Early in the morning on July 13, 2010, Margaret Lucille Vlasak (née Dorundo) passed away peacefully. She was my grandmother.
She lived for 93 years, born on March 23, 1917, and was married to Andrew John Vlasak for 62 years until his death in 1997. Above is their house, a place I have many fond memories of, which I stayed in with my family for a few days to attend her funeral. The memories had to stay that way: the garden they planted and tended every year is just grass now; “Crooked Tree Park”, a small stand of trees where my grandfather built a swing and we played bocce is swingless; the house itself feels smaller and too quiet compared to 25 years ago. The gravel driveway, stretching toward the bottom right of the photo, is barely visible after more than five years of disuse.
She’ll be remembered in many ways for many different things, but I’ll never forget her raspberry jam. The back yard was ringed with red raspberry bushes, and after she picked and prepared the ruby-red, seedy, sweet-tart jam we’d fight over who got the first (and last) taste. No organic, small-batch, farmer’s market raspberry jam has ever matched up to it, probably because of my colored memories, waiting for one of her crepes (before I knew what a crepe was) to come off the stove so it could be filled with that jam, rolled up, and covered in powdered sugar. Now, after ten years of neglect, the raspberry bushes are practically gone. This small stand, with a relative’s truck rusting into the ground behind it, is about all that’s left. Only a few weak, thorny branches choked by weeds held a handful of small fruit.
The ceilings of the house always fascinated me. The first floor living room and bedrooms have this intricate pattern etched in the plaster. Even the upstairs dormer bedrooms were decorated with the scalloped brushstrokes. When the house was built her brother, my great-uncle Raymond Dorundo — the last living member among their siblings — hand-plastered those ceilings. He was a local master of an art I’ve never seen anywhere else.
During our four-day stay, the house where I used to be afraid of the haunted upstairs bedrooms (long since out of use by the time I was born as my mother was the youngest child and I’m her youngest child) was quiet, dark, and no longer the playground I remember. A decades-old console TV, which I don’t recall showing anything but baseball and hockey games, never fitted for today’s digital signals, sat unused. The memorial and funeral services were celebrations, the way they should be. My grandmother remained lucid up until a week or so before her death, and was surrounded by family, including great-grandchildren, until the end. At the gatherings of family and friends, recent memories mixed with old ones, and few if any regrets were held by those surviving her, so her life was celebrated even as her passing was mourned.
Margaret L. Vlasak’s passing was an important mark to many people for many different reasons; for me, it was a sort of generational transition because she was my last living grandparent. The passing of torches became obvious when I heard my aunt called “gram” by her teenage grandchildren. In a day, I felt the weight of years.
For more of the story that I didn’t tell here, you can read her obituary.
edit: proving that our memories can be clouded, my aunt sent me this: Pappy and the rest of us picked the berries. Gramma didn’t like to do that, and I don’t remember ever seeing her pick a berry. Really, what you have written is lovely and captures her essence.