Chamra Grandkids: Letter from Above!

It’s a Chamra family tradition that Granny (Patricia Chamra) would write letters to her family and grandkids every Christmas holiday. It was always written by my cousin-in-law, Abby Peterson in the perspective from Granny. When she died, the Chamra grandkids got a Google Doc together and wrote this tribute letter to her/from her as if she’s giving the letter from her final resting place.

As you may have heard, I’ve moved again. The new place isn’t bad. It has a few people I haven’t seen in awhile and a great view to sit on my butt and watch what all those kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids are doing. Three generations of these crazy people should keep me busy for the time being.
As I’ve now moved to my forever home, I wanted to leave you all with one final letter from the crazy old lady to tell you some things from my life that maybe you all didn’t know, and to leave you with some parting words of wisdom as I bullshit with you a bit while saying my final goodbye.
I finally kicked the bucket on Friday, April 17, around 11:37pm at the ripe old age of 91. While this was a journey I had to do on my own, it was nice having my hands held as hard as that may have been on Abby, Barb, and my two boys, Mark and Roy. While I know that may have been difficult to bear witness to, I hope you will find that it was actually one of the easiest things you have done because it made me happy. And doing things to make others happy should always be easy, not hard. I love you for being with me in my final moments because I was scared and I needed your love and support to take those final steps. I’ve always had the belief of going to bed when I’m tired, whether that was at 4:00 in the afternoon, or 2:00 in the morning. As long as I didn’t have to get out of bed before 10:00am, I was happy. And kids, I was tired. It was my time to go to bed for good this time.

I have been a colorful person from the get-go, both in personality and language. And just so you are all well aware, I came by it naturally. I was born on August 3, 1928, to Kenneth McDonald and Louise Frances Bolibaugh Cox. My mother was a spitball of fire so to speak, and as you all know the nut didn’t fall far from the tree. There was one time my mother was walking back from the Standard Station we owned in Rose Hill. She hollered up to a man I’ll leave unnamed who was working on a roof and said, “You better enjoy it up there because that’s as close to God as you are going to get.” And then, she just kept on walking without so much as a glance back or a bat of the eye. So for those of you who know I’m never one to mince words, you can now see where I got it from.

I graduated from Rose Hill High School and attended Central College for a while. My mother thought I needed a college education but she and I didn’t see eye to eye on that one. Lucky for me, Robert (your dad/grandpa/great-grandpa) walked into the Standard Station one day while I was working and asked me to go on a date with him on Saturday evening. After he left, my mother not so kindly told me he’d never be back, but sure enough he was true to his word and came to pick me up, proving my mother wrong in the process, and it doesn’t get much better than that. We fell in love, I dropped out of Central to get married (which pissed my mother off royally), and I started the next chapter of my life.

Robert and I married on September 16, 1949, at Chapel United Methodist in Des Moines. From there, I moved to the farm north of Rose Hill and farm life was not quite as glamorous as I expected it to be. From butchering chickens to feeding hogs, Robert had to teach this city girl (well, town girl really) how to be a country wife. Swearing a lot at the pigs helped me embrace it all, and country living became a part of me.

In November of 1971, I found out I had breast cancer. I was in the shower and felt an extra lump that I didn’t think should be there. I went to the doctor the very next day and I was ready for surgery one week later. Roy and Mark were only 12 and 16 years old, so I did what it took to get rid of it. I didn’t do chemotherapy or radiation; instead I chopped the sucker off. I wanted to help others and spread the word that life could go on lopsided, so I became Mahaska County’s first volunteer for Reach to Recovery, going door to door asking for donations to support breast cancer awareness. Breast cancer was a “hush-hush” subject back then. It wasn’t until Shirley Temple Black and Mrs. Betty Ford were diagnosed with breast cancer that it became a subject to be discussed. Reach to Recovery also allowed me to visit other breast cancer patients so they would know they weren’t lopsided alone. Those damn floatation devices of boobs don’t really help keep you upright anyway, so I wanted others to not worry about losing a breast. I felt the need to encourage them to do their physical therapy after the surgery. I wasn’t going to live with my arm down by my side. I had baseball bats to swing and kids to chase, and I wanted them to see they could do it too.

In the fall of 1983, Robert got sick and began suffering from kidney failure. Six years later, things got to be too tough for Robert and it was time to completely turn the farm over to our boys, Mark (whom I endearingly called Tarkey) and Roy. However, I didn’t want to move to town as I had come to love my house in the country and it suited me well. Robert, Mark, and Roy all but had to drag me out of the farmhouse in 1989, kicking and bitching the whole way, even though I knew it was time. But folks, doing things quietly isn’t in my nature so I had to pitch a fit or the boys and Robert would have died of shock right there. So in all reality, I was just making sure they lived a lot longer.

Unfortunately, Robert did not live as long as we all would have liked. Robert left the boys and I on August 14, 1991. Though his kidneys couldn’t keep up, he made sure to pass on a love of beef jerky and V8 (as he so eloquently called cat juice thanks to the hit sitcom Alf) to his granddaughter, Abby.

Our move to town ended up being one of the best things that ever could have happened to me, even though I was now without Robert and having to get used to “city” living again. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, so I did as much as I could in the years that followed. I joined many social groups and kept up with those I had belonged to out in Rose Hill. I was out of the house more than I was in it! Through it all, I ended up belonging to many groups including Homemaker’s Health Aide, the Rose Hill Ruritan Club, TOPS, Centennial Circle, King’s Daughters, and the Mahaska County Hospital Auxiliary Club to name a few. I even ran the whole damn Snack Bar at the hospital, making sure I drug each of my grandkids grocery shopping for it so they could help unload and carry groceries for me.

While being a single lady had its lonely times occasionally, I found myself enjoying life. I made sure to teach my grandkids many things. I taught Andrew-man how to be fearless and crazy by going on scooter rides around the town square and driving a car your friends find laughable. If it is a 1987 Ford Escort red station wagon, and the price is right (free!), you take it! I taught him that Sunday drives are important and that you can find treasures by digging through the recycling center. I also taught him what it means to listen or there are consequences. You see, he and I would go on walks and bike rides up to Grant School and when I got tired of yelling at him to stop getting so far ahead of me on that purple banana seat of a bike while I did my best to walk and keep up, I took that bike from him at the school and got on myself, making him do the walking while I did the riding. He learned to listen (well, listen better) after that.

I taught Abby how to shop like the best of them and that you can never have too many clothes or pairs of shoes in the closet. I taught her that baking things for others brings joy and a smile to someone’s face whether it is pie, bread, or something else. I tried to teach her that it is okay to make mistakes and to stop worrying about every little thing in life. If you burn the grilled cheese on one side, don’t throw it away. Just serve it with the pretty side up. While she still struggles with perfectionism, I hope our final days and moments remind her that there is more to life than worrying, stress, and fear. Embrace the imperfections; drink liquor from a coffee cup with a bendy straw and who cares what anyone else says?

I taught Jodi that you can never do the same thing too many times by going on more trips to the zoo than either of us can count. I taught her that frizzy hair is not a bad thing; if your hair looks like you stuck your finger in an electrical outlet and you got zapped, it’s ok! There are people out there that fix that with beehive hair-dos and countless hair pins. Jodi also learned that eating grape pie is life-changing. Thank you, Grandma Julia, for teaching me to make it so I could pass that on to Jodi and her friends. Jodi also learned that vegetables are overrated and people really can live off of chocolate ice cream, cookies, pancakes, and instant mashed potatoes. I made it to 91; I am proof of this! But most importantly, I taught Jodi that using her talent and her gracious heart to do good for others, even if it is as simple as a sign for the town of Rose Hill, means something to people, even if they don’t always express it in words.

I taught Bobby that when it comes to driving that yellow means go faster, and I taught him what it really means to have a lead foot. He learned that walking over to the neighbors to visit leads to fun times and tricycle rides. I showed him to never be afraid to wear the Santa hat or reindeer antlers at Christmas, and how to laugh infectiously. Someone will look back at that hat, those antlers, and hear that laugh someday and it will make them smile. From the comfy chair in my house, he learned to love coffee and how to carry on conversations that were deep and filled with meaning, as well as conversations that were never more than a bunch of bullshit.

But beneath all this crazy, I tried to show my kids, their wives, and my grandkids what a home looked like. I wanted to teach them that family is what makes a home a home. It isn’t where you are; it is who you are with. The grandkids would always come over and expect a home-cooked meal because that is what they were used to at their houses. Instead, I’d take them to Family Restaurant so I didn’t have to cook or do dishes, teaching them that time with the family and breaking the traditional rules is way more fun than slaving away in the kitchen. This philosophy eventually spilled over into my “home cooked” Christmas dinner of Breadeaux pizza, store bought cookies and ice cream bars. Why do all that work when you could spend time with your family instead? Plus, it left more time to watch the grandkids wrestle on the living room floor. Mark, Roy, Lori, and Barb, remember this as you are now the grandparents. Time talking, playing, and laughing with your grandkids is worth more than anything else in life.

I wanted my grandkids to come visit me because they wanted to, not because they had to. I kept the freezer well-stocked with Snickers ice cream bars, the refrigerator stocked with pop, Snack-Packs, and Lunchables, and I always had a bed open and made so they knew I had them taken care of when they came. I was an ear to listen when they had a problem with their parents or at school. I’d listen and provide my opinion (I never had an issue with that as you have learned by now). Even when I got old (it happens to everyone, you wait), I had no problem telling the grandkids all my stories while going through old photo albums. I even repeated some stories to make sure the kids were paying attention, but I’m not sure they ever caught on. I hope when everyone looks back at the life I lived, they want to live up to the same standards of family and home I set. I heard no complaints, and hopefully, when you see the list of things I did, you will do your best to catch up and remember all of this.

Mark and Roy, your dad is proud of you. I am proud of you. You took what he had, what we had, and grew it into something spectacular. You boys learned a lot early on losing Dad like you did, but you learned those hard and valuable lessons nevertheless. But more importantly, you passed on those lessons to your own kids, and that is what makes us the most proud of you both. Plus, you two never tried to throw sticks of dynamite into the silo or at a beaver dam that I’m aware of, so I’d say you’ve done good boys.

Folks, I will leave you now with my final words of advice. Red was my favorite color. From my red car to the red geraniums outside my house in my flower pot tree, I wanted people to see me coming and see the beauty right outside a window if one takes the time to look. Be bold kids. Take life in. Say what you mean and mean what you say. With that though, it is also important to humor people. I never liked being called Patty; I hated that name when you get right down to it, but when Roy would write Patty Chamra on the rent check, it didn’t bother me nearly as much because I knew it made Roy laugh. Letting him be ornery and pull a funny on me meant more to both him and I than being bothered by a name I wasn’t fond of. And if you are ever left having to deal with something you don’t particularly enjoy or like just say, “Ok, George!” and move on.

Don’t worry about the mess. Allow the mess. If you want to make the traditional holiday meal, make it together and everyone helps in the kitchen. When the flour spills all over the counter and floor, or a granddaughter continuously messes up your holiday table cloth because spinning the bowl while mixing is more fun, let her! Those happy times are the ones you want your kids and grandkids to remember, not the times of being afraid to spill or the hassle it is to clean something up. And if you can’t handle things being messy, call Breadeaux and just order pizzas. Everyone will love that just as much if not more.

Stay up late. Build forts in the living room with every blanket, pillow, and chair you can move (again, here is where not worrying about the mess also comes into play). Watch sitcoms with your kids to hear their laughter. Happy Days, Alf, Laverne and Shirley, and The Brady Bunch all had so many laughable moments to them and hearing the kids giggle was joyous.

And when someone is doing something that you find doesn’t line up with the values I have instilled in you, do what I did. You point your finger at them and tell them to sit down and shut up, or there is the door.

Kids, you seem to be on your way, some more than others, but I’ll continue to keep my eye on you and nudge you in the right direction when you need it. Considering most of you take after me, I think you’ll do just fine. Oh, and one more thing. On Easter Sunday I had a dream that I was in heaven, sure as hell, but it turned out I wasn’t yet. Now that I really am, you guys better make damn sure I’m in here pretty side up.

Forever a part of you,
The Crazy Old Lady from Up Above

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