Monday, November 21, 2011


Grandmothers and Models.

It's no longer a phenomenon the number of models that lose grandmothers for the sake of not showing up to a shoot. I've never used such an excuse; I tend to be pretty honest about why I can't or might not want to shoot. However... at no point in my life could I have ever been comfortable using it had I been in a flaky punk mood. I was born with three grandparents - of which, my Grandaddy died when I was 6 or 7, my Nana died when I was 11, and I have been with only one grandmother for just over half of my life.

This is for that Grandma, who I shall carry with me beyond a mere blog post. I don't even know if I'll be able to sum up just how much she's affected me.

Growing up, I spent half my time at my grandmother's house in DC. My father at one point worked three or four jobs, my mother was also full-time and getting a degree -- they depended on my grandmother quite a bit when it came to a lot of things. I only had a babysitter very early on in my life, of whom I have very few memories of. So the hours, days, weeks, months, I inevitably spent with my grandmother were always occupied by some project she gave me to do. I colored, drew, cut paper lanterns, climbed trees, did cartwheels in the back yard, made friends with stray cats and dogs, learned to sew, read books, watched her wash and wring laundry (the old way),  begged her for pineapple cookies, and harassed her dog. She supported my artistic tendencies and listened to a lot of my young musings that no one else had time for. She watched Jeopardy, did puzzles, quilted, wrote letters, read as she ate and drank her black coffee.

For the beginning of my life, I didn't feel anywhere near as close to her. I found her mean, and I wondered if she was a witch because of her cat-shaped glasses. But there came a point in time where I spent summers with her. I would sleep over her house, and she would wake me up early so I could watch cartoons. I was excited to go to Sunday school with her, even though I was often her only student. A lot of the time I would crawl around in the choir aisle as she played the organ during service. She'd give me cough drops to shut me up. And then we would walk back home and she would make us Campbell's southwest-style chicken soup (which they no longer make in this area) and chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise and salt and pepper. With milk. Those are by far some of my favorite memories of her.

In high school, things began going downhill for her. I don't recall when it was she had her stroke (she's had several), but it was before I went to college. She had already become more forgetful, and my mother would come over and organize all her medicine for her. (One of the last conscious decisions she made regarding me was to cosign my student loan to attend art school.) But after this particular stroke, my aunt and uncle moved up here to help her. Somewhere in the years they lived with her, she started sleeping on her couch and stopped walking. Stopped moving. Many times throughout this process, I would fight with my father and end up sleeping at her house. Except as the years went on, she was no longer there. My parents moved her into their house. Probably as late as 2010, she was still able to hobble to the front door and back -- to the kitchen, to the bathroom. I organized my school schedule around her lunch time (among many other things) to help take care of her. The Alzheimer's and dementia slowly began eating away at her. I started living in her house by myself.

This past June, she had another stroke. Her already-afflicted communication abilities were greatly affected, her motor skills even more greatly handicapped. The process was so slow and grueling, to even reflect on this surprises me how drastically things changed. My mother moved herself and my grandmother back into the house with me, where I struggled with the change. We broke down my grandfather's organ console and put a hospital bed in her living room. Nurses and therapists would come and go. She had to eat mushy food and thickened water. She had reached her second childishness. I was never able to help her as much as I wished I could. And she had long ago stopped drawing, quilting, puzzling, or reading, and didn't want to watch tv. She didn't know what year it was, or where she was - sometimes she didn't even recognize me or my mother. But she would always, for the most-part, smile. It felt so good to make her laugh, when I was just feeling silly and dancing around the house, or showing her my newest costumes that I'd made.

Just a few months ago, I showed my grandmother some of my art nudes by Billy Monday and magicstudio (I had to tell her that they were me). She told me, "Good for you." That she was happy for me, that she had sat for a few art classes herself (clothed, I'm sure), and that it was cool that I was able to do such things. It made me so happy, in spite of all the negative parts of this grueling. When I still haven't been able to tell my parents upfront the extent of my modeling, she accepted me. And supported me.

More than anyone I've known, she's supported me.

She turned 88 on November 1st, and died on November 3rd, in her home as she would have wanted. It's been a pretty miserable situation, due to the complexities of emotions I've experienced the past five or six  years. For a long time I adamantly felt as though my real grandmother was dead, though sometimes she would make a visit here or there. But it's so important, realizing just how much she's affected me in her love and non-judgment of others. I've hardly covered just how important she is to me.

And I'm going to miss her terribly, regardless of which phase of her life I'm remembering.

Nana, me, and Grandma.

High school graduation. 

I think I was pretending to steal her cake or something.