“I know a girl made of memories and phrases, lives her whole life in chapters and phases...” Jimmy Buffett
Faced with a blank screen and a broken heart, I asked another writer for advice. How does one go about summarizing a life that spanned eight-eight years?
"Pick the things you want people to know most about Grandma. When your chest hurts from stifling tears, that's when I knew I was onto something."
My mom was shy. Around her friends she was witty, engaged. The women-only card games played in our living room often turned raucous ("What's the name of the game?" someone would bellow and they'd all laugh). But, put her in a room full of people.... A neighbor hired me to tend bar at his house party. My mom knew many of the people there, but not all. She spent almost the entire night talking to me.
She was a football fan. Although her sons all played hockey (and she'd spent the better part of her adult life standing at cold rinks) she was much more comfortable rooting on her Bills. Even late in her life - like, last fall late - she stayed close to the TV on Sundays hoping that this year's crop would somehow find the end zone. It was her stubborn side showing that she never climbed onto someone else's bandwagon.
She was a foodie. That seems obvious, in that she and my dad belonged to a gourmet group. The planning and prep that went into the dishes was impressive. But that wasn't it. One of her signature creations was a delicious chicken casserole that seemed easy enough to replicate. Basic ingredients, simple directions. Uh huh. I could never get it to taste the same way, and I've taken cooking classes. When asked - "Oh, I add a few things" she replied. "You added a few things?" I married an intuitive cook. Maybe this is one reason why.
Her profession? Lunch lady. Many a Pittsford kid who grew up in Park Road School remembers the nice lady who would sneak them extra food. She would sneak me cookie dough, bringing home bits of it for me while I was in high school. And college. And law school.
"Step" was not in her vocabulary when it came to her grand kids or great grand kids. There was no difference, in her mind or in her heart. She was always ready to spoil them whether they entered the family as newborns, or as teens.
My wife describes her "old world manners." Mom had beautiful handwriting, which appeared in all of the cards she sent. Easter, Halloween.... Like clock work. She sent cash in them, I suspect on the theory that she knew the look on a ten year old grandkiddo's face taking a crisp bill out of the card. Only in her last year did she fail to send cards. It was a sign.
She loved opera, especially Pavarotti.She'd learned to play piano, and enