My Grandma Buster, Janice Malstrom Dumas, passed away today. It wasn’t unexpected. I don’t think many of us expected her to stay long after my grandpa passed away fifteen days ago. They’d been married for 65 years and 8 months and raised five kids together in their little home on Amber Lane, in a house that holds many of my childhood memories.
Growing up, my brother and I had Grandma and Grandpa Bear and Grandma and Grandpa Buster. The identifiers were the names of the dogs that lived at each house. My grandmothers were very different people. Grandma Buster was an observer who would spoil you quietly. Grandma Bear was the more spontaneous one. Sleepovers at my Grandma Bear’s house usually included lots of kids sleeping on floors. We’d have the run of the house, the yard, and the fridge if you could find anything in it.
Sleepovers at my grandma Buster’s house were less frequent and less chaotic.Sleeping over at my grandma Buster’s house in my memories was usually just me. I can remember mini pancakes for breakfast and following her around the house while she did her cleaning with her fancy canister vacuum trailing behind her. There were toys that had belonged to my aunts and uncle. Plastic Disney figures that still stick out for me included a blue plastic Tinkerbell with pointy wings that I loved.
We read books like Harold and the Purple Crayon, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Henny Penny. She’d paint her nails with one of the variations of neutral she kept in the fridge, and we’d drink Lipton iced tea on the back porch swing and watch the whirligigs flutter from the maple tree. I’m not sure who thought of it, but one day she helped me turn the whirligigs and some popsicle sticks into fairies.
One day in 2019 I found a random maple whirligig in my car, and it brought back the memories of making those little fairies in the backyard. I wrote a note and mailed the pod to my grandma, who by that time was not doing well. Between the day I sent it and the day she received it she suffered a fall that changed everything. She was fragile and frail and the dementia was stronger than ever.
In early November 2019 I visited with my grandma at her care center when she was still healing from her fall. I sat down at the table, and she asked if I worked there. She was relieved when I said no. I visited for a bit, but she never did remember who I was. The only time a connection was made was when something was said about my son, Alexandre. “He had some troubles a while back, you know?” she said. I told her I did know and that he was doing well now. “Good. I hope he learned some good life lessons from that.”
I asked my grandpa about the letter I’d sent, and he told me it was received but she’d never seen it. But Janice wanted to know what we were talking about, so I told her about the maple pod and the fairies from long ago. “I’m sorry but I don’t remember,” she told me. I told her that was okay because I remembered enough for both of us, and she laughed. It was the genuine, familiar laugh from my childhood. Quiet, trailing a little, then done.
The loss of her health was hard to watch but the loss of her memories, the loss of what made her herself, was unbearably cruel. There was so much about my grandma that I will continue to remember for the both of us. Her mini perfume bottle collection that I never got told I couldn’t touch. Shoe shopping for each new school year. Our Ashton Drake doll obsession in the 80s. How much she enjoyed taking Alexandre “downtown” in Sandy. Chicken noodle soup, green Jell-O, Angel Food Cake, and the absolute perfection that was her smashed potatoes and gravy. And numerous evenings laying in her lap in the living room while she listened to her family talk around her. All of those happy moments where there was never any doubt that she loved us.