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Six weeks before my son died ... Jos Claerbout passed into the great silence ... we took a week at Grandma's cottage. Grandma's cottage is on the old family homestead at the edge of Lake Michigan between the woods and the sandy beach. Brother Andrew joined us for a week of intergenerational renewal. My two sons tower over Grandma. She never called them by name, perhaps because they tower above her and she is 88 years old. Brother Andrew did the cooking and read stories to Grandma. Jos (pronounced Yohs) scanned ancestral photos onto the internet and delighted Grandma by showing them enlarged and brightened on his computer screen.
Ninety year old great aunt Evy wanted a birthday present for a grandchild but she could hardly get out of the old folks home. Jos sat her down in front of his portable computer, went to Amazon, and showed her how to select some Dr. Seuss books. She never noticed when he slyly put the charges on his own credit card, and she was astonished when the books arrived a few days later.
Looking at a hundred year old photograph of Grandma's mother, Jenny, was enough to give Jos a crush on her. He later showed off her photo to his work friends promoting Great grandma a "real hottie".
From the old albums we learned that Grandma's childhood name was "Nory". Grandma told family stories of her childhood on the farm 80 years ago. I did little but sat close to my mother as the boys enthusiastically pursued their projects. At one magical moment my mother mistook me for my departed father, simultaneously mistaking my sons for me, her son.
Jos told Grandma that he intended to knit a hat for her. She was incredulous that a big man with such a strong presence would know anything about knitting. He sat down on the couch next to her with his overstuffed knitting bag. "Isn't this beautiful yarn, Nory?" He produced a circular knitting needle and began to cast on. Her eyes brightened and they talked of yarn and needles and stitches. "I call my hats 'toessels'," he said, "Yossel's toessels."
"Grandma, this is going to be a beautiful toessel". She could see it would indeed become a beautiful hat. "I am making this toessel for you, Nory." She beamed. In the several hours of the evening, the toessel took form. "Nory, this is going to be a beautiful toessel and you are going to look beautiful in it." She was sitting on his lap. By the hour, it was becoming a more beautiful toessel. "Nory, you will be very beautiful in this toessel."
Jos expounded further on the charm of toessels with fins and with dreadlocks. Who else could convince Grandma that she needed a hat with added dreadlocks? "Nory, when you shake around these dreadlocks you will be irresistable to all the men at Pine Haven Home".
"All two of them," she quipped.
I am a no-nonsense, hard science, engineering person. To my surprise, a word popped into my head that I could not recall ever using. That word is "blessed". I felt blessed.
The time came for Grandma to model the toessel. Jos put the toessel on her. She strutted around the room, giggling and tossing her shoulders about in some way known instinctively to middle school girls when they become aware of their beauty. How could anyone ever feel more blessed than Grandma or me?
[Look at his hands.]
[Photo taken about July 6, 1999 -- possibly the last photo of him]