Born from French blood, Grandmother had a lasting energetic laugh
and a vibrant smile. She loved everyone and everything, and packed more joy
into a single day than most people do in a life-time, and this, even after
Grandfather, who was the exact opposite, died at the age of sixty-four.
He was borderline grumpy. Together they raised six children,
and lived in the country in a sizeable house with many rooms, hallways,
stairways, and big windows, and it always smelled of Grandmother’s
cooking or baking, and was filled with her gratefulness and generosity.
It was impossible to be unhappy around her, even when I had been
disciplined by my father—her son—the second I looked into Grandmother’s
clear sapphire eyes and she wrapped her hefty arms and short thickset body
around my skinny frame, all of my father’s harsh words were no great shakes.
She would say: “Lets go to the kitchen and eat some old fashioned
chewy ginger cookies”—knowing that they were my favorite.
Then she would look at my father and say: “I’ll have a talk with you later”.
It was funny for me to see my father’s middle-aged face turn into that of a little boy
about to be scolded by his mother. She had told him many times that, when visiting her,
she did not want to see tears in any of the children’s eyes.
Being with Grandmother created some of the happiest moments in my life
because she never judged or criticized me. Her love was unconditional.
The sound of her thunderous belly laughter, her always-youthful sparkling eyes
and her positive character never leave my memory.
One of the indelible memories of my Grandmother is she always smelled like
cookie dough, or garlic, onions, and potatoes, depending on the time of the day,
and she wore bright floral-patterned aprons with many puffs of white flour
Though years later I had realized that her house wasn’t that far away, the car ride
every Sunday morning from our village to Grandmother’s house in the country always
seemed a great distance, as if going to Middle Earth, and it was Middle Earth,
with open fields, meadows, pastures, ponds, and brooks.
Grandmother’s very big garden was magical, like a kaleidoscope of organic life, filled
with toads, mice, fox, garden snakes, deer, praying mantis, nesting birds, locusts, rabbits,
and every fruit and vegetable that would grow in that hot and humid Upstate New York
summer climate. With Grandmother, my mother, my three brothers and three sisters,
I would spend an hour gathering food for dinner and catching some of the garden’s creatures
which we kept in boxes, only to let them go moments before our departure.
A visit to Grandmother’s house was an all day adventure, as we would arrive
in late-morning and then not leave until well after dark.
Even after Grandmother was diagnosed with stomach cancer and was in and out of treatment centers,
becoming sicker and sicker, she never expressed sadness, anger, or bitterness
over her condition. She was my hero, my super woman, whose influence upon
my life has been spiritually significant. She never spoke of God, only of love for all life.
I never heard her criticize or complain about anyone—never an unpleasant word.
I continued to visit Grandmother throughout my late teens and into my late twenties,
though so many things had changed due to her progressive illness: The garden was abandoned, the smells of freshly baked cookies were gone, her bursts of animated energy were gone, but her smile and gleaming blue eyes were still there along with her unique laughter and non-judgmental character, though she tired quickly.
The last time that I saw Grandmother she was in a hospital sitting on the edge of the bed
making the nurses and nurse’s aids feel happy about their lives and their work. I was thirty years old
and went to say good-bye to her before relocating to the West Coast. We didn’t stop laughing
or holding each other for hours. The unspoken sadness for me was, those huge, strong arms and that massive ship-like body with a chest like glorious sails set to the wind, had been whittled down to skin and bones; her warm, full moon-like face was gaunt and pale. I said a final good-bye to her and brushed tears from my eyes as I walked to my car knowing that, most likely, I would never see her again.
A few months later, my father called to say that Grandmother had passed away.
She was eighty-two. She fought back the cancer for a couple of decades.
I asked my father how he was doing he said he felt empty. After hanging up the phone,
I brushed tears from my eyes again knowing that I would not be able to fly back East
for her funeral, and for a few hours I sat and relived my childhood at her house:
her large and wonderful old-fashioned kitchen; her magnificent garden.
The only time that I saw Grandmother’s grave is after my father passed away: while his casket was lowered into the ground to the wild echoes of a Twenty-One Gun Salute racing through the woods, along with the mournful voice of Military Taps, and in the sadness of losing my father to an early death from Alzheimer’s complications, I looked at Grandmother’s gravestone, and her name, Delia, like her beautiful mouth of white teeth, was smiling at me.
It’s been half of a lifetime since Grandmother’s death, and I have not stopped
thinking about her and the enchanting moments that she brought into my life,
and when I am in my garden or my kitchen, she is there advising me as to the best way
to get things to grow, or what to add to a vegetable bean stew to make it taste like hers,
and when someone says to me either in the garden or the kitchen,
“That’s a unique way to build that flower bed”, or “That’s a tasteful way to prepare that dish”,
I unconsciously answer: “This is the way my Grandmother would do it”
This essay was first published in ‘Estuary Magazine’
Editor: Susannah Martin
©dah / dahlusion 2014
all rights reserved
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