we did “Oklahoma” with the local community theater, she sat at her sewing machine with Miss Connie on a long Saturday afternoon and made costumes for all the chorus members.  They were different color prairie type dresses made out of cotton.
  • When I came home to her after dancing in class until 10:00 a.m. on a Wednesday night, she always had something for me to eat. She gave it to me on a teevee tray in the three season room.  We called it “the porch”. I sat there in patio type furniture next to my grandfather eating.  We watched television. Probably  “Magnum PI”.
  • On days when I got to high school and realized I was too stressed or burned out to deal with it, she never hesitated to turn around and bring me home again.
  • She pushed me to go to business school when I was focused on Broadway, which gave me excellent skills and then a career that pays over $100K per year.
  • When I was 20 and had plans to leave for San Francisco to be with Leslie, she asked me with big eyes if I was going to have my own bedroom. I told her “no”. Still, she let me go find my own life without judgment or harsh words.
  • Then a few months later, she came to San Francisco to check Leslie out.  They were friends until she died.
  • Leslie, her mom, and I lived in Connecticut for two years back in the late eighties.  It was a disaster, but Thelma really enjoyed having Leslie’s mom, Gloria, around to talk with while it lasted. 
  • We were all seated around the dining room table once, and Thelma gave us cheesecake.  She pulled it out of the freezer where each triangular piece was individually wrapped and frozen in aluminum foil, and she tossed each frozen piece out on the table like she was dealing cards.  I think she was over it … over everything by then.
  • When she was in the rest home, we arrived there one evening, and she told me I was late for dinner. Then, she asked her aide, “Buttons”, to go down to the kitchen and get the manicotti out of the oven for me.
  • When she was really sick and wouldn’t take her pills, only Leslie could talk her into it. Somehow, being a friend and present willingly gave Leslie more influence than anyone else.
  • Thelma met her great-granddaughter when Elizabeth was in fourth grade and nine years old. She was well enough to know who she was, but could never remember her name. She ended up calling her “Bridget” or “the girl”. 
  • Right up until the end, Thelma would get raging infections that dragged her to death's door and land her in the hospital. Then, she'd wake up the next day fit as a fiddle asking when breakfast was. She blew away more nurses that way.

Thelma and I on Fulton Street
San Francisco 1986
Thelma died in her sleep a year ago this June, and oddly, I feel like she’s still with me.  I don’t miss her the way I think I should.  Maybe it was because I got used to her being so far away in body and mind over the last five years.  Maybe it’s because she’ll always be with me in spirit.

Whatever the case, she was awesome in her way, and I appreciate everything she did.

Happy Mother’s Day, Thelma, wherever you are!

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