She was never much for coffee, but she sure did like her tea. Loose tea, Arizona tea in the pretty turquoise and cherry blossom cans that were so alluring to me that I asked for a sip, and she warned me I might not like it. I don’t know how she drank it, the tea she brewed at home. I guess I never thought to ask. This saddens me, that I don’t know this simple thing about her. And yet…and yet there are bigger things I don’t know. And they bother me just as much. Was she lonely? Did she have a favorite TV show? Was she happy? Did she miss grandpa? Who was her favorite author? What was her childhood like?
I can remember sleepovers, with trips to the deli and the bakery. The bakery that is no longer there, and the deli that has since reopened with a new name, but has the same round sandwiches in the kid’s meals. I remember washing her porch each year, and getting yucky, dirty feet. Then we would traipse upstairs and wash our feet in her bathtub (which was probably why there was always some grit in my bath water when I took a bath later, before bed.) In that bathroom, there was a little dolphin figure that was hollowed out and clear, filled with what I assume was bath soap or oil. And she had a whole drawer full of tiny soaps in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes she would kindly let me choose one to keep for my own. I wonder how many of those she bought from Avon, and how many she purloined from the many hotels she had stayed at throughout her life.
We were always afraid of the bats in her attic. The attic that was never entered. We never went to the attic because of the bats, and because years ago, my aunt had used duct tape to seal all the way around the door, (in an attempt to allay her own fears perhaps?). One night when we were staying at her house, and it was too warm to sleep upstairs (she hated the air conditioning, and didn’t even own one), my sisters and I lay on the floor in her living room. We had made beds out of sleeping bags and pillows and were all snuggled in on top of the nubby, cat hair filled carpet when something flew through the air…or did it? I can’t remember if a bat really was in the living room that night, but I know that I feared it. I also know that the possibility is there, because my dad would often be called over to her house, and asked to bring along a tennis racket and a net of some kind, to capture a bat that had somehow found its way into her house.
I don’t remember exactly how we spent our time at her house. Sometimes we would play a game where she would hide a bunch of old bells that she had on display, and then we would rush around trying to find them in a sort of hide-and-seek. I now have one of these bells sitting on my desk. It is quite plain and simple, but holds a lot of meaning for me. Her home was filled with bits and baubles. Trinkets that would show up you never knew where. She had dial-up internet, but that was still better than what we had at home–nothing. I can remember my mom trying to call her and not being able to get through, because she was tying up the landline with her emails to my aunt and uncle, or checking on those beloved St. Louis Cardinals she followed religiously. Maybe we “helped” her fit a few pieces into the puzzle she was always working on. She would start the puzzle on her big dining room table, and when she was finished working on it for the moment, she would take her lacy tablecloth and cover her work, protecting it from her cats or our reaching hands. Maybe we watched a movie on her VCR. We probably played with all of the old books and records that were left in my mother and aunt’s bedrooms…the rooms that seemed frozen in time and interested me so. I always felt like the three bedrooms that had closed doors were just waiting for their inhabitants to return from college and families, and curl up in a cozy ball on the bed to read a book or take a nap.
We always knew where to find the old skeleton key that opened the door to her house. She hid it in the freezer under some frozen bag of food or carton of ice cream. I always loved it when she asked me to find the key for her.
She often spoke with words that were foreign to me. Pants were “slacks”. The couch was “the davenport”. One time there was quite a mix up between my siblings when she asked us to get some pants for one of our little sisters. We returned with a pair of pants, when she had meant a diaper. She would have said “slacks” if she wanted real pants.
Year after year she gave us three gifts each for Christmas. I was always tempted to ask for something huge, and then two moderately sized gifts, just to see what she would do. She always wanted to keep things equal though, so she probably would have just given me some cash to go towards whatever it was I wanted. I always knew she would get me books I asked for. She had a membership to Barnes & Noble, and would buy brand new books for me for birthdays and Christmas. On smaller holidays, she always put together a huge platter of candy for us kids, and a different one for my parents. We had no trouble finishing those huge amounts of candy within the week. On Valentine’s Day she would usually give each of us kids some candy and a $2 bill rolled up and tied with a ribbon. She always liked foreign coins and odd money.
Her house was usually warm and cozy in the winter and fall, she had radiators that put off heat like a fire. And she would often bake more in the winter than she usually did, simply to have an excuse to use her gas oven. She had a horrible habit of using the oven to try to heat the whole house. Even when she moved to a smaller house years later, we would still catch her turning it on and opening the door a crack to let the heat out. This drove my dad crazy. I think I kind of understand it though. To this day, the smell of a gas oven being lit makes me tear up a bit, remembering the smell of her old kitchen.
She loved to knit, and even when she was in need of prayers herself, she always had a project of a “prayer shawl” started for someone. I was so touched when she offered to make me and my sisters a shawl each. She let us pick out the skein of yarn she would use, and then while she labored over the beautiful, soft yarn, she prayed for whoever she was going to give the shawl to. She would also knit piles of caps for preemie babies. She did a lot of knitting while she was watching baseball games on TV.
Most weeks she would bring a little basket of cookies over to our house, like a reverse version of Little Red Riding Hood. I think she usually made the chocolate chip cookies from the packet of Betty Crocker that you can buy at the grocery store. We would most likely find a cat hair or two in these toothsome delights, causing us to joke that the recipe must call for a quarter cup of cat hair along with the oil, egg and water.
These are all things I remember. There are oh, so many more. Despite having all of these wonderful memories, they won’t bring her back. Sometimes I have dreams with her in them, and I wake up from the dream, sobbing. I miss her so, so much. She was taken too soon, though she lead a wonderful, long life. Grandma, I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. And god, I miss you.