26 October 2016

Marian Edington, 1927-2016

I'm confused and Marian is laughing. Somehow, it feels right that this is the only photo of the two of us I can find.
Marian Edington was my wife's paternal grandmother. She lived primarily in eastern Ohio, just that side of the state line from West Virginia. I didn't meet her until a year into my relationship with my wife. We took a weekend to go visit her at her home. I remember we arrived around midnight, which isn't a problem for me, but I figured it was rather inconvenient for a host of her age and generation to receive us at that time. I was prepared for awkward, generic small talk and to spend the weekend feeling like a third wheel, but I was going so that my then-girlfriend could have some time with her grandmother.

I couldn't have been wronger. Few people have ever made me feel as thoroughly welcomed as quickly as she did. Within just a few minutes, we were sitting in her living room, her dachshund Pepper flitting about and entertaining all of us. Marian and I shared a sense of humor, which allowed us to get past the superficial level of introductory conversation in short order. I think we only stayed up for half an hour at most before retiring to bed that first night, but we had already begun making one another laugh. Legitimately laughter, mind you; not the feeble polite laughter you exchange to mollify someone. We cracked each other up from that very first meeting through nearly every conversation we had thereafter.

The next day, she confessed that she'd forgotten my name and for whatever reason, thought that it was Bryan. I assured her that my own grandmother flubbed names so often that I was used to answering to pretty much anything anyway. Thereafter, I was Bryan probably as often as I was Travis. The running joke amused us both. Sometimes if I happened to catch my wife talking with her on the phone, I'd have her pass along that "Bryan says hi". I think one year I even signed a Christmas card to her with that name.

We visited her sister, brother-in-law, and niece during that first visit, the sisters playing euchre against my wife and me. They had us at a disadvantage in that they knew how to play the game. We had an advantage in that Marian and I kept laughing enough that it disrupted her concentration at times. We still lost, of course. More importantly, though, the memory stands out so vividly for me because playing cards against someone can be quite a test. Your best friend whom you'd trust with your life can become ruthless and temperamental as a card player. Again, though, the experience was loose and lighthearted despite her taking it seriously enough that she did play to win.

That was the only time I met her sister; the next time we returned was for her funeral. I wasn't yet diagnosed with Crohn's at that time, but I was clearly exhibiting the symptoms. I was too physically miserable to attend the service itself. I felt bad about that, until everyone returned and I spoke with Marian. She was concerned about me that morning! I was touched that on the day she'd laid to rest her sister -- her lifelong best friend -- that she paid such consideration to my well-being. I know the difference between politeness and compassion. She was compassionate.

Nowhere was our relationship better explored than our discussions about politics. We were on opposite ends of the spectrum, but she had that rare ability to talk thoughtfully about politics so that the conversation was an actual dialogue, rather than an exchange of shouting talking points at one another. We found quite a lot of common ground and areas of agreement, which was refreshing, but I think I value even more the times we disagreed. She always gave my argument fair consideration, even when she rejected it. More importantly, those disagreements never jeopardized our relationship or even the mood of the conversation at hand. Our shared sense of humor helped with that, I think.

I'm saddened to know that she's now passed away, but I also know how difficult these last several years had been for her. She's at rest now, and it's a well earned rest at that. She was one of the most enigmatic people I've ever known. She was considerate, compassionate, fair-minded, wry, astute, and at times outright goofy. She was a gracious host, a thoughtful conversationalist, and someone who made the world a little bit better just by being herself.

How someone with her character voted Republican, I'll never know. (Sorry, Marian; couldn't resist!)

I last saw her a year before my wife and I separated, back in 2010. She was recovering from a nearly fatal car collision. She was severely depressed. She was resentful of the condition of her body, in constant pain, fatiguing easily, and reliant on a cane or walker to get around. As it happened, I was in enough pain myself that weekend that I was using my own cane. We sat outside one afternoon. She shared with me how bleakly she saw her present and future, despondent over the futility of physical rehabilitation. I listened quietly, knowing it was difficult for her give voice to these dark thoughts.

We were just about to leave to go out for dinner. I pointed to the sidewalk with my cane and said, "Come on. I'll race you."

She laughed. She chastised me for making her laugh. Then we laughed together.

That's how I'm going to remember her.

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