Ode to Gram

You’ve probably all had something bad happen in your life at some time. You’ve probably all lost something important, a person or a pet or a job, so you can relate to me when I tell you that the first couple of days after my Grandma died, I woke up only to remember seconds later that something terrible had happened and began each day crying my eyes out and reliving every memory of her in my head. It was during one of these fits of crying that I paused to ask myself, “Is this what my Grandma would want me to do? Would she want me to pick myself up by my boot straps and go to work and carry on?”

I thought about how Gram always expected a certain level of respect. A bad service experience could be an occasion to leave a restaurant, a long check out line had more than once resulted in her leaving a cart full and walking out. I thought about how one year, during our annual trip to Michigan, our reservation had been made for the wrong month- something we found out when we arrived in the middle of the night, and how my sisters and I had stood at the front desk counter in a line and said, “You need to correct this before our Grandma arrives tomorrow” with looks on our faces and tones that implied, “or you’ll be sorry”. The truth was that by then we all knew that it was probably Gram that had messed it up, her memory being what it was, but we also knew that was probably irrelevant. And I remembered one Christmas, when I told my Uncle that I liked his Christmas letter, that Gram got a sour look on her face.

“You didn’t like the letter?” I asked.
“The letter was nice,” she began, “but I just think that, as his mother, I shouldn’t get the same letter that everyone else gets.”
And so I told myself that my Grandma would want to be mourned. She would want to be appreciated for being the wife and mother and grandmother and great grandmother that she was, so here it is. I’d go on forever if I tried to tell you all the ways my Grandma was the best Grandma ever, but I’m going to do my best to honor her for everything she was to me.

Grandma had double jointed thumbs, which meant she could bend her thumbs really far backwards, something I tried in vain to do often when I was younger. I know her thumbs so well because they provided a lot of entertainment for me in church on Sundays. Grandma and Grandpa used to pick my sister Tash and I up for church, but church was really only a very small part of the Sundays I spent with my grandparents. Always after church we would go straight home for dinner. I was prone to headaches and Gram was convinced it was because I needed to eat. She would say, “We’ve got to feed Nic before she gets a headache.” I figured out later that it’s motion sickness, riding in the back seat of a car gives me a headache, which is why I got them so often on the way home from church.

Grandpa usually had something in the oven, so we’d have dinner and then set out on an adventure. I can’t tell you how many Sundays we spent in the woods, or by the water or on a frozen lake or at the dam. We hiked in parks and rocky knolls and grasses that were taller than our heads, and my grandparents showed us every rock and plant and tree. Deer prints and pussy willows and poison ivy and blueberries, strawberries, apples, choke cherry’s. How to look at the roots of dead elm trees to find morel mushrooms, and how to string them up to dry. How to pick berries so you didn’t pick the ones that weren’t ripe yet. How to catch a fish and take a fish off the hook and make crispy fish. Grandpa was always a very fast walker, and so it was Grandma that hung back and walked with us kids saying things like, “Isn’t it gorgeous?”. I learned from my Grandma to appreciate the sun and the smells and the feeling of being alive that you get from being in the woods. And also to hate gnats.

Although there is a story about me in the corner with a blanket over my head that circulates in the family, I do not ever remember in all the time I spent with Gram her ever being mad at me or cross with me. The closest she ever got to being mean was the merciless whooping she gave me at the ping pong table, always skunking me in record speed. There was no letting me get just one point because I was just a kid. Grandma was always very competitive and if you’re my fitbit friend then you know that I get that from her. (She was also kind of smug about those thumbs)  Instead, I remember her laughing a lot, I remember her laugh perfectly, even though I haven’t heard it for years now.

Grandma celebrated my every accomplishment. Even things that weren’t really accomplishments like one time I remember I was leaving her house to visit a friend in Minneapolis and she said to her sister Shirley, “Can you believe she drives in those big four lanes all the way to Minneapolis?” and they were both so impressed that I felt like driving to Minneapolis was really something important.

When my daughter was a little, and we had to have a beloved hamster put to sleep, we stopped at Grandma and Grandpa’s house afterwards. The kid brought that dead hamster right into Grandma’s house and opened the lid to show her. Grandma looked sufficiently impressed and said such nice things to her about that dead hamster and then she said, “Go show Grandpa, I bet he’d like to see it.” When Daughter walked away I said jokingly, “do you really think Grandpa wants to see a dead hamster, Gram?” and she didn’t miss a beat as she said, “Well, he better!” and took off down the hall to make sure it happened.

And the things I learned from my Grandma. She sewed with us and knitted and crocheted and embroidered. And even though my sister Natasha got all the “crafty” genes and Grandma looked at it me somewhat exasperatedly when she told me to line up the darts on the first- and only- Halloween costume I ever made for Daughter and I didn’t know what darts were, it was all the time she spent with me that I appreciated the most. I loved hanging out with Grandma.

I used to call her and ask her if I could spend over and of course she always said yes. Then I would tell my mom that Grandma invited me over and she would say, “You better not have called her and asked her” and Grandma never once ratted me out. (That I know of, anyway) We used to stay up late and pop microwave popcorn and watch Johnny Carson. Waking up at Grandma’s was always fun. She would sit at the head of the table, always her spot, in her pajamas and robe and we’d eat breakfast and look at the paper and plan our day.

As I got older, and the sleepovers became less frequent we did things like water aerobics and of course, Grandma always loved to shop. I could come in her front door and say, “Do you want to go tent shopping with me, Grandma?” and she would say yes, even though Gram, herself, would never stay anywhere that she had to bring her own sheets. We would spend the day shopping and having lunch and laughing.

When I had my daughter, and I had to take back every bad thing I ever said about parents who left their kids in baby swings all the time because she was fussy and colicky and spent most of her time in the swing, Grandma promptly bought a baby swing and set it up in the living room. I used to go for dinner every Friday night. Gram always kept a high chair in the kitchen, and all of the grandkids and great grand kids used it. As a Great Grandma she used to buy toys and hide them under her day bed for the great grandkids to find. She made a birthday cake with my daughter every year until she couldn’t anymore, and taught her how to do the back float in Lake Superior. She went to the Holidazzle parade and the Stone Arch bridge, and to Michigan on vacation with us every year. She loved our kids as much as she loved us and she was always laughing, tickled to be with them.

But there were times, of course, when I was less than happy. Grandma would ask me did I want to spend over, or did I want to take a nap or one time, when my daughter was a baby she handed me money and said, “If I give you this will you stop crying?” She made me feel better when I was feeling bad and even after she couldn’t talk anymore I would still sit at her feet and tell her my stories and feel better just to be close to her. Because you always knew Grandma was on your side. My sister Tash will tell you about the time Gram went to the college with her to get her taxes straight and when asked if she was her mother Gram said, “No, I am her tax preparer!”. Whenever I would tell Gram of some injustice she would say, “Do you want me to call them up?” and I knew that she would have. Grandpa told me once that Grandma was Uncle Ted’s biggest advocate (He is my uncle with Downs), and although I didn’t know my Grandma then, I know exactly what that means.

Last summer, while I was at McDonald’s with Grandpa, I went back up to the condiment counter-probably to get salt- and a woman approached me and asked who the man I was with was. I told her he was my Grandpa, and she said with such feeling, “His wife was always so nice to me in church, I just wanted to tell you that.” Grandma volunteered at the hospital and did taxes for seniors and was nice to ladies at church. She had a special place for people with disabilities and she loved and protected everyone that was important to her. When you left her house she always said, “Hurry back and don’t be late!” and in her later years she would add, “You know that means I love you, right?”

I’ve been missing my Grandma for a while now. When she couldn’t talk anymore you could still see in her eyes that she knew you, that she heard what you said. Even when I told her that my favorite clothing store of 20 years was closing I could see by the look in her eye that she was as appalled as me. I could still talk to her, and hold her hand and press my cheek against hers. She was still on my side, my biggest supporter and the best Grandma ever. It’s hard to say goodbye.

Gram and I used to like to read the same books and talk about them, and I brought her a book once about a woman who had died during a surgery, and then been revived. The book was about the woman’s experiences during those minutes of death, and I wanted to know what my Grandma thought about it. When she finished the book she said to me, “I think my mother is having a party right now” and I could tell that it made her happy to think that. And so I’d like to think that my Grandma is having a party with her parents, and that she is happy and laughing, and that I have been able to, with these words, give her the love and respect and appreciation she is due for the kind of life she lived, and the things she did for me, and for all of us that she loved.

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