Unfortunately, once again I am compelled to write about someone I will sadly never see again. In June, I wrote a tribute to my mother’s mother, my Grandma Walicki, after her death in the last days of May. Now, less than half a year later, I am still in Afghanistan and writing a tribute to my other grandmother, my Grandma Lortz, who passed away November 5th.
Grandmothers come in all types. From as far back as I can remember, Grandma Lortz was the “fun” grandmother, the grandmother always took us places, let us run around, and get away with things we wouldn’t normally be allowed to do. As we saw her and my grandfather (who passed away in 1995) far less, there wasn’t the hands-on discipline and knowledge of our family rhythms that there was with my mother’s parents, who always lived much closer.
When I was young, my grandparents on my father’s side lived in Queens, in the same house where my father spent his teenage years. I don’t remember much about their house in Queens, except that it fit the stereotype of what a grandparents’ home was. There were things in the house from years before and it had a very “past” feel to it. Being that it was the early to mid-80s, this put most of their décor in the conservative appearance of the 1950s and 1960s. For lack of a better term, it was a typical grandparents’ house in Queens.
In 1985 or so, my Grandparents Lortz moved to upstate New York, to a little town called Olive Bridge, near Kingston, NY, about an hour and a half north of New York City, and in a completely different world from my normal urban comfort. There wasn’t much in Olive Bridge. Our visits there were my first experiences visiting a small town where the malls, shopping centers, and basically anything outside of human necessity was a long drive away. For a suburban kid such as myself, waking up to see deer and turkey roaming the back yard was an interesting experience. But even though it was nothing like I was used to, I always liked the quaintness of the house in Olive Bridge.
One of my fondest memories of visiting my Grandparents in Olive Bridge was in 1993 when my Grandmother took my brother and me to Cooperstown, NY, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although we didn’t have much time to sightsee as my Grandfather wasn’t well and couldn’t be left alone for long, we had a great time touring the Hall of Fame and checking out the sights of the baseball Mecca of the world.
That was one of the things I will remember the most about my Grandma Lortz, that she was a big baseball fan. Having grown up in Brooklyn, she was a raised on baseball, and when the Mets came into existence in 1962, her and my grandfather latched on to the new team and became lifelong fans. Visiting my grandparents always meant watching or listening to the Mets game and talking about Doc Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and the rest of the Mets of the 80s and early 90s. I remember during the aforementioned ’93 trip to Olive Bridge sitting next to my grandfather as he listened to the Mets on his walkman and relayed that the Mets finally won a game for beleaguered pitcher Anthony Young, who had amassed the longest losing streak in Major League history.
A few years after she took me to Cooperstown, Grandma Lortz came to visit us in Florida and with my newly acquired driver's license, I took her across Florida to the Ted Williams Museum when it was in Hernando, Florida, before it moved to its current location in Tropicana Field. From what I remember, she enjoyed her time reliving the moments of baseball past. I don’t think I realized how cool it was at the time to have a baseball fan for a grandmother, but looking back, it was pretty awesome. And I guess it was because of her and my grandfather that my dad became a Mets fan and then passed a love of baseball on to me.
Sadly, those 20 year memories are among the last I have interacting with my Grandma Lortz. In the late 1990s, shortly after my grandfather passed away, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Before long, her mental capacity diminished to the point that she barely recognized her grandchildren and then eventually lost recognition of her own children. About this time, I had become an adult and my trips to New York were few and far between. But every time I visited, in 1999 and then in 2003 for weddings, my parents and other family members told me to say good-bye to my Grandmother, as it would probably be the last time I see her.
The last time I saw my Grandma Lortz was at my cousin Jan’s wedding in 2011. The care home she lived in arranged to bring her to the wedding so we could take a few pictures with the whole family. Although Grandma had her eyes open, there was no reaction to anything around her. She was there in person, but as far as we could tell, definitely not in mind.
Life is about moments. You, your family, and your loved ones only have so many together. Losing both of my grandmothers while away in Afghanistan has reaffirmed to me that I made a great decision a few weeks ago when I flew across the world for my cousin Jill’s wedding. The trip allowed me to not only see my family, but to share in moments and events that will last for lifetimes. Because you never know when those lifetimes will end.
Rest in peace, Lillian Lortz. You will be missed.