Doris Hecker: October 28, 1921 – October 9, 2014

My grandmother on my mom’s side passed away last week. She died peacefully in the hospital with family there. If there’s a decent way to go, that’s probably it. My mom is doing fine; reflective, as one tends to be in these types of situations, but that’s never a bad thing.

I was much closer to my grandma when I was younger. We spent a decent amount of time at her house when we were kids, especially when I got into junior high and spent so much time playing D&D with my cousin, who lived with her. I remember staying there for a week going to soccer camp when I was in junior high as well. My lips got incredibly sunburned, I remember that. I can remember my mom arguing against Nixon to my Grandma’s then-husband, a guy named Lee that I remember had a couple Harleys in the back garage. Lots of little snippets of memories like that. Christmas trees. A black widow spider found hanging in the corner of the kitchen that had to be removed. Her little dog, Bingo. The Plymouth Valiant she drove forever. A piano. The bookshelf to the left right inside the front door where I once found a boxed set of Thoreau’s works . . . which now resides on the shelf behind me as I write.

I am in the neighborhood of where she lived at least once a week. For people who know Missoula, she lived about half a block off Higgins on Fairview Avenue, right across from Dornblaser Field. The Grizzlies still played football there then, and I can remember all the streets being choked with parked cars on game day, and the cannons being fired whenever a touchdown was scored. When I was in high school and our marching band would combine with all the other regional bands for a “mass band” for the U of M homecoming halftime show, that was the field we marched on. I’ve never even been inside the new (new as of 1986) stadium they play in now. Don’t even know if the high school bands combine to play arrangements of popular songs like they did in my day.

When I was young I was a big sports fan, and she always was too. She was from Nebraska; I know she was always a big fan of Nebraska football. When Ted Turner launched his Superstation, I used to watch a lot of Atlanta Braves baseball at her house because we couldn’t get cable at my house (that wasn’t a parental decision, that was the reality of living in the sticks; we had a whopping two channels, and neither signal came in worth a shit). She also took me to a Montana Grizzlies basketball game at least once. I distinctly remember seeing Michael “Sugar” Ray Richardson drop 40 points on Gonzaga University. I remember the college students chanting, “Bullshit! Bullshit!” to bad calls by the referees. I looked on agape, my grandma merely wrung her hands and pulled a distasteful face. I remember walking down court side to the bench and getting Richardson’s autograph. You could still do things like that in those days.

I remember her picking me up after the first game my team lost when I was in little league, and I started crying, and she told me how important it was not to cry when you lose.

I remember getting a t-shirt that had the album cover of the 1978 KISS: PAUL STANLEY solo album (one of only a couple records I owned on 8-track, cassette, LP, and CD) on it. I wore it all the time. When she saw it, she wrung her hands, pulled the distasteful face, and said, “Oh, honey. Oh, honey.” Her demeanor was a constant source of humor for all of us. She didn’t like what she didn’t like, and while she might show her dissatisfaction she was never cruel about it, at least that I can remember. I don’t remember her ever being cross with me at all. I can remember many times when she would clap her hands and smile and say, “Oh, isn’t this FUN!”

She was Czech and Danish by blood, maybe more than that, I don’t know. When I went to the Czech Republic for work, I brought back some coins and paper money and put them in a little frame for her.

In the last few years we would sometimes see her at the grocery store near our house, as we only lived maybe a mile or two from her as a crow flies, but as her health failed and she couldn’t get out, I didn’t see her much. The last time I saw her was at a birthday party a couple years ago. Maybe her 90th? I don’t really know. Years compact as one gets older, and I’m regularly shocked to realize things that seemed to have just happened actually occurred several years ago. That probably makes me sound like a terrible grandson, but my family has never been particularly tight. I think my ex-wife visited her more than I did. It’s given me pause for introspection myself, but I’ve never known any other way so it’s hard to understand if I should feel any differently. I don’t know what she thought of me, but I have no doubts she loved me, even if maybe in the last couple years she wouldn’t have recognized me. Any regrets are mine. I regret not knowing more about her life, because there is a lot of it in 93 years. She had a full life and people loved her. That’s not a bad state to go out in.

Me, my mom, and my grandma at the Uptown Cafe on my 40th birthday
Me, my mom, and my grandma at the Uptown Cafe on my 40th birthday

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He lives and travels from Missoula, MT.

7 thoughts on “Doris Hecker: October 28, 1921 – October 9, 2014”

  1. Love the picture and this remembrance of your grandmother. I am glad she was able to be part of your life for so long. I often think that will not be true of my grandson because they had him so late. Sad.

  2. I love these remembrances and snippets of the past, Chris. I feel like I know your grandmother a little bit and can just picture that face. And I’m not sure anyone ever loses another and thinks they had/spent enough time. You had the relationship you were meant to have and it sounds like a nice one. Condolences to you and your family.

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