If you know me or have read my Facebook posts around Memorial Day for the past 12 to 15 years, you know that on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, my sister, my female-Krause cousins, and my two maternal aunts gather at Auds' house (the matriarch of our tribe, my Grandma Krause) and from there head out to three cemeteries to place flowers and clean up the headstones and make sure everything is in order.
Then we stop at a very small tavern in Red River, drink, play games, jam the jukebox full of dollar bills and head to eat at a supper club. Shawano has got to be the world capital of "supper clubs". I've been eating at them since I can remember.
The highlight of the entire weekend, however, is waking up at Grandma's on Sunday morning to the smell of coffee brewing, bacon frying in her cast iron skillet, toast ready to pop from the toaster, and the sound of my cousins' and aunts' voices laughing and telling stories from Grandma's very cramped kitchen. I usually sleep on the living room couch, and when I wake up, I lay there with my eyes still closed for several minutes, absorbing these sounds, smells and feelings and I try to make damn sure they're imprinted in my memory because listening to what's going on in that kitchen is my personal definition of bliss, of family, and of love.
Once I decide I've got enough sensory information to process, I get up, walk into the kitchen, greet my family, grab a cold can of Coke from the refrigerator and then Grandma asks me, "How do you want your eggs?" As I stated earlier, we've been completing this ritual for well over a decade, but every year she asks. My answer is always the same: "Fried over hard right in that bacon grease." I know she knows this, but she's polite enough to ask every year, just in case I've gone crazy in the past year and changed my mind. The next thing I hear is an egg cracked open on the side of the cast iron skillet, then I hear the cracking of another. Within ten minutes I'm served two eggs, fried over hard, the white edges ragged and brown. The dull, golden yolks as solid as the whites. I grab three strips of bacon from the plate with two paper towels placed on it to soak up some of the grease. I have two pieces of toast with raspberry jam dug into with a spoon instead of a knife; Auds has always used a spoon to serve jam because you can't get enough of it on a knife. This, my friends, is the breakfast of kings...or queens. As soon as I finish eating, I'm already looking forward to eating it again next year. If I ever end up on death row, this will be the last meal I request.
This year was different. It was A LOT different. Even though we all gathered at Grandma's house, placed flowers and cleaned up headstones; stopped at the dinky tavern in Red River and ate at a supper club, there were no eggs fried in bacon grease this year.
On the Tuesday before Memorial Day Weekend, my 86 year old grandmother went into her backyard and picked rhubarb to make me, of all people, rhubarb bars because she knows I love them. Actually, I only love her rhubarb bars. Anything from a bakery is a far-distant second to the magic she bakes. While walking through the yard, she stepped into an uneven divot in her backyard and fell. She fractured her right femur. She laid there for a short time when a stranger walking a dog walked past her on the sidewalk and at her request, knocked on her neighbor's door and her neighbor called for an ambulance. Or the neighbor called my aunt and uncle who live in Shawano. These details I'm unclear on. The result, however, is that she was taken to the hospital in Shawano and then transported to AMC in Appleton. She was admitted to the surgical services floor and cleared for surgery to reset her femur on Wednesday night. She had surgery at approximately 8pm on Wednesday after arriving at AMC at 1:30pm on Tuesday. She had a plate, one screw and one "pin" (which is just medical jargon for a really long screw) placed on her femur and the pin was placed into her pelvic bone. I saw the post-op x-rays and that pin is really long.
On Saturday afternoon, as our tribe was placing flowers and driving from cemetery to cemetery, Grandma was transported from AMC to Maple Lane, a skilled nursing facility (aka nursing home) outside Shawano to rehab her right leg. When I visited her at AMC on Friday, I was lucky enough to be there when her hospitalist (doctors who manage the care of hospitalized patients) came in. The doc was great. She checked her wound, checked her pedal pulses, asked about her pain and anxiety levels. Even though Auds reported feeling "jittery inside" she didn't request anything for her anxiety. When the doc asked if she would like an anti-anxiety medication sent up from pharmacy, Grandma said, "No, I'll be ok." I was sitting behind Grandma shaking my head "yes" so Auds got 0.5mg of Xanax which apparently did the trick because within 15 minutes of swallowing that pill, she was sleeping comfortably and snoring. Before the Xanax discussion, Grandma told the doctor straight up, "I'll do whatever I have to do to get back home."
I don't know how long she'll be in the nursing home. I do know that she's in Occupational and Physical Therapy and working through the pain to reach her goal of being discharged to home.
In years past, when I've unpacked my clothes from our gravehopping weekends after returning home on Sunday, I've been able to smell my grandma's kitchen on my pajamas; the coffee, the toast, and especially the eggs and bacon. Not so this year. My pjs smelled just like they did before I left for Shawano on Saturday morning. That made me sad. The lingering smell was a bit of a tease to look forward to breakfast next year. Although it didn't happen this Memorial Day Weekend, aka gravehopping, I'm doubly looking forward to my fried eggs next year because I'm certain next year, on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend, my grandma will be in front of the stove, asking me how I'd like my eggs.