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RIP Kate Staley

My grandma Kate died on Sunday. So dies the oldest Staley generation (that’s my dad side of the family, obviously, which is quite small to begin with.). Kate was 92 when she died. She would have been 93 in March.

(Me, age 6 & grandma Kate,1989)

 I’ve always felt like much more of a Staley, while I felt like more of a black sheep on my mum’s side of the family. Though I have bits of me that are very much my mother (like my fear of authority and my pension for fuzzy socks) I know my sense of humor and my artistic and existential sense comes from my dad. So this, to lose the last Staley of a generation, is significant.

I long wanted to sit down with a recorder and have grandma tell me stories, as did my dad and his brother, but she always refused. I don’t know why. I assumed it was because the telling of her stories would be a validation of her near death and she didn’t want it. Maybe that wasn’t it, maybe she wanted to dole the stores out in some kind of mystic. I don’t know. What I do know is that she’s been a fascinating woman to me, one I’ve been very proud to be in my family and one who, even in old age, had maintained her sass and her sense of humor through and through.

My dad had a tough weekend. He had to go rescue Regan in Oregon much to the dismay of his wife (whose side I was kida on with this one) and they had a fight about it, obviously. He drove Andy to SeaTac Suday morning, then just continued on down to Oregon and then back only to get home and after a short bit of time to relax and start to watch Portlandia, get a call from his brother to hear him mum was dead. My poor dad.

He called me that night to let me know. And I was pretty sad and upset and yet alone (because Andy was in Chicago for work) but I called Andy and got to sleep okay. I made plans to have coffee with my dad today to talk.

My dad’s doing okay. He said he can hear the words of my grandma saying “Oh, don’t cry for me honey.”  And that helps him. And by the way I don’t mean that in any spiritual or ghost or any mumbo jumbo. He’s just talking about the sprit that she had when she was alive.

My grandma was a very spirited woman. When I think of the qualities I get “from my dad” that are a (a sense of humor b) a sense of irony c) a sense of “take life by the ears and fucking grab it” they are all virtues that have come from her.

And yet at the same time she was a woman of her time who made huge sacrifices. I found out that, when she was a sales-woman for the biggest department store in Denver, selling undergarments to the most famous people when they happened to go through town at the time, she was offered the job of being a fashion editor to 17 Magazine. (A story a fictionalized for my MA). She sacrificed for her husband and decided to stay back in Colorado—rather than take the job in Manhattan for what would have been a more lucrative life, but my grandpa couldn’t handle his wife making more money than he did.

Whenever I think of that story I get mad at the concession she made. However, if she hadn’t done that my dad never would have been born and I would never be here. So, I don’t know. I wrote the story thinking, yeah this is how it happens, it might not be the typical “feminist thing” but isn’t that a sacrifice that happened sad but beautiful in its own way. 

I don’t think my grandma would want to be pitied though. And for that I have to apologize for the story I wrote. I think there’s room to say that she’s kind of a hero for the sacrifices she’s endured for the years.

That was a story I got from my dad. I wish I had more stories from her verbatim. The one story I did get in 2004 was good. I was there after my grandpa passed, so she had a new sense of freedom speaking in her own house. We were listening to a CD my dad had got for her of Cab Calloway. My dad was gone and it was just me and her playing gin rummy at the dinner table in the mid afternoon.

I remember Cab Calloway from both his cameo in the Blues Brothers to when he was on Sesame Street when I was a toddler, he was always a household name in my family since I was a young child. It almost faded into obscurity when I discovered rock’n’roll and turned into a teenage. But by that time when I was playing cards with Kate as a college student, I had gotten back into jazz and not being afraid to appreciate it.

It was then I heard the coolest thing.

Kate told me about when she was 19 and living in some godawlful part of the states I’m ashamed I can’t name because it’s really all the same to me, Nebraska, Arkansas, I don’t know. But the point was that she was a 19 year old hottie (yeah she was a hottie I saw the pictures) out against her parents will at a Cab Calloway show. She talked about how charming and charismatic he was on stage and how sexual it was. She said how they made eye contact on stage and it was the most sexual experice she had ever known. Now she kept it to that but I think, based on some of the background I’ve heard frm my dad and uncle, she was a sousy little minx. I think that naughty little minx was a one night groupy for Cab Calloway. Which, If I were her, I would say loud and proudly on my death bed. So Go Grandma!

