Last Wednesday was March 4th. My paternal grandmother — Mom — was born on that day. One hundred five or maybe one hundred seven years ago. No one is entirely sure. Up to the end, she insisted on being two years younger than nearly all of her documents and our memories said she was. Hard to believe it’s six years since she passed.
As a young woman, Mom was a teacher — there are a lot of teachers in my family. My grandfather, Dad, taught too. She and Dad moved north from the Carolinas long enough ago that the only work they could find here was service work. No more teaching. It would have made me angry. And maybe it did make them angry, but they had small children and a life to make, so they didn’t keep choking on that bitterness, they went to work.
In so many ways, I take from Mother, my maternal grandmother, but Mom is in me, too. Look at my face, my hands, you see her face and hands. My zen-calm that people always notice mirrors her slow-to-boil temper. My desire (though it sometimes seems mislaid) to be the peacemaker comes from her, too.
Not until I got a little older — into college, maybe just after — did I notice how funny she was, what a sly, dry sense of humor she had, but one thing that could not be missed about her was her amazing facility with growing things. She and Dad had a huge house on a huge plot in New Rochelle. Mom had a wonderful rock garden on the wide gentle slope of lawn in front of the house, flowers running along the property line to one side of the house, and vegetables and flowers in the huge yard behind the house. Even after she stopped growing that big garden, she had a jungle of plants indoors, all lush and full, all growing wildly-well. I think my desire to have a garden must come from her … sadly, I don’t seem to have inherited her green thumb!
Mom had so many children. Biologically, there were only my dad and my uncle. But she was a foster parent starting back when my father was a teenager up through her 80s. So many of those foster kids stayed with her for years, even after they moved out of her house, they came back, they were family. The ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ I think of now as part of my family were all Mom’s foster kids at one time or another.
The child welfare people would always send Mom the hardest cases — the kids who were the most emotionally distressed, the ones who didn’t speak, the ones with severe developmental delays, the ones no one else seemed able to manage. And she always managed. I grew up playing with those kids, lying on the floor in the TV room in the dark watching Chiller Theater and Creature Feature and scaring the mess out of ourselves, playing all kinds of invented games all over that eight-bedroom house and all through its yard, discovering the wild rhubbarb in the patch of land beside the yard, riding our bikes up and down The Court. I knew I had a small family, but my family never felt small when we were at Mom’s.
I didn’t post this last week because I hadn’t been able to scan one of her photos to add to the post. I still haven’t been able to get my scanner to cooperate, but I’ve been thinking about her a lot and wanted to go ahead and write it all down, with or without a photo. I miss her. Some days more than others. Even more now that my aunt is gone. I remember riding the train out to sit in ICU with her not long before she passed. She was hooked up to so many tubes and machines, including one down her throat that kept her from speaking. But her eyes spoke. I held her hand and we watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers together. I talked about all kinds of nonsense just to be talking. What I really wanted to say was, “Not yet. We’re not ready,” but that felt so terribly selfish. I finally gave in and whispered it to her. She frowned at me and shook her head, did her best to make an expression I was familiar with, the one that said, “You’re talking crazy now.” A few days later, she recovered enough to come off the respirator, to leave ICU, to be back in a regular room, smiling and talking and making plans for what she was going to do when she got out of the hospital. And then she died. She gave us that, the chance to see her the last time as we would rather remember her, not breathing with a machine, but teasing us and telling us she loved us. I continue to be grateful for that gift.
Hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.