My grandmother’s name was Theresa Moynihan.
My sister and I called her ‘Mesa.’
So named from my sister’s inability as a three year old to say, ‘Theresa.’
And in truth, Mesa was tough and hard.
But also gentle and full of love.
She was, indeed, an emotional contradiction.
A contradiction that was often difficult for those around her to navigate.
A contradiction created in her childhood.
Out of necessity.
And a need to survive.
And to provide.
Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1924, her father Edmond, left the family for ‘the woods’ when she was a teenager.
That was an odd occurrence in the 20’s - a man leaving his family.
‘The whole neighborhood knew’ about Edmond leaving.
It was publicly embarrassing.
Embarrassing for Roseanne (Mesa's mother), Mesa and Mesa’s brothers and sisters: Anita, Edmond, Roland, Robert, and Dolores.
Dolores was ten years old then.
Mesa was sixteen.
And as quickly as her father left the family, Mesa left high school.
Never to finish.
Despite her brilliance.
She left high school to get a job.
To help her mother support the family.
And two years after that, Roseanne died unexpectedly - at thirty-eight years old - from a blood clot.
She was Mesa’s ‘best friend and favorite person in this world.’
And Mesa was ‘crushed’ by her death.
But Mesa was proud to say that in that difficult time, she was not alone.
She had her brothers and sisters.
They ‘stuck together and took care of one another.’
At nineteen, Mesa married my grandfather - John Moynihan.
He was twenty-eight.
And a man who, because of his deafness, never made it past the sixth grade.
He was ‘the hardest worker she ever knew.’
Together, they ran the Prospect Dairy.
Well, my grandfather ran Prospect Dairy and Mesa worked at Raytheon.
The former getting its beginning by my grandfather - after being dismissed from the sixth grade - with one cow and a single bottling unit.
It ended sixty years later with over three hundred devoted customers, when delivering milk to doorsteps twice a week was a thing.
The latter, Raytheon, ended in retirement.
After wiring Patriot Missiles, of Gulf War fame, and many other complicated weapons that Raytheon produced.
In between, Mesa and Grandpa had two children.
My mother and another that died young.
And also in between, Mesa had chance encounters with her father.
She told me once that when my mother was three and they went to my Aunt Tootsie’s house, Edmond Sr. was there. Aunt Tootsie, Edmond’s sister, had apparently stayed in touch with him after he left Roseanne, Mesa, and the rest of the children.
Edmond looked at my Mesa and said, “Do you know who I am?”
Mesa responded, “Someone who I am suppose to call my father...but never will.”
Mesa was tough.
And was seemingly pleased to tell me that Edmond, after having a successful career as a ‘hunting guide for many famous politicians’, died from ‘jaw cancer in the woods’. The same woods he left the family for.
And when my Grandpa died, my grandmother sold the house in Methuen, Massachusetts and moved to Candlelight Terrace in Wilder, Vt.
To be close to my mother, father, sister, and me.
Losing my grandfather, selling the house, and moving from Massachusetts was hard for her.
So very hard.
And after about nine years of living in Candlelight Terrace, at the age of eighty-six, because she could not take care of herself any longer, my grandmother had to move in with my parents.
She moved in to the first floor bedroom.
And spent her days watching Hallmark movies, Judge Judy, and candlepin bowling, despite the efforts of my mother to get her out of that space and do other things.
But in the end, understandably, Mesa could not work through being limited to two-hundred fifty square feet.
It was too humbling for her.
So she lashed out.
With a sharp tongue.
And a cloudy memory.
(Is there a worse mix at the end of life?)
The lashing out was also understandable.
But hard. And tough.
Again, like she was.
‘Understandable’ being a relative term given that she was not living with me nor was I bringing meals to her three times a day.
Mesa died in Brookside Nursing Home on May 21, 2016.
She was ninety-one years old.
And for some reason, tonight, I am remembering her.
Clearly, I am remembering her.
Hence, all these words.
Why this remembrance now?
Is it because I never read her obituary?
Or wrote one for her?
Like she asked me to do once after reading one of my poems when I was in college.
Or maybe it is because I did not have a chance for complete closure after she died.
Because, Mesa, in classic fashion, did not want calling hours.
Or a funeral.
And me, in classic fashion, put off grieving until tonight - more than two years later.
Or maybe it is because I am thinking about some of her gentleness and love traits that I inherited from her.
Traits that have certainly helped me in my constant pursuit to be a good educator and a good person.
I hope I am both.
She would like that.
But I would be remiss not to mention that I have also chosen to have some of her hard and tough traits, too.
A choice that has essentially created my own emotional contradiction for those around me.
I know for certain that my family, friends, colleagues, and students sometimes have a hard time navigating those things in me.
I am not sure she would like that.
I know she didn't like that about herself.
I also know that neither do I.
Despite it being ‘my choice.’
Well, maybe that is another piece of writing.
When I am able to fully deal with all of the emotional choices I have made in my life.
Gosh, will I ever be ready to write such a thing?
I am not sure Mesa ever did that.
Deal with her emotional choices in life.
And all her losses: father, mother, child, husband, home, independence, memory.
But who knows? Maybe she did.
Regardless, she was a good woman.
A good woman, for sure.
Despite her toughness and hardness.
And because of her gentleness and love.
Rest easy, Mesa.
There is no contradiction now.