Saying goodbye to the ocean

The first order of business was digging up Saint Joseph, the patron saint of sold condominiums, whom my grandmother buried head down in a garden area by the parking lot. It’s unclear if Joseph helped sell any other condos in the building or if the $500 “marketing fee” my grandmother paid had more to do with her finally getting a decent offer. I talked it up to my kids before we left – how their great-grandmother buried the statue of a saint because she thought it would bring good luck and how we had to find the exact spot and dig him up, like lost treasure – but I guess they were expecting a full-sized statue and seemed disappointed when they saw he was plastic and fit in the palm of her hand.


My grandmother bought this condominium with my grandfather many years ago so they would have a place to stay at the beach. They rented it out a couple months out of the year, which paid the mortgage with enough left over for gas and tolls . She tried to get my brother and I to buy it from her but it’s too far and we have another place to stay when we do make it down. Also, I don’t have that kind of money, though it troubled me that she was only a few years older when they bought this place. She tells me they never went out to eat or took vacations when they were young.

It felt like we were on vacation, I guess because I’d taken a couple of days off work to drive her down for the settlement and so she could say goodbye to her place. I spent many nights there myself, so the closure was just as much for me. That was the bed where I slept one night while grape gum dropped from my slackened jaw and snaked relentlessly around my long hair, I thought to myself. There’s the pool I snuck into another night to fool around with a boy I barely knew. This is the carpet where my great-grandmother actually spat after they caught me and made me come back inside. Actually, it was shag carpeting back then. I still remember the gold and yellow pile from the time my brother and I both spilled overly full bowls of Fruit Loops with milk, accidentally and almost simultaneously, while my grandmother hurried to get her condo ready for a rental.

This was a bittersweet goodbye visit, for sure. I asked my grandmother a couple of times if she was sad, and she said she was mostly relieved. She posed around the condo while I snapped picture after picture. She didn’t ask what I planned to do with all of the pictures and I wouldn’t have had an answer anyway. Maybe I’ll make up another photo book like the one I did after her 90th birthday party. She carries it around in her purse to show her realtor or the woman behind the deli counter. If I do a photo book for My Grandmother’s Last Trip to the Beach, I have enough pictures to tell a story, though it will only be mine. Too bad I didn’t get a photograph of the men power washing the halls of her building and how they popped their heads out and yelled down to me in the parking lot at the exact moment my grandmother and daughter yelled other things at me from another floor. It was so funny looking – four anxious heads peering down from different spots with their mouths all moving and not one noticing the other – but that can’t go in the book because I neglected to capture it on film or whatever you call it these days.

I also don’t have a photo of the new buyers, who dropped by for their walk-in inspection just as we were getting ready to leave for the settlement. Oh what a gift that was. You know how when you meet someone and something about their tone or expression zaps all the tension from the air and everything feels lighter? It was like that with this couple, and not just for my grandmother but for all of us. Even their realtor looked visibly relieved at the unplanned meeting. The new buyers chatted with my grandmother for a good 15 minutes instead of pulling out all the utensil drawers to make sure they worked properly (and thank goodness for that). Before we left, they told my grandmother she was welcome back any time and she told them God Bless You and I know she meant it because she wouldn’t have said it otherwise.

The settlement occurred around a large oval table in a room decorated with ink and watercolor drawings of festive legal scenes set in the ’80s, judging by the outfits and hair. There were massive, serious looking legal books that I think were just for sure. At first the presiding attorney seemed all-business, curt even. But he softened with my grandmother and repeated instructions when necessary and did not rush her along. Her hands were very shaky and each time she had to sign her name she did so with painstaking effort.

I caught a few glimpses of the capable, determined grandmother I grew up with. I will forever remember her big cars and hair and how she was always ready to challenge an unsuspecting store clerk or family member who forgot who they were dealing with. She seems so much smaller now and walks slowly with a cane, her hair soft and snow white. But still she is sharp as a tack in unexpected ways. She got what she wanted and, I believe, deserved with the help of Saint Joseph, family who loves her and a charming couple eager to turn her old place into decades of new memories.




27 thoughts on “Saying goodbye to the ocean

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  1. Well, how about that photo there. The one at the end and the first one, too. Someone else used the word poignant and yes, that it is. Bittersweet…glad you saved it. On film, or whatever they call this.

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  2. I love especially, the stories about your grandmother. This one is poignant and perfect. It made me think of the old family photos you recently found and have posted. They paint a bigger picture of a life. This story was like that. Beautiful.

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  3. Your St. Joseph and the one my wife had me plant in our front yard last Spring when we sold our Memphis house are identical. When I dug it up after the closing, it had the same dirt in the folds as your picture. However, the dirt on ours had a distinct manure odor. I had not thought that I buried it in manure. I am not certain if this was some sort of transformation on the part of Joe who was making a statement or what. We lost a whole bunch on the sale, though had we held onto it for another year, appears we could have done a lot better. So, I am left to wonder what the manure odor might be saying about all of that.

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  4. I’ve got to go find me a St. Joseph to bury. I wonder if a bottle of baby aspirin would have the same effect in a pinch. 😉 Do they still make St. Joseph’s baby aspirin. I feel so nostalgic about my youth these days, it was much the same as yours, same shag carpet for sure. Thank you for the trip and thank you for reminding me that moving on and letting go is a constant part of this life of ours. A beautiful part.

    Liked by 1 person


    Anyway, once again so lovely, Kristen. You have a real knack in wrapping everything in a veil of nostalgia and beauty. You could make a lawyer’s meeting sound romantic, and that is what I love about your work. And frankly, I don’t know how you remember stuff like the gum ball in your hair and stuff. I can barely remember anything from my childhood and yet you bring yours alive with such little details like that.

    Love this to bits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So on the drive down to the beach, I asked some questions about family history and recorded it. Not the first time, but got some new stories. Oh how she loves to tell stories and is very good at it…her recall for details at 90 is astonishing. Next step is to transcribe what she said and piece together with what I have from prior years…strikes me as a never ending process but it’s starting to feel more complete. Thanks as always for your support, Paul. Your encouragement means a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

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