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Weekly Column by Andy Grieser
Column by Andy Grieser

June 21, 2002

"See you in the morning, Ma."

That’s what brought the tears. Not the news that Nonnie had passed away, but that one murmured line from my uncle (her son) as he stood next to me at the casket.

Nonnie — an English term of endearment, my parents always told us — was almost 93 years old. (We shared a birthday, which meant lots of jokes in that vein.) She had been married almost 70 years, and when my grandfather passed away a few years ago, she seemed to go into waiting mode. Each illness took more out of her, until last weekend.

I am ashamed to say I didn’t spend as much time with Nonnie as I should have, especially now that I live within day-trip distance. As a child, almost every summer was spent escaping Texas for the equally hot and humid Wisconsin countryside, staying at my uncle’s pig farm and running the quarter-mile or whatever down a hill to my grandparents’ dairy farm. My grandmother was a strong woman, as such a life demands, a match for my quiet, stoic grandfather.

It’s the smell of coffee that usually brings her to mind. Every morning at the farmhouse, she was up and brewing a pot of coffee, not to mention making a huge country breakfast. (My love for tomato juice comes directly from her own, served with those breakfasts, fresh-squeezed and never to be matched in taste.) When my grandparents traveled to Texas, they pulled an RV behind their truck — itself a sort of pre-SUV SUV called a "Carryall." That RV always smelled of coffee. During their visits, I would pop in first thing in the morning and sit at the table, smelling the coffee while Nonnie cooked and Grampa read the newspaper.

My recollections are almost all visceral, because our family was so large that I never really had lots of one-on-one time with Nonnie and Grampa. I can’t tell you how much I regret that now. I never really probed my grandfather’s consuming love for the TV show Dallas or what they did during both World Wars, the Depression, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the rise of the modern age, all of which they lived through.

Some highlights shine through: My brother and I could spend hours exploring the farmhouse — it was a converted schoolhouse from the late 19th century — and playing with Star Wars figures in their library (which made a great Rebel base) and devouring the books that lined their shelves. A good many dealt with the fantastic — I remember a series based on the In Search Of television series — which likely explains my fascination for the weird.

I remember Nonnie slapping me once when I rolled my eyes at my mom and said, "Not another lecture." What? It’d been in a Peanuts strip that morning. I remember them inexplicably sending a tube of toothpaste to me for Christmas one year, the first time I realized dairy farmers (especially ones without gleaming modern facilities) were in trouble. I also remember them sending books as presents, and signing me up for farming-supply magazines.

Nonnie was always religious, a good Lutheran who to my knowledge never wavered as so many of us do in troubled times. Such strong faith continued in her children — my uncle, her next-door neighbor for decades — is a pastor. She never doubted she’d be joining her beloved husband, which probably explains why she seemed to go into waiting mode after his death.

She knew she’d slip away to sleep and wake to a new morning, where loved ones will never again be taken, where love and peace are never interrupted by war or debt.

See you in the morning, Nonnie.

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