Good ole’ USA

I’ve been struggling with how to approach a blog post for this past week (or whether I even should), but I decided that since it did, in fact, occur during my Fulbright experience it deserved its fifteen minutes.
My grandfather passed away two Wednesdays ago, and I think my world stopped for a minute. He’d had Alzheimer’s for the better part of these past five years, and spent the last three in a nursing home. Two weeks ago, in the midst of planning for a law school admissions interview in Milan and worrying about my upcoming trip to Brussels, I received an e-mail saying he’d been read his last rites, and then two days later that he’d passed away while en route to the hospital to receive a new IV. And through all of that, there was no thought in my mind except a need to be at home and a curse for the Atlantic Ocean and all its vastness.
It’s weird looking back on it now, because I’d never intended a visit to the US this year, nor had I wanted one, but I’m glad I got to go. Not only did I get the chance to pick up a few great American products and see my own dentist for that pesky tooth (which is totally fine, by the way), I got to see both sides of my family and open my eyes to what Italy has done for me.
I thought I was homesick before. I wasn’t. Not until this happened did I really need to be home, and that put a lot into perspective for me. I thought I was fairly well adjusted before. I was – even more than I realized. I thought it’d be hard going back and forth. It wasn’t. In many ways I just switched modes and snapped into it.

There is a phenomenon that students of culture and travel like to talk about. It’s the antithesis of culture shock, aptly called reverse culture shock: what happens when you find yourself back in your home culture, and how different it all seems. I found that there were many jarring things about being once more in the US, but that there were other things that just seemed natural. One of the strangest was getting off my plane in Detroit and being surrounded by native English speakers, using all their regionalisms (one of my favorites was a local woman who kept saying “yous” as a plural form of you.) Equally jarring was the flight team in Amsterdam that all knew my name and addressed me in English with their condolences.
Seeing my family, though? No big deal. Driving my car? Nothing. Taking a shower? Now that was weird. I discovered that I am very accustomed to Italian showers, with their slow drains and handheld showerheads. So accustomed, in fact, that it took me a second to figure out where the water was coming from and stop grabbing my hair from my comb and sticking it to the wall lest it fall down the drain and exacerbate the problem. (Drain traps and mounted showerheads. Who knew?) I also stood and marveled a few times at my parents’ giant refrigerator, and reveled in the TV commercials almost as much as I did in the shows themselves.
I went to Target and two supermarkets, ate a burger, ice cream, sushi, Mexican food, meatloaf, sweet potato french fries, and hit up Northstar cafe, one of my favorite local dinner spots, where they make incredible homemade ginger ale. I drove my car (and my Mom’s new Mini Cooper) a ton, got my fill of cuddling with my cats, and also took advantage of having a dryer to shrink my jeans back down to regular size. It was fantastic.
I also got to see the whole of my Dad’s family and a large portion of my Mom’s side too, and got a few chances to hang out with my nieces and see two of my best friends from high school. In all, it was a successful trip, especially for its being so unexpected. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures (what a terrible tourist I am!), but here are a few:

My burger.

Reading a book with my sister and my nieces.

I LOVE their faces in this shot.

But, for all that goodness, here’s a little tribute to why I went home:

My grandpa was an awesome guy. Born in 1924, he spent the Great Depression touring the Chicago circuit with his family band, playing the saxophone, clarinet, piano, harmonica, violin, and trumpet. We met his sister at the funeral, who told stories of tapdancing on a drum in rollerskates to please the crowds and spending a night in a Wisconsin police station because there were no hotels nearby. He met my grandma at one of his jazz shows in Sandusky, where she was a groupie, and we found some fabulous photos of them for his tribute slideshow. I was fortunate enough to have inherited his clarinet some time ago when I wanted to take lessons and to have learned a bit from him on the violin while spending snowdays at my grandparents’ house. I will always carry those musical memories of my grandpa with me.

He was also one of the most devoted familymen I know. As my uncle said in the eulogy, he’d do anything for my Grandma or his kids. He used to bring them pencils from work and tell stories of the animals he met on his way home. To us, as kids, he told stories of all kinds. When I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, he made up all sorts of crimes and played the defendant so I could prosecute him for societal wrongs. To be sure, the crimes he came up with were usually no more awful than stealing candy from the store or deliberately stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, but he’d act the part of hardened criminal all the same. He made this face like the convicts you see in movies and he’d pitch his voice a bit lower. Years from now, I’ll always remember him calling me “Skeezics” and buying all sorts of fancy dresses that “twirred,” my way of appreciating how the skirts flared out when I turned in circles.

Looking at the following two shots, I can see how that man shaped my Dad into the grandfather he is today.

He makes faces, he does voices, and he’ll play any game you want. He doesn’t care about seeming silly or being jumped on; he just wants to be there.

It’s nice to know that the people we lose live on in the people they touched. It somehow makes the loss, and the distance, easier to bear. So, Grandpa, rest in peace. You’ll never be too far away now.


One response to “Good ole’ USA

  • dad

    BEAUTIFUL post, Elle! Thanks so much for that! While it was wonderful having you home, your Mom and I are so thrilled and happy that you’re moving forward with your amazing life, and we’re so damned proud of you! Ciao!

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