Sunday, September 25, 2011


This has nothing to do with yoga. Or maybe everything. I mean really, yoga is a microcosm for life isn't it? But I warned you all this might go this way. Maybe I'll try to work a cat in for good measure. 

As I am writing this, my grandad passed away just hours ago. I was fortunate enough to see him so recently my carry-on bag has yet to be unpacked. I wanted to share my favorite memory of him because it so perfectly sums up who he was to me. 

I was still in college when I got a 9pm call that my grandmother had just passed. My college was in Grand Rapids, the West side of Michigan, and my parents, in Detroit on the East side of Michigan, were in the process of booking an early flight to Florida for us. I had nine hours to drive the 3 hours to Detroit, sleep, make myself presentable and pack. While this may seem like an easy feat, let us consider two items on this list severely impacted by my college lifestyle:

1. Packing a funeral outfit.
Being an art student I did not own any funeral-appropriate attire. Heck, I didn't own a pair of jeans with even one knee intact. I had to dash from dorm-room to dorm-room asking girls roughly my size and shape for black dress clothes, which, of course, they did not have, being college students themselves. I managed to scrape together a skirt and blouse that fit...more or less. Nylons and shoes had to be arranged over the telephone. I called my sister for nylons but she couldn't help with shoes, her feet being a very normal size for an elf. My mother provided shoes, her feet were only one size too large (I brought a spare pair of socks to shove in the toes). 

2. Making myself presentable
College Kate was well known for her wide variety of hair-styles. Shaved head? Done. Purple leopard-print? Yup. Princeton? Uh-huh. Chelsea? You-betcha. Female pompadour? Briefly. The coiffure of choice this month (actually, I had been growing this out for almost a year) was a tall, fully shaved on the sides, green mohawk. My dad & step-mom are pretty conservative and, although they made their best effort not to show it, were horribly embarrassed by my hair and clothing even under regular circumstances. I was not sure they would let me on the plane, let alone look my poor grieving grandpa in the eye with a foot-tall green mohawk. 

As I explained, it took some time, but I did manage to get clothing together. The hair was another matter. I figured if I could just get my hair not-neon, I could comb it down and be okay. I sped to the nearest beauty supply store, which closed at 9. Of course the door was locked, but my pounding and yelling got the attention of the girls closing down in back. I knew I had to pound furiously because these girls were very talented at ignoring customers pounding on the door past closing. I know, I worked there. You would be surprised at the tenacity required to pretend the stylist screaming about her 8am perm appointment is not there. They let me in and I ran right to the dye aisle and picked out the top rated hair-color and developer (in darkest brown), some color remover and a crystal gel treatment. Does all that sound harsh to try on already bleached hair? It is. Very harsh. 

I grabbed my supplies and drove right to the other side of the state. Getting in at 1am, I had 4 hours to strip, cleanse, dye my hair and sleep. Hooray for adrenaline (I had yet to discover pranayama breathing)! I rushed through the treatments and ascertained that I had forgotten one major component conditioner. My brittle hair felt worse than straw. I am sure half the hair attached to my head only remained because of the series of knots that tied it to other strands yet to break off. A little lotion was all I had to run through my hair, achieving the hard to acquire greasy-yet-dry look. To top it off, the brown dye and treatments only succeeded in turning my neon green to a moss-on-a-log camo pattern. Patches of neon butted up next to mossy brown. With two hours left, I heaved a heavy sigh and put on a baseball cap. Maybe it could be considered part of my funeral outfit, like a lady's bonnet? 

As this was pre-9/11, I made it through security and to my grandpa's house without taking off my hat, which had a Dropkick Murphy's patch safety pinned to the front. My parents had been warned of the horrors beneath my cap, but we choose not to speak of it. When we arrived at my grandpa's condo there were many relatives gathered around having the customary scotch and wine forced upon them by my grandfather.* None of my family lives in the same city so nobody knew what my hair was currently doing under my cap, but everyone knew me well enough to know to be afraid. And for g*d's sake, do not mention it. People avoided looking at my hat the way people would avert their eyes from satan. There was an elephant in the room and it was sitting on my head. Finally, my grandpa spoke up, "Kathryn. Come here. Take off your hat." 

For the first time all day (my family consists largely of stereo-typicaly thunderous Jews, of which I am no exception) the room went silent.

"Um. No, grandpa. That's a bad idea." I responded. We bantered like that back and forth, him sounding like he was coaxing a ball out of a dog's mouth to play fetch and me sounding like he was asking me to slay my first born. I looked into my parent's eyes and saw horror, I looked around the room, further horror. No solace anywhere but my poor grandfather's playful eyes. If only he knew what he was asking, surely he would desist!

I didn't want to disappoint my grandad, not even being able to clean up for my grandmother's funeral, but there was no way around it. I just didn't have time to fix it. I bowed my head, apologized and took the cap off. A gasp came up from the crowd but above that could be heard laughing. Loud, joyous laughter. Grandpa thought the matted, greasy, mess on my head was hilarious, made even more so by my cowardice!

He grabbed my head put his lips to my shaved haffet giving me a big kiss. As he did, he whispered in my ear, a conspiratory whisper,  "Next time, shave these  better, the stubble hurts my lips!"

My grandad was always a regal man, a proper man. A classic WWII vet who loved his scotch, golfed and drank his tea very black. He was also above judgement and loved me unconditionally. Thank you for that last visit, grandpa. It was the greatest gift ever — even better than those plastic fisher-price roller skates you gave me for my 8th birthday. 

* The man was so insistent that every visitor to his home join him in a glass of scotch that not 7 days before he died, while The Boy and I were visiting, grandad had me run to the liquor cabinet and pour us each a glass.


  1. Kate, I'm sorry for your loss but I'm very glad you were able to see your Grandpa so recently. I'm grateful that you turned this fantastic memory into a vibrant story and shared it with us. It seems to be grandparents that teach us what unconditional love really is.

  2. What a fabulous story, and one heck of a memory :) Your grandpa sounds like he was quite a character. (for the record, my beloved Nanna was the only one apart from my mother to not give a damn when my hair was pink, purple, blue and various bits inbetween - they were brilliant. Stepdad and his mother told me I'd 'ruined' myself. Lovely! :P Another reason my nanna was so much cooler than them)

  3. I loved this post. Great story. Sorry you lost your grandfather. I miss mine as well.

  4. Oh Kate, this is such a sweet story of you and your grandpa! He was a remarkable (and funny!) guy. I am very sorry of your loss. Big virtual hugs to you and family <3

  5. A deep down bottom of the heart, "thank you," guys. Really. I was a wee hesitant to share and am glad I did. He was a fantastic man and badass to the core.

    @ Leanne: Wow. Ruined yourself? I had no idea the dead cells conglomerated on my head were so important! And, yeah, Nannas rock pretty hard like that.

  6. In the last year I, too, have lost my grandpas--both of them, only 6 months apart. Getting the chance to say goodbye to them and holding on to their memories is so very important. I'm very sorry for yr loss, but thank you for sharing such a great story. Yr grandad sounds pretty badass indeed!

  7. Oh Rachel! Loosing both in one year, let alone half! You poor thing! I hope you had the good fortune I did and were able to say goodbye before they were gone. I also hope camel pose has been as healing for you as it has me. Hugs, darling!

  8. Just beautiful, Kate. Lots of love to you and your family.

  9. Thanks, Julie. Sending love right back 'atcha. I miss you. Doing any zombie yoga lately? Ive been hitting the Wed/Thurs zombie and hoping I would get to see you and Christine. No luck yet. I'll keep trying. :)