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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Visiting Oma in the 1990's-2000's

I would have been flying all day -- first from Boston, then later from San Francisco, and the sky would be lit up with sunset when my plane finally began circling, dipping through the clouds, landing at that miniature airport.

Oma would be wearing her red coat.

Oma was very particular as to which months I should come visit her. She forbade visits during the hottest months, so most of the summer was not a possibility. And not the coldest, iciest months, so the depths of Indiana winters remain a mystery to me.

So it would be an idyllic day in spring or fall when the plane would fly down from O'Hare and drop me into the LAF airfield. As my plane would taxi in toward the little facility, I could see the red coat as she stood peering (fruitlessly, mostly, owing to her macular degeneration) out the large plate glass windows of the arrival gate.

Among the colorful trees, the lit-up sky, then the dark confines of the airport, that was the color that woke me up, and almost always made me cry -- either as I approached the airport, or as my plane departed a few days later.

In later years, she wore a tiny gold guardian angel on the lapel of the red jacket -- I had given it to her after she had been told she was going to die from liver cancer, only to discover that she simply had an infection related to a scratch she had on her leg (an infection that became much worse than necessary because she couldn't see it was getting bad). She lived for more than 10 years after that "death sentence" and I liked to kid her about it.

When the plane landed, they would just pop open the door and affix a little stairway to the side of the plane. My luggage would be waiting for me on a little cart at the bottom of the stairs -- there were usually about a dozen fellow passengers, most of whom were on Purdue-related business.

And I would head into the airport and drop the luggage next to her and hug that woman.

I'd put Oma's smell up against 99% of grandmothers out there -- it was, I believe, a combination of a clear green apple-scented glycerin soap she used, a dash of some variety of 4711, and lurking in her hair would be a cookie-baking smell.

She always baked cookies right before I arrived. It had been established by the time I was 10 what my favorite cookies were, and they were manufactured for me all the way up until her death, when she insisted on a friend baking them for me -- faithful to her recipe -- after she had gone completely blind and was relatively infirm.

Those cookies were oatmeal/butterscotch chip. And she used some citrus zest in most of her cookies, which gave them a perfect little zing. There would be a bag of them waiting for me when we arrived at Apartment 1318 at Westminster Village Retirement Community -- one on top of the fridge, and (jackpot!) one inside the freezer as well. Throughout the weekend of my visit, I would have my hands in that bag after and between every meal. If there were any left by the time I left, they would be packed in my luggage, ostensibly to share with my friends.

Oma was the absolute master in making me feel special. From the moment I was at her side, she would be telling me that, repeatedly. "You are so special, do you know how special you are? Be careful with yourself, with your body, because you are very, very special."

Really, thank goodness for grandparents who make you feel like you might possibly be the second coming of The Messiah, even when you're screwing up at work and another man has just broken up with you, and you haven't slept well for a long time. Because at Oma's retirement community, where I'd stay in a guest room within the facility, I slept like a rock.

"How did you sleep?" she'd ask when I'd pop back into Apartment 1318 the first morning after my arrival. My hair would be wet, I might have even gone running on the flat gravel roads that lead into the cornfields surrounding Westminster Village before I came to see her. Oma's apartment would smell like oatmeal and cookies, and dish soap and general goodness, and we would sit together at her folding table while I ate breakfast, and I'd read her Ann Landers.

After I read the query submitted to Ann Landers, we'd both sit back and think what advice WE would proffer to this poor soul. Both Oma and I were blessed with/suffered from a high moral ground and a certain amount of pitiless judgement. So many of these characters would get raked over our collected coals. About half the time, we'd agree with Ann's assessment. But Ann got softer over the years, and more noncommittal in her answers. Really, it lacked satisfaction.

We'd then find out what the people in For Better or For Worse were up to. We were vociferously opposed to Elizabeth's college boyfriend, Eric, who had that infuriating dimple. We were immensely relieved when she finally took up with Anthony again, after he was dumped by that snotty French Canadian he'd married.

Then after gabbing over breakfast and washing up her white porcelain dishes, we'd find her red coat again and head out into the Lafayette day.

I'd hold onto the crook of her arm, owing to her blindness, and in our wool coats, with the little angel gleaming from her lapel, we'd be unstoppable.

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