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Remembering Rieba


Olive skin. Slender fingers adorned with rings. And long painted fingernails, click clacking against a table top.

Rieba always wore one of two outfits:

  • Swishy pants and over-sized sweatshirts with cute graphics on the front, like kittens in a basket of yarn
  • Or an emerald green, Asian-inspired robe that had black piping at the collar. 1970s chic, because that’s when she purchased it from Sears

Her accessories?

  • Birkenstocks with teal green socks
  • A black fanny pack, worn almost exclusively in the house
  • A large plastic coke-a-cola cup, for decades filled with soda but in her later years, it was just ice water
  • Cigarettes for chain-smoking with a black, oval-shaped ashtray at her arm
  • Gold metal marijuana pipe with emerald green in the middle

She sat in her corner — affectionately named — among shelves packed full with everything from tweezers to chocolate to a book that tells you what phase the moon is in that night.

She raised an eyebrow, pointed her index and ring fingers and shook them toward you when she was making a point, while her other hand was pressing a cigarette to one side of her mouth.

She had a scratchy-throated, full-body laugh, hands up, the bracelets on her wrist jangling while she clapped.

She had graceful hands and wrists. You could tell she dealt cards at casinos for many years. She was very good at display.

She made tapioca pudding and popcorn balls for her grandkids.

Her catch phrases: “Oh hell no.” “God love.” and “Have a good day and make lots of money.”

Rieba was elegant in a truck stop kind of way.

In her last few months, she was just a shell of the vibrant, fire-haired woman I had always loved. She wasn’t my gramsbear but a scared child, with wild eyes looking back at me.

My last true memory of her was a private moment we shared in the hospital.

After a doctor had just delivered the same news he had been delivering for months, it finally stuck with everyone. My mother, a rock in situations like this, took my emotional aunt for a walk.

Rieba and I sat in silence for a moment. Then she turned to me and said nonchalantly, “So, this is it?”

Normally, in these moments you breathe. You pull something profound from deep inside you about the human condition, the beauty of life.  You comfort the other person.

That did not happen. I didn’t even pause. I stared straight back at her, with every ounce of love I had and nodded.

“Yeah…I guess this is it.”

She responded, “Well, this sucks.”

Happy birthday, grandma!

Published inEssays

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