Transition, Transmission: Maw Maw

“She has transitioned.”  

My arms still slick from transmission fluid.  She just turned 102.


(“That don’t look like me,” she says.)

It turns out that when the engines were installed, a pressure relief valve had been added to the starboard engine, but had been forgotten on the port side.  In the Storstrøm on the way into Stubbekøbing, blowing out the engines in turn, the port began slipping away.  Energy (cognition) high, but percent load dropped precipitously (blood pressure).  Fuel consumption almost to zero.  David Bowie in my head.  (“Oh my TVC one five…”)

Over the last three years, pressure finally popped a seal and we had about 4 liters of transmission fluid in the middle bilge.  Pumped, stationary, in a Rødvig marina.  Then we got the message above.

Hopped trains to Copenhagen, flight to Frankfurt, Airbus to Orlando, will be driving to West Virginia.

I like to remember her laughing.  She enjoys a good laugh.  She’s a fan of differential humor, especially when one of three parties is not in the know.  I suppose that means, in practical Maw Maw terms: if you’re dumb, she’ll laugh at you.  And she takes her ribbing in stride, too.

Coconut Cream Pies = the guilty pleasure she spoiled me with.  When I was about 11 or 12, she baked one.  I came home, found it in the kitchen, and ran with it up the stairs.  Because what 12-year old doesn’t run upstairs with a pie?  Upstairs is where the sewing room was.  That’s where mom and maw maw liked to sit.  I wanted to thank her with my enthusiasm hot in my heart and in my hands.  I tripped, and spilled it all over the stairs.  My thought was, “I’m in trouble now.”  She stepped outside into the hallway, and laughed at me.  A deep and resonant belly laugh.  Then she came downstairs and baked me another one.

Tough.  Resilient.  Last fall we feared she suffered a heart attack.  Wheeled into the ICU, and an option was to cut open her 101 chest.  No, make her comfortable.  She woke up in an unfamiliar room, and said, “I’m going to need a bigger TV.  West Virginia has a bowl game soon, and I need to be able to see it.”

A tangible tautness always floats between maw maw, mother and my sister.  A practical woman, she has little use for or skill in subtlety or innuendo.  If you hate someone’s hair, you should tell them.  No woman escaped her free advice.  Her kids, grandkids, in-laws, friends, caretakers, random people.  At the kitchen table one morning, mom left in a huff over some piece of unsolicited wisdom.  Under her breath, but loud enough for me to hear, maw maw said, “That woman has more money than she has brains. 

“What?” I said, teenage shock.

“She has more money than she has brains.”  Sis and I laughed, and dared her to say it again.  She called mom over, and said, “You have more money than you have brains.”  Then she looked at us and laughed.

I saved this one for her.  A bit of her own strategic diction.  Sitting at her table, she dispensed her thoughts (read: you should be doing…) to me.  I slammed my mug on the table and pointed at her.  “That’s it, Maw Maw.  You’re out of my will.”  She laughed long and loud at that one.

“This getting old business is for the birds,” she says.  She went to lie down on her bed.  I followed and lay down on the bed beside her.  A woman of decorum, she knew I intentionally transgressed to get her goat.  She looked at me and laughed.  Then she’d close her eyes for a minute.  Then open them again, and laugh again.  Then close, and settle into her pillow.  That’s how I like to think of her transitioning: laughing at me.  Laughing because I made her laugh, the transmission between us in the breath and in the belly as she goes to sleep.

Maw Maw never understood me.  I don’t fit into her practical boxes.  “Are you making any money?”  “Why do you write poetry, what use is that?”  ” Why don’t you get a girlfriend?”  “You’re just playing.”

But she loves me as only maw maw can.  As she loves us all.  Unconditionally.


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