We've spent the last two days and two nights in Montauk, just a 9-iron away from the Atlantic Ocean. It's a trip we take a couple of times a year, once the summer has ended and prices for small motel rooms no longer look like typos. We don't do much during our time here, other than sit in the room with the door open and listen to the waves crash in. We read and write and relax.
The last time we were here, in May, we got off the bus and headed to a little restaurant for lunch. As a pizza arrived, Louise checked her cell phone and saw that my parents had called during our drive up. I checked the messages and heard my dad's voice, telling me my grandma had suffered a stroke earlier in the morning and it didn't look good. A few minutes later I called and talked to my mom, who was in the room with her siblings as they shared the final heartbreaking moments of their mother's life. Mom said it was only a matter of time. Like always, she was thinking of someone else, a trait she got from her own mom. She told me to have a good time while we were in Montauk and that she'd keep me updated.
An hour later she called again. Grandma had died. She was 91. She led a great life. She slowed down physically over the years but no more than any other 90-year-old. Parkinson's affected her. So did a bum knee. But mentally she was as sharp as ever. I'd seen her in April on a visit home and we spent two hours talking about sports, life in Fulda, and old family pictures. The Minnesota Twins were her favorite team. She watched every game, knew every player, knew every weakness the team had. She made the best French Toast in North America. She was a great listener.
We spent at least one weekend a month at grandma's during my childhood. After college I lived with her for more than a month. It was just the two of us, sharing every meal, watching TV together, enjoying each other's conversation, just like always.
She was full of life, and I got word of her death while standing on the beach. A picture-perfect setting pierced by the worst possible news. We stayed one night and flew back home the next day.
It's been four months now and of course still seems like yesterday. I haven't been home since so it still doesn't seem completely real. The next time we're home it will. There won't be anymore trips to see her, and knowing that will bring the day of her death back again. In the days following that call, I talked with Louise about how I'd probably always associate Montauk with grandma's death. It'd be impossible to sit in that sandwich shop and not remember the call from my parents. It'd be impossible to stand on the beach and not remember hearing my mom's tears as she said grandma was dead. Selfishly, I wondered if Montauk would be a tarnished place now. Would I only associate it with bad memories of May 19?
September now. And I went to the same place for lunch. Stood on the same beach. We even have the same room we had during that May stay. And I have thought a lot about grandma during the past two days. But nothing's been tarnished. It's terribly sad, knowing she's no longer here, knowing I can't stop in and complain about the Twins' lack of offense on my next trip home, knowing my mom and her brothers and sisters have now lost both of their parents.
But how could this place, this town, this motel be tarnished? Whenever we're here, I know I will think about grandma. I'll think about her extraordinary life. I'll think about her old house and her chocolate chip cookies and her sly sense of humor and easygoing nature. Being here will bring back all of those memories.
And, yes, it will bring back thoughts of the day she died. Montauk was where I heard about her death. But now, it's the place where I'll forever think about her life.
It'll spark memories that remind me of how important she was to me. Tarnished? No. It's just another reason to savor my time here. I'll come here to read, and to write, and to relax. But now, on every trip, the days here will remind me of grandma. And instead of fearing thoughts about her death, I will cherish the memories of her life. Grandma never set foot in Montauk. But for me, she'll always be here.