I know that a woman with stories like this must have had other amazing stores. She was just weird about reveling them. I really wanted to go back there with a tape recorder and just have her talk, but my dad said he tried that and she was having none of it.  If the nature of the relation was what was holding her back I regret never going through with it.

My dad though, is dealing with the loss of his mother, thus far, by writing down memories. And I think that’s good. I know he’s going to share those memories with me and I know I will get a lot from them. Like I said she is the line where all the great from my patrological attributes come from.

I think too that my grandma was very proud of her grandchildren. I think she was proud of me for getting my masters in London and I know she was proud of Kent for seeing the world. I feel bad for Kent for having to be the grownup at 26 and deal with all this death business. (But his father and mother are both too old/out of it to deal with reality when it calls). I sent him a FB message to tell him how great a grandson he has always been to her, but, although he posted on his wall about her death, I haven’t heard back. My part of the family’s geographical disconnection from the family has long been an un-talked of subject of contention. And when these things come up, the years of being far away add up in everyone’s mind. My dad hopes, however, to go back in early March, when he birthday would have been, to do something in Colorado, to celebrate her life. But, if he needs to go back sooner, he will try to do so. Everything’s, just kind of up in the air right now. And we, feeling terrible for being far away but still not regretting it for a second, are trying to catch up.

Anyway for last words my grandma was a sweet, smart, funny, sassy woman who sacrificed so much for her family but confessed she had very few regrets and was content with her lot in live.

Rest in Peace Grandma Kate: You’ve been a beautiful person, a great inspiration to me and always had your perspective aimed at the positive no matter what. The world is slightly less without people like you but I plan to carry the torch in my own way. Love you. 



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 24th, 2012 08:47 am (UTC)
I also remember when, after grandpa died, I had a "girls night" with grandma and we rented a movie together. I got Shakespeare in Lone because I thought it was safe for grandmother and grand daughter to watch. I kinda forgot about the sex but she seemed to like it well enough.
But then the next day we went out for brunch together and she told me what she didn't approve of.
"I didn't like that actor. He was too skinny. Give me Robert Redford any day."
I love my grandma.

My dad has similar stories about her confessing her sexual lust to actors she thought were sexy. That was just the only one I personally heard.

Luv my nanna.

Edited at 2012-01-24 08:48 am (UTC)
Jan. 25th, 2012 07:28 am (UTC)
I'm really sorry to hear about you grandma's passing. It really sounds like she was a heck of lady. The old sassy types are the best.

I'm going through some family stuff as well right now. Last Thursday my mom had quadruple bypass surgery and I'm down in Cali for how ever long she needs me to stay to help her recover. Things went well and hopefully she'll be home by Friday. I'll probably be here another month, at least.

Send your dad my best.
Jan. 25th, 2012 07:47 am (UTC)
Oh Jaden, I really really hope your mom is doing okay. I'm glad that you're there for her recovery. *hugs* You're doing the right thing and. I'm cool with living far away from family, usually, but when it really counts and you need to be there it's difficult.

Please let me know when all is well and your back in sea town. I've been thinking about you since new years and would like to hang out again.
*hugs* again.

Edited at 2012-01-25 07:55 am (UTC)
Jan. 25th, 2012 05:16 am (UTC)
Big hugs. All my grandparents have now died, my favorite grandma was pretty hard on me. The best thing about it though, was like your grandma, she lived a very long full life. Christ, I don't think I want to live into my '90s.
Jan. 25th, 2012 07:50 am (UTC)
Thanks Dan. :)
I don't think I want to live to my 90's either. After she died I thought about it and she's been old the whole time I've been alive. Almost 30 years. I'd think I'd get tired of being old for that long, too. However, my gran lived to 92 having been a heavy smoker and drinker for a huge chunk of her life. That gives me a bit of hope about my own lifestyle choices.
Jan. 27th, 2012 08:13 am (UTC)
my condoleances.

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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