I am my grandmother’s child.
Not in the bad confusing way, but as in almost every single grain of my being was shaped by her in some way.
I’m not so sure, looking back, if my need to emulate her rests in the “nurturing” I received by her, or if I was born with the “nature” to fall in line with her ways. I’m pretty sure that I don’t care one way or another.
With two working parents, and little funds for daycare I spent every weekday in her home. I can still look back and see Days of Our Lives blaring on her huge wooden tv counsel that was the size of a small boat. I can still smell the ceramics on her clothes. I can still remember the small lines that curled up into a smile on her face.
She was finicky. The child of the great depression, the first generation of Americans in her German Immigrant family. You didn’t waste one dang thing. You used crayons until the nub disappeared into your fingerprint. You minded your manners. You put your church first. And life was all about family and tradition, period.
Tradition, no matter what it was, you kept it. Even the annual meet-ups, twice a week at McDonald’s. Same time, same booth, same group of people. You could change your order of course, if you had a coupon. That, by the way, is where I learned to gamble from a very grumpy man named Sam. Sam had his routine of getting his coffee and Egg McMuffin while looking at horse stats, and finishing his day at the tracks. If I picked a winner, he bought me breakfast the next day, and I could get a soda. (I was 5, this was huge) And let me tell you, picking a winning horse is a tough business. You, according to Sam, have to consider the stats, and pick the horse with the best odds, but not the actual best odds, because then you win less money. I always picked a horse by its name, I won twice.
When it wasn’t McDonald’s it was early morning mass, or polishing pews, or ironing altar clothes. Coffee bible studies, where if I was quiet and behaved I got to sip on the left over cold coffee and get pennies from the guest.
Or there were my favorite days, the days when my Great Grandmother “Nanny”, and my Great Aunt Ella came over to make ceramics with my Grandmother “Nan”. There was on the back of her house, a small mud-room type room, where she ran her “business”. The room had a picnic table in the middle, shelves upon shelves filled with wedding plates, statues, bowls and more, and an old kiln.
I wish I could remember the conversations between the two Immigrant Germans and my Nan, I know everyone tells me they all used to bicker non-stop, but all I can remember is the smell of the ceramic clay, the feel of the wet mud, and my Nanny making countless little babies to keep me busy. I always tell myself that I will feel that squish of wet clay between my fingers again, just because that is what they did.
I can remember her backyard, and her not understanding why I refused to play out there. I remember clearly the horrors of playing amongst the apple tree, the peach tree, the plum-tree, and the cherry tree in the heat of production. BEES. Swarms of them, everywhere. I’d rather play in her garage that was lined with canned produce that she gleaned from those trees, the beautiful jars catching my eyes every time.
It was the way of life to her. It wasn’t about this or that, it’s just the way things were. You created, always, no matter the mess. Around her chair you could find a sewing project, a crochet project, a sketch book, a cross stitch project, and a stack of ripped out magazine pages for the next recipe she would make or the next craft she would start. Always create, always.
She tried to teach me. All of it, every skill she knew, she tried to teach me. The brave soul even allowed me to paint with real oil paints. But I hated waiting for paints to dry, and I wanted to mix all the colors, and why couldn’t I start all over again with a brand new $15.00 canvas, and clean the paint brushes, no thanks. We discovered quickly that I had a talent for black ink sketches 😉 .
We tried it all. We weaved yarn through strawberry crates, and made bookmarks out of plastic canvas. We did paper quilling, and baking. Photography with the Polaroid, and cross stitching. Doll clothes, and electric organ playing. She even let me play dress up with her figure skating (rollerskate dancing) costumes and skate up and down her hallway in her old skates. Once she tried to teach me crocheting and knitting, that lesson lasted about five minutes. ❤
We were both stubborn in our ways. She always tried to teach me, and I always found a different way to not do it right.
She could be hard with her words. Condescending even. But I don’t remember that. I just remember those thin lines of her smile.
I remember how holidays had to be. You had to start the Christmas Coffee Roll Dough two days before Christmas. No argument, that’s how it was. You had to have ham, and cheesy potatoes every Easter. It was turkey at thanksgiving with a can of cranberry goop. The same prayer at every meal.
And then, slowly, I grew up. Or more so, I grew away. I got busy with being a teenager.
I still visited her, she by then lived next door to us. She’d call me at 10pm to fix her cable, or to work on her pre-lit Christmas tree that never worked right. She’d scorn me for bringing home a new dog. Or call for me to back her up in yelling at the kids across the street who had to play basketball in her yard.
And then came the day I will never forget. We were talking about something, and the conversation ended quickly. I remember the pot of water boiling, and her blank face. I said her name over and over, before she responded with “When did you get here?” Or something equally odd. I waited until she finished with her boiling water, and ran home to tell my mom.
Strokes. Many small strokes were taking my grandmother away from me. The woman who defeated horrible childhood arthritis and competed in Roller Dancing. The woman who travelled the world. The one with so much talent, so wise, was disappearing.
The strokes turned into Alzheimer’s, and dementia. And she soon was placed in a nursing home. My world started crashing down. She’d call me by my mom’s name at visits, and tell others she hadn’t seen me in weeks. Her home was being sold, with all those treasures being dispersed, all my life, it felt, disregarded.
I struggled with that day when our conversation ended abruptly, and honestly, some days, I still do. What if, just what if, I hadn’t told anyone? What if it could have been our secret? What if I had just given more of myself and stayed with her? Cared for her on my own? Gave up me for her? She hated that nursing home, and I felt I was the one who locked her up.
I struggled more so, to visit her there. To sit with the shell of the person she once was. To watch her fade away. I tried. I went and watched our soap on tv with her. I lectured her on being nice to the nurses, to fight to get better. I brought her all the creations I made. I prayed. She’d kiss me on the cheek, and call me the wrong name, and I’d cry all the way home.
And then I got the call I never imagined I would get. It was time to say goodbye.
I climbed into the bed of hers and squeezed her hand tight. The hand that did so much for me. I quietly begged her not to go. I whispered reminders to her on how she was supposed to help make my wedding dress, how she was supposed to be there to see the children I had not yet had. How I needed her.
And then I said goodbye.
She passed the next day.
I don’t remember if the church was full at her funeral. I don’t remember who came or who didn’t. I remember my heart was shaking, and I remember my mom and I holding onto each other like if we didn’t the world would really shatter.
I remember sorting through what was left of her belongings, clinging to what I could.
I remember moving on, but never moving past.
A collection of her photos that were set out for trash, now hanging above my desk.
I am my grandmother’s child.
Nine years past her death, it’s more clear than ever.
One year past her passing I married and had her grandchild. I bought one crochet hook, a ball of yarn, and a crochet book. I made myself learn, for her. And maybe a little bit for me.
I demand ham on Easter, and coffee dough made two days before Christmas. Her prized hutch sits in my dining room, still the same shade of awful green paint that she loved, my treasures on top, papers and crayons on the bottom for my children, just like she had it. Her paintings that my mind played in as I drifted off to sleep during naptimes at her house hang above my couch, beckoning the imaginations of my children. My daughter is her namesake.
I love with all my heart, that woman who for all purposes raised me.
And I will forever laugh as my husband complains about me having too many projects going on at once. Because life is all about creating. Always. And I am my grandmother’s child.