February 16 is a bit of a dark day for my family. Eighteen years ago my Grandma Rushton passed away, and then three years later to the day we lost my brother's best friend. We've got death anniversaries spread throughout nearly every month of the year now, but February 16 has cemented itself in my mind as "the" dark day, probably because it the first time I experienced a loss of this magnitude. These deaths were also the hardest, the most unexpected, and came far too soon.
I knew my Grandma Rushton as someone who had one of the most bedecked houses/yards in Payson during Christmas season, who gave wonderful gifts, and who made every holiday special. And her cherry tomatoes and homemade rolls were almost too good for my little body too handle—on at least one occasion Grandma had to come out to the tomato patch to get a hug from me before we left her house.
But I never really knew her when she was healthy—she died of cancer when I was 11—so most of what I know about her now I've picked up from stories. It's enough to elevate her to sainthood: mother of eight biological children (seven of whom are boys) and to anyone else who needed safety and love, the first person I think of whenever a Relief Society teacher asks us to think of someone who characterizes service, a fierce competitor, someone with a diverse collection of talents who wasn't afraid to use them.
I'm fortunate to know her as well as I do, but what I really wish is that I had had more one-on-one time with her. Something of my own to solidify her specific-to-me presence in my life.
Fortunately, I'm not completely deprived; one memory keeps resurfacing, and it's time I wrote it down.
I was about 10 and it was Super Bowl Sunday (I think). Football was the most boring thing in the universe at the time, so after we wrote down our score predictions, a group of us shut ourselves up in Grandma and Grandpa's room to play Hand and Foot. My sister Tiffany and I were on one team, my cousin Shamra and her friend Carrie on the other.
About halfway through our game, Grandma came in to check on us. Tiffany and I were winning, and at least one of us was ready to go out. Shamra and Carrie, on the other hand, didn't even have any canastas yet. Not wanting to be mean, we debated giving them one more chance to get some points.
Grandma passed on a lifetime of card-playing wisdom in two words: "I wouldn't."
We didn't listen. And we paid for it.
Shamra or Carrie picked up the pile on their next turn, which was stacked so high it kept falling over, and ended up beating us by about 6,000 points.
When Dad and his brothers joke about fearing their mom's scolding more than possibly bleeding to death because of some injury caused by stupidity, I believe them. When people tell stories about Grandma taking chili over to a neighbor in need, I'm not surprised. But when the subject of Grandma's merciless card-playing comes up, I know they're speaking truth, because I learned it from Grandma first-hand.
I haven't taken pity on an opponent ever since. Grandma says.