When I was in ninth grade my aunt took my grandmother, who was ill with what we then thought was Parkinson’s, and entirely isolated her from everyone she knew and loved. We never got her back.
I used to build all sorts of dream scenarios surrounding what I would do or say if I encountered my aunt. Sometimes she was coming to kidnap me, and I had to put up a fight, sometimes I defended my parents’ child-rearing, sometimes I protected friends from her grasp, sometimes she was escorted off the premises by an impromptu security force, and often there was a lot of profanity involved (mostly on her side.) But years of such imaginings have worn me down a bit. I know now that there is one scheme in which she failed, and that is what I’d rub in her face. If my aunt ever shows up on my doorstep, or I run into her on the street, whether she is screaming at me or smiling beguilingly, I will look her in the eye, and say in a tone which compels her to listen, “I know that my grammy loved me, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.” (You dirty, rotten liar)
I remember Grammy once telling me with great pride that she bet I was the only child in all of my kindergarten who didn’t pick her nose. This was false. I did pick my nose. But when she said it, I believed it, and I glowed. Her approval was never hard to earn, but something in her eyes and smile made it deeply valuable. She laughed when I tried to be funny, she laughed when I didn’t. Once, when I was about eight or nine, she told me that I was going to be a comedienne someday. (The way she said it you could hear the extra “ne.” She was classy like that.)
She made you feel like a million bucks. It’s hard to describe just how, but everyone knew it. She had the best hands, the best laugh, the best cadence to her voice. As my uncle said in her obituary, “She was the best.” That’s all there is to it.
When Grammy was around, we never went anywhere without one of her sweaters tied around our shoulders, just in case we got cold. It set me apart—what other kid walked around with a yellow ladies’ sweater that smelled like perfume? It was a mark—I always felt that everyone passing me on the street knew I was loved. She believed you were a marvelous person, so, with her, you were.
One summer, we were out at my grandparents’ house in Napa, and we got an email telling us that our unsociable old cat had died. We went to the farmers’ market that afternoon and when some kindly passerby asked why I was weepy, I remember my grammy saying “We’ve just had some bad news.” A few minute after hearing of Grammy’s death, a college rep called to talked to me, and I remember my mother saying the exact same thing. “She can’t talk now. We’ve just had some bad news.” That was two years ago today.
In fact, now that I think of it, it was a funny thing for my mother to say. We had gotten bad news almost constantly for three years. I could always hear it my dad’s voice, which carries through walls like none other when he’s on the phone. This final email was the end of all that bad news, but it was also the end of all hope of good news. Things had no chance to get better. She was gone. After all that fighting we couldn’t have her back, because there was nothing left to have, not even a funeral.
When Grammy and Granddad came out to North Carolina every spring she always spent a day making lasagnas, and left extras in our freezer. I grew up assuming that no one could make lasagnas like she could. No one. But after that last spring visit, there were no more Grammy lasagnas to be had. So I just never ate lasagna. A month or two ago, it occurred to me that someone, somewhere had to make lasagna like she did. Or, you know, lasagna that was edible. The world is a big place, and there are lots of talented cooks in it. So I tried some in MAP. No luck. I think I need to find some more options. I’ll keep looking for the good stuff. Grammy loved the good stuff.
Because, if I am honest with myself, there is good news. For years, my aunt lied in almost every word and action, and I have no obligation to believe her. My grandmother loved me. She was delightfully unsurprised by every one of my accomplishments, yet delightedly surprised by me, by my entrance into a room. I had her for fourteen years, and, even now, I suppose I have her legacy. A legacy of small bits of love. She taught me how to iron tablecloths, how to clean a wound with witch hazel, and not to eat too many almonds. Someday it will be spring all over again, with gold jewelry, neighborhood walks, and lasagna. I’ll get to hold her hand and we’ll both feel like a million bucks.
Really nice tribute, Alice. I had always hoped this story would end satisfactorily, like on TV, like in your daydreams, but real life doesn’t always imitate art. or dreams. Still, you got the best part right. Of course, she loved you. 🙂
You know it will end happily, at last. (You wrote the paper on that.)
We love you–
Your grandmother did love you and all her grandchildren. In my many conversations my “Aunt Eleanor” she always spoke of you all with such pride. She had such dignity and grace she would never brag.I hope you always will know your Grandmothers love and spirit will be with you forever.
All my Love
Beautifully put, Alice. Very beautifully put.
Alice: Thanks for reminding me of a few other favorite details about Grammy–not only did she warn me against chills and too many almonds, but also against eating leaves off of the oleanders in front of our Napa house. Of course, eating oleander leaves never would have occurred to me if she hadn’t mentioned them–but so many were the ways she said, “I love you.” And she must have learned to stress that classy French “ne” on “comedienne” while in charm school.
She’s gone now, burnt to ash and to “a small quantity of Christian dust.” But, as the man said about John Donne, we shall see it re-animated.