Friday, February 18, 2011

A True Lady In Every Way

My grandmother is 99 years old. She's my last surviving grandparent, my mom's mother.

When I try to imagine all the things she has seen in her life, I'm absolutely boggled by it.

The rise and fall of Hitler, The Great Depression, Babe Ruth, Prohibition, Albert Einstein, The Vietnam War, and the H-Bomb. She saw Pluto become a planet and then become not a planet. She's seen the assassination of Ghandi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lennon. In her lifetime Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic and Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. She has seen 18 presidents in office, the first being William Taft (though I doubt she had any cares about the president as a 2 year old).

When I try to describe her, the first word that comes to my head is "strong"... and it seems ironic that I'd use that word to describe what most people would perceive to be a tiny, frail, woman living out her last days on this earth.

She was born in 1911, the youngest of 9 children, in rural Georgia. I've been told she had some sort of disease which caused one of her legs to be shorter than the other and slowed her down compared to her siblings. For money she and her siblings picked cotton and since she was smaller and slower, the other workers felt sorry for her and would put rocks in her bags so they would weigh more since they were paid by weight. At some point the family moved to Miami and before long she met her future husband and my grandfather. They had two daughters, my mother and my aunt, and my grandfather called them all "his chickens" and as far as I've always heard life was good.

Until 1960 when my grandfather, riddled with a stomach pain that no doctor could seem to cure, committed suicide leaving his wife and two daughters alone. My grandmother got a job as a secretary for the city manager and continued on with being a great mother to her daughters, making most of their clothes, keeping a tidy house, and making nutritious and delicious meals.

And when I say nutritious and delicious meals, I'm not blowing smoke up anything. My grandmother could cook like no one in the world. And not just home-style stuff, either. She could cook anything and make it taste like it came from the finest restaurant in the world. She was not afraid to go out into her backyard and pull flowers from her own trees to decorate her table. I had many a birthday cake with a Hibiscus flower or two among the candles when I was a kid. Her meals were actually healthy and tasted amazing. She could have given some of these nutritionists a serious run for their money. She was always concerned with nutrition and health and was taking weekly yoga classes way back before it was the thing to do.

She remarried in the late 60's to the man I would always know as "Grandpa" and they lived a glamorous life filled with travel and luxury. When I was little I'd spend forever asking her where all kinds of pictures were taken and she'd tell me stories of places I had never heard of. And all these pictures were of her, often surrounded by native children or in front of regal monuments, with a giant and real smile on her beautiful face. She had a thirst for life and the kind of personality that everyone fell in love with.

When my Grandpa became sick with cancer, she was his nurse. And through it all, she continued to smile and be a light in a house that could have easily become dark and sad. It almost seems like she just doesn't know how to be unhappy or negative. When he died, she grieved of course, but she kept on living. She kept on doing her yoga and cooking for her family and entertaining and spreading the optimism and light that she just couldn't help but emit.

When I was little, I spent the night at her house frequently. She read me Bible stories and played Scrabble with me. In the morning we had cereal for breakfast with wheat germ sprinkled on top (she said I wouldn't be able to taste it... she was wrong) and grapefruit with real grapefruit spoons to eat it with. Her house (which she still lives in today) is close enough to the train tracks that I could fall asleep listening to the distant clickety clack of the train going by. In the summer she would let me eat all the starfruit I could stomach from the giant tree in her backyard. When it was time to take her white cat, Hobbes, to the vet, she always had me over to help - even though I'm quite sure she could have managed it just fine herself. And when I went through that awkward pre-teen part of my life when all that mattered is that I had the right clothes and accessories, she's the one who made sure I had Z Cavaricci's, Guess Jeans, Jelly Bands, and a Swatch Watch.

I was the baby of the family, my sisters being 10 and 11 years older than I am, so I always find it interesting to hear their stories of Grandmommy. They're so different than mine. But I always can't help but think how lucky I was to not really ever have to share her. When I spent time with her it was always just her and me. Trips out to dinner where she taught me that it was perfectly polite to eat the baked chicken right off the bone, providing you did it like a lady. And in 5th grade when she noticed my belly was getting rounder, she took me to Bally's (she called it the health club) and got me a membership and two sets of workout wear, including leg warmers! She never made me feel bad, though. She made it so much fun to go and do aerobics classes and swim in the pool and ride the stationary bike. I felt like a grown-up with my own membership card and everything. She bought me my first rap tape - a compilation that I wish I still had including Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew.

For the past several years, Grandmommy's been a little confused. She has a hard time remembering who's who and where she is sometimes. She is happiest at home where things are familiar. When we visit, we continuously remind her who we are, even then I'm pretty sure she still doesn't really understand. But she just laughs and welcomes the company, asking the same questions over and over again.

She hasn't been doing very well over the past week or so and Hospice is with her. We went to visit last night and though she didn't know who I was exactly, she knew I was "important" and she told me she loved me. Which means a lot... She's not in pain and she's lucky to be at home where she is the most comfortable.

I know her days are few and I can't help but wish I had thanked her more often for all that she did for me when I was growing up and finding myself. I know that if it weren't for her my social status would have been much lower on the totem pole of adolescent popularity. I wish I could let her know how much it all meant to me then and now and how much her love and acceptance has helped me throughout my life. I hope that somewhere deep down inside she knows these things. I know my sisters would agree that she has always been an amazing grandmother and we are blessed to have had her for so very long.


The Virtuous Girl said...[Reply to comment]

That was so well written and so beautiful. I can't tell you how much I loved it --- really loved it. You are such a beautiful person, with such a warm, loving heart -- and such an awesome writer. Thank you for this. thank you. XOXO

Wife Goes On said...[Reply to comment]

What a fabulous way you captured your grandma's essence and love. I know just how you feel, as my grandma was like that for me too. In her days of confusion, I couldn't have loved her more and wished for more time with her. I stumbled upon your blog today, but will be back. Thank you for sharing this memory with the world. It brought back wonderful memories of my grandma.