Silver Heartbeats: The Butterfly Takes Flight
I can’t just simply sum up my Grandma Pat’s life. Her impact on mine and others’ lives is larger than all the words I could write and all the pictures I could ever take and restore.
I began restoring and archiving my Grandmother’s photographs when she entered hospice. In those six months, I got to learn about and share these recovered memories contained within the emulsion. The stories connected me to her life and the people and places within the photographs. Despite her declining health, these monthly visits were extremely precious, and magical. Her mind was sharp until her body couldn’t support the size and fire of her crazy magical soul any longer.
She took a turn late July, and I was blessed to be able to see her a couple more times before she passed. I think her time in hospice felt like the butterflies I was raising in my kitchen this summer--waiting for the rain to end and fly off into the warm sun. All she wanted to do was fly away from her body.
My Grandpa John (her husband) passed in 2011. Losing him was extremely hard and not a day goes by where I don’t miss him, and as life goes on I miss him even more. Yet, it feels like he’s still here. The loss of Grandma felt like the last link of their earthly presence.
It’s hard. You don’t ever want your loved ones to die. You want them to miraculously be the way they were, but as they decline in their deathbed, you just want their soul to take off and find peace. Grandma Pat was always very frank, blunt, and casual about death--positive, even. As a child I found it morbid and terrifying, as an adult I find it strangely comforting. Her faith was so powerful and rare, but still it’s a weird place to be. I can’t imagine how strange it must feel to be in that place between earth and the afterlife. As a living human, seeing a loved one in that place is very hard. It does things to your mind.
Every mid-to-late August through early October, the Monarch butterfly takes a some-thousand mile trip to spend the winter in Mexico. Of course she followed the lead of their migration, since the butterfly is her spirit animal. She passed peacefully just a week or so before the autumnal equinox. While we knew it was coming, the reality of her being gone from this earth still breaks my heart. I’m glad she’s with my grandpa and at peace (somewhere over the rainbow in that big somewhere out there), but it never gets easier from where we stand.
If you don’t know her, well, let me tell you a bit about her. Hopefully this gives you some idea. If you did, I hope these memories make you smile.
Pat Spolar was a firecracker of a lady. In 2012 my cousins got married and at 83 years old she did the electric slide at their wedding...with her walker (she’d had two hip replacements at that point) and this was just one example of how big spirits die hard, especially hers. At 80, she had taken up the trumpet and left goofy voicemails on all our answering machines with nonsensical noise and a cheesy “guess who!”...you got us, Grandma. She always kept a drawer of Carmex she was addicted to, a bottle of brandy nearby, and a compartment of her jewelry box filled with mardi gras beads among the various butterfly-themed jewelry she owned. Atop this box were several bottles of Emeraude. I don’t think there was a time in her life where she didn’t own that perfume.
She was born and raised in the Milwaukee area, an only child but a family person all the same. She became a teacher through Marquette University, and during that time she attended SO MANY dances. I’m talking the fancy ones with dance cards and big bands like you see in the movies from old Hollywood. This was a time when “The Rave” was a classy ballroom. It’s funny to think now that it’s a rock and roll hall. One time she received a Christmas card from 5 guys all a part of the same fraternity. As a now-funny side note, her grades were once too low for graduate school admittance due to her social butterfly tendencies. She made it work though and managed to backpack through Europe in her twenties. In 1959 she picked up her soulmate at a picnic and married him. She became a wife and mother—likely her favorite roles in life along with being a grandmother. She excelled at all these things.
Growing up with her and grandpa was always a magical experience. They lived in a log house they built from the ground up nestled in a small forest next to a lake simply named “Five.” What an enchanting place to come of age, right? Paddle boat rides, walking to a nearby farm to see dairy cows, exploring the woods, feeding the fish off the dock, picking stems of lily of the valley to bring home from the prairie, celebrating every season, and so many countless adventures. They were there for everything: my siblings’ sports games, band concerts, choir concerts, science fairs, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries...you name it, they were there. Every time a new sibling was born or my parents took a much-needed night off, they took care of us. They always took care of us. Thinking about that now in my early thirties, I really don’t take that for granted. I had two wonderful people be such a big part of my life and other family and friends—they were always so invested and so involved.
Pat Spolar always always ALWAYS had such a powerful zest for life and happiness. She was always encouraging us to go on adventures, and she’d wait for our return with open arms. She never wanted anything more from us—she just wanted us to be happy. Her capacity to love, keep the faith, and see the good in everything was rare in this world, and it was powerful and inspiring. She is so loved, and she’s reached more lives than anyone can ever imagine.
If you’re looking for an example of a good life to lead, look no further than John and Pat Spolar. They lived normal lives, but they lived happy and well. They gave so much to others, but they were humble, happy, and got everything they ever wanted. Family, friends, life, and love were all they ever needed.
I see all of this now in my own mother and I feel truly blessed. She lives on within her (whether she likes it or not). If you’re looking for them, they’re here. Although I understand the need to tell an earthly presence when they’re cheating at cards...GRANDMA I’m talking about YOU.
The photo work continues of course, and I hope this entry inspires sharing more memories of Pat and John Spolar that we can keep.
I’ll toast a Brandy Alexander to that,
The Girl in the Unicorn Pajamas