This past spring, my grandmother past away at the age of 107. For me, she epitomized and symbolized many things. Feminism, intelligence, common sense, ferocity, stealth. At a time when women did not usually go to college, she went to Vassar and graduated on time, while being deaf in one ear. She maintained her relationship with her high school sweetheart, my grandfather (mayor of the town at the time of his death), and when they returned to their hometown, they both worked hard to set a standard in town. As I was growing up, she was always well dressed and manicured, never drank too much in front of us (if at all), spoke intelligently, lived by aristocratic etiquette, knew everything that was happening in town, and was always well read on multiple topics.
Born in 1911, there is no denying the fact that she saw and experienced a lot of things. She saw plenty of wartime in America, the first automobile in town, the first radio, and then TV, and then computer, and cordless phone, and the emergence of the worldwide web, and on and on. She lived through gas shortages, military drafts, civil rights movement, and assassinations. She went through the loss of her husband, one of her sons, a daughter-in-law, and countless friends and peers. Living to 107 has the downside of living longer than so many family members and friends, and becoming lonely.
As a girl, and eventual teenager, I idolized my grandmother. She made the best baked macaroni and cheese (always on Thursdays) as well as tuna or chicken salad sandwiches (I think it was the Pepperidge Farms bread and fresh celery). I loved sitting at her kitchen table and devouring one of these, but she was a sly lady. It was a trap! As I sat there, loving every second of the quiet house, the smells of her kitchen, and the view of her flower garden, she’d spring the prying and direct questions that she needed answers to. And there was no getting away without answering. Questions usually had to do with grades and courses, relationships with boys and with my parents, books I should be reading, new technology, etc. As I got older, I tried to outsmart her by evading and dancing around her questions with vague answers and even answering her questions with questions (If I knew then what I know now, I’d ask her so many more questions). I’d even avoid the kitchen! I would come in and sit with her in her living room or library. None of it worked. She would just pause and reflect on what I had said, then ask in a different way and in a softer voice, until she got her answer. I envied how crafty she was with conversation and pulling information out of people.
Alas, nothing lasts forever. As I said before, this past spring my grandmother past away. As the family came together in town to say goodbye, I could not help but be overwhelmed with memories that I had of growing up around her house. I could see myself walking around her vibrant and colorful flower garden, which had gone wild for the last few years; I could feel the branches and leaves of the manicured bushes and rhododendrons (now overgrown and untrimmed) on my arms and face when I used to tunnel through them. I could smell the pipe tobacco and books in the library as I sat at the desk and answered questions; I could almost smell her Clinique moisturizer. I remembered trick or treating there; I could visualize the precisely decorated Christmas tree with ornaments from Germany (which now decorate my tree) in the living room and the mess of wrapping paper late on Christmas Eve.
Most of all, I remember how happy being in that house made me. You see, my parents argued a lot. When they got tired of yelling at each other, my mother would set her sites on my sister or me. When Dad was at one of his many meetings, Mom would just take out whatever rage had consumed her that day on us. It wasn’t easy and neither of us came out of it unscathed. That house never held happy memories for me, but when we were at Grandma’s, none of that happened. No yelling, no name calling, no insults or slaps. Only high expectations in education and etiquette. Only baked macaroni, and Pepperidge Farms bread, and a cozy library, and an attic that I enjoyed exploring.
Now the house of my happiest childhood memories is on the market, with a potential buyer. Even though I had made my peace with my grandmother being gone, I find it just as hard to let that house go. I’m sure that there are other members of my family that feel the same way about that house. It was welcoming and inviting, interesting and beautiful. There is an happy aura around Grandma’s house that makes it so attractive and memorable. Letting go of that house will be difficult, but I can take the memories I have of Grandma’s house wherever I go and hold on the them for as long as I can, and that can never be sold.