My grandmother passed away on New Year’s Day.
So, I thought I would take a moment to talk about my grandma.
When custody was finally settled in my parent’s divorce, when I was about 5 years old, my sister and father and I all went to live with my grandma. She provided us with a place to live, and an extra parental figure to help when my dad needed to work late or go to school. She provided all three of us with a better life than we could’ve had otherwise.
I honestly don’t know how long we all lived together. It could’ve been one year or six. It seems like it was a long time, since I have so many memories of her there, but it is hard for me to say.
Living with her was great. I have nothing but happy memories of her then. She had very well defined rules, and I seem to remember respecting her and them. From my point of view, it felt like her and my father were on the same page very often with how we should be raised.
She provided necessary stability to an otherwise tumultuous time in my life. And above anything else, which was considerable, this was the most important thing she ever gave me.
I don’t want to understate things: there were a lot of very important people that not only were willing to help us, but actively doing so. And everything all of those people did were vitally important. But, as a small child, being able to come home to a stable and consistent home every single day with home cooked meals and a loving embrace was a gift the importance of which I am only starting to unpack now.
We all grew close with her then, but my sister became like the daughter my grandma never had. That bond never eroded, and my sister was able to pay back her debt at least a couple times over with all the support she provided as my grandmother aged and eventually became unhealthy.
My grandma played organ and accordion, and I believe trumpet when she was younger, although I never saw her do that. I watched her play the other two pretty often as a child.
She loved to tell stories and seemed to have nothing but hilarious memories. That isn’t true of course, but she never once got into the sad stuff, even though that stuff was readily there. Whenever she did talk about some of the darker moments of her life, she spoke almost matter of fact about it. Not that it was one way or the other. She liked to laugh and liked to recall those times. She often told me that I was similar to my grandfather. I never met him; he died long before I was born. But apparently I reminded her of him. She would always tell me that I had his sensibilities, his humor, his pure joy in giving her fits. I can’t say how much about my likeness to him is true, but she was right that I did absolutely love to give her fits. Teasing my grandma on any number of things would always fill me with tremendous joy. She never seemed to take any joking very seriously. She was built to take a joke.
Things never seemed to bother her much. As she aged I suppose that began to change. She was lonely towards the end; no matter how often people visited her. And that took a visible toll on her. But when I was young, nothing ever really seemed to faze her. I suppose that is what happens when you come of age during that period, and lose your only brother in the war. That is one hell of a fire to be forged in, couple that with decades of experience, and the rough spots of life seem to smooth out, I guess.
My grandma eventually moved into her own apartment and we remained in that lifeboat of a house. We still maintained a close relationship. We saw her a lot. We spent the night there and had dinners and all that stuff. But as life marched on, so did my own. And as happens, I saw her less and less.
The last time I saw my grandma, when she still seemed to be completely my grandma that is, was a little over a year ago. My sister and her, now, husband, and my family all stopped by there on the way to my parent’s house. It was a pretty remarkable day, in that she was completely like her old self, which was becoming increasingly rare. She held my son for a good long while. It was the last time I saw her and left her presence feeling good.
My grandma loved seeing my son that day, and my daughter. She loved her great-grandkids. I can remember vividly when she held her first great-grandchild, how happy she was to hold that baby. I had never seen her hold a baby before, it was a side of my grandma I had never known until then. It is an odd sensation when you are a couple decades into a well-worn relationship, and finally become witness to an entirely new side to a person. When a person becomes defined in your understanding of them, it can be a true gift to watch them prove you wrong.
I had a similar experience on Christmas this year, with my other grandma, watching her blow-dry and comb my daughter’s hair. The delicate preening by a skilled and experienced hand was a delight to watch. She seemed to be entertaining a joy she had forgotten about. It reminded me of my other grandma and watching her hold all those babies as they came along.
I spent a good number of years sitting between my two grandmas in a church pew every Sunday, coming home to macaroni and cheese baked in the oven in a dish older than myself, and surrounded by the ever-present glass of water, spool of yarn, and game shows on TV. Homemade afghans and ceramics, blue sweaters, hands covered by paper-thin skin, and watches with impossibly small faces are the things that will always remind me of my grandma.
And that laugh, I’ll never forget that laugh.