A Life Lived Fully, and a Day to Remember (Annette Long)
By JENNIFER COLTON
December 14, 2011
Wednesday night, my family will decorate the Christmas tree, an annual
tradition that has been, as long as I can remember, on Dec. 14. I don’t know
when or how the tradition began, but for as long as I can remember, my
parents have decorated on my grandmother’s birthday, followed by a phone
call to Tucson or Texas or wherever she was celebrating.
This year, however, will be different.
Born to deaf parents, my grandmother began interpreting sign language at the
age of 5. Her mother was a seamstress, her father a house painter. She was
born in Texas, but the family began traveling when her mother came down with
dust pneumonia. They eventually moved to Hollywood to find work during the
war, and grandmother rode the trolley to high school every day. On her 16th
birthday she eloped to Tijuana with my granfather, but she continued to live
with her parents until she was 19, when they had a proper church wedding.
She worked in a bank, as a model and as secretary in an Army office in
Okinawa. When she and my grandfather moved to Arizona in 1970, she returned
to interpreting and founded the Community Outreach Program for the Deaf.
Grandma Annette became a professional sign language interpreter, long before
licenses and certification were available. She helped form the national
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Conference of Interpreter
Trainers. She worked as an interpreter and instructor, traveling throughout
the country and U.S. Territories, and she founded the interpreter training
program at the University of Arizona.
During junior high and high school, I would spend weekends at her home in
Tucson. We would eat at international restaurants and go shopping and
sight-seeing, but what I really remember from those weekends is sitting in
her living room watching movies, both modern and classic. I once catalogued
those movies for her, rows and rows and rows of VHS tapes with everything
from “Arsenic and Old Lace” to “The Rock.” There were almost 300 then, and I
know she continued to collect films for years afterward.
In those movie nights — and mornings and days and afternoons — she cheered
during classic Westerns, sang along with musicals and cried every time she
watched “How Green Was my Valley.”
She took advantage of technology, whether it was WebTV, playing solitaire on
the computer for hours or even setting up a Facebook account. My grandmother
helped me set up my first e-mail address with Juno, the free dial-up my only
way to get online. She bought me my first CD, along with a tape/CD player to
listen to it.
Grandma Annette was far from perfect and even further from the
“traditional” grandparent. She disliked children under the age of 8, was
cynical and had a wicked sense of humor; she smoked like a chimney, always
had a rescued dog underfoot and never had friends her own age.
She had a half a can of Coca-Cola almost religiously every morning, and I
have only one memory of her actually cooking because she preferred to eat
out, order in or microwave. She hated eating fast food, but sometimes she
bought Sonic hamburgers as a treat for her dogs to eat at dinner.
Grandma Annette always had an opinion about everything, and she always
wanted to know what was going on in the world, even when she couldn’t
experience it herself.
Despite her lifestyle, my grandmother fought through every health problem
she faced. She had double carpal tunnel surgery in the ‘90s, and I spent the
summer of 2004 with her when she had double cataract surgery. She had both
shoulders replaced, and several years ago, a fall while in care after back
surgery left her unable to walk. She fought back, and 18 months later, she
was able to walk again, although she used a cane or a walker most of the
Somehow she always seemed immortal, even after my grandfather suffered from
emphysema, a triple-heart bypass surgery and lung cancer.
It was about a year ago when an emergency room visit prompted the discovery
of a long untreated infection, and in February, she began dialysis.
Wednesday, March 16, I called my mom to ask a question about our dryer, and
she dropped a bombshell: My grandmother had died less than an hour earlier.
She was 79.
I don’t know if it was the suddenness of the announcement or the fact that
Grandma Annette had always been my favorite relative, but I was speechless.
In a way, I still am because I can’t express anything the way I want to. She
had a full and interesting life, and I hope to accomplish as much with my
life as she did.
So after the tree is lit and the Star Trek ornaments are turned on –
purchased annually by my grandmother – there won’t be a phone call. But
Grandma Annette will not be forgotten, and I hope somewhere she’s enjoying a
coke or a plate of strawberry blintzes, the traditional kind with preserves
and sour cream.
Maybe she’ll catch up with old friends and watch a movie.
We’ll be thinking about her.