joan shaffer

A Dozen Years....

A dozen years have passed since...

I lost my grandma and the future namesake of Gerald & Joan.

I moved to Oxford, Mississippi and into a condo next door to Jonathan Hardin.

Life fell apart and then truly began for me.

I'm not sure how it's possible to lose and gain so much at the very same time, but that happened in August 2003. I never imagined what life would look like a dozen years later, but if I could have picked a story line, this one most definitely would have exceeded my wildest dreams.

For many years, I dreaded this day because it was the most difficult one of my life. After twelve years, I choose to remember it as the start of my new life, one that included my next door neighbor and soon-to-become best friend, husband and father of my child.

As my grandma was ever the optimist, I think she'd want me to remember it that way. 

Not the best photo (sorry, Lauren), but this is the last airport photo I have of my grandma, my sister and me. It was taken by my mom in August 2001 at the arrival gate of LAX, one week before I started my senior year in high school. Little did we know it would be the last time she'd ever be able to meet us at the gate (a family tradition since my mom left home in 1974) or the airport. Almost two years to the day, I flew to LA for the first time since 9/11 to say goodbye to her. 

Not the best photo (sorry, Lauren), but this is the last airport photo I have of my grandma, my sister and me. It was taken by my mom in August 2001 at the arrival gate of LAX, one week before I started my senior year in high school. Little did we know it would be the last time she'd ever be able to meet us at the gate (a family tradition since my mom left home in 1974) or the airport. Almost two years to the day, I flew to LA for the first time since 9/11 to say goodbye to her. 

1970s california camping trip

My grandparents loved camping. My mother often talks about the camping and boating excursions they took as a family when she still lived at home. After she graduated, they bought a bigger camper that was always known as "the motorhome." They spent much of their free time enjoying it with family and friends until my grandpa died of cancer in 1984. 

Instead of immediately selling the motorhome, my grandma kept it parked at their home until I was five or six years old. For that reason, I remember hanging out in it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

I think those childhood experiences are responsible for my love of vintage campers. I expect Jonathan and I will own one of our own someday. We have dreams of taking a cross-country trip and a trip up the California coast.

I'm not going to lie -- I googled "1977 Dodge motorhome" after I wrote this post. Turns out, a few of these guys are still on the road.

Joan and Sid's motorhome and boat parked in front of their home in Cerritos, California in 1977.

Joan and Sid's motorhome and boat parked in front of their home in Cerritos, California in 1977.

Camping with friends.

Camping with friends.

My grandpa Sid wearing a very nice apron!

My grandpa Sid wearing a very nice apron!

Sid and his friends all donning aprons.

Sid and his friends all donning aprons.

A toast to good friends inside the motorhome.

A toast to good friends inside the motorhome.

Also had to share this photo....

A photo of a beautiful butterfly that was taken in their backyard.

A photo of a beautiful butterfly that was taken in their backyard.

Isn't it funny....

Isn't it funny that the older we get, the more we realize we are just like our parents and grandparents?

I first physically saw myself in my grandma Joan a week before she died. Most of my life I had known I shared many of her mannerisms (one of the many reasons we got along so well), but that week, I noticed we had the same hands. 

Like so many things that week, that realization changed me.

Now I look down at my hands all the time, and I see her hands. Sometimes I see her in my eyes and smile as well.

Our niece Eliza spent the weekend with us a few weeks ago. While she was here, she stopped in our hallway and stared at a picture of Joan that was taken when she was around 12 years old. 

She wanted to know if the photograph was of me. I told that it was my grandma. She said, "She looks like you."

Yes, I suppose she does.

Rounded shoulders and short shorts. Yep, I'm her granddaughter.

Rounded shoulders and short shorts. Yep, I'm her granddaughter.

This is how I remember her in her kitchen. 

This is how I remember her in her kitchen. 

Trimming the roses just like I do today. 

Trimming the roses just like I do today. 

We don't own a camper yet, but one day we will.

We don't own a camper yet, but one day we will.

There are those rounded shoulders again. 

There are those rounded shoulders again. 

Joan

I knew her as Grandma, but she was Joan for 50 years before I burst into the world and changed her name forever. During the two decades we shared each other's lives, I never saw her as Joan. Only in the 11 years since her death have I really gotten to know her as a woman. When she died, I was nineteen and barely a woman myself. Since then, I've inherited so many of her photo albums, books, letters, treasures and memories. Through them, I've learned more about the real Joan Fay Stroup Portillo-Shaffer... 

She loved to laugh...

She was so pretty.

She was so pretty.

She loved picking my mom up from the airport. 

LAX around 1980. Photo by my grandfather, Sid.

LAX around 1980. Photo by my grandfather, Sid.

To this day, I can't go to the airport without thinking of her. 

To this day, I can't go to the airport without thinking of her. 

Pure joy.

Pure joy.

So happy.

So happy.

She loved nature and short-shorts.

Exploring.

Exploring.

She loved animals.

All creatures great and small.

All creatures great and small.

I love this.

I love this.

Her greatest love, Sid. 

True love.

True love.

He died when they were only 50 years old, almost exactly one year after I was born. She said I was the one bright spot in her very dark world. 

Even at 11 months old, I loved her so much.

Even at 11 months old, I loved her so much.

Our family lived on opposite sides of the world, and later, on opposite sides of the country. When we were together, we made every moment count. 

Together until the bitter end.

Together until the bitter end.

We always waited together until the plane left the terminal. The last time she waited with us was August 2001, one month 9/11. Two years later, I took myself to the airport because my mom couldn't leave her. She died one day later, less than one month before her 70th birthday.

She was always there. I still can't go to the airport without thinking of her.

Thank goodness for memories.

After a long trip from London.

After a long trip from London.

Our last airport photo taken in August 2001.

Our last airport photo taken in August 2001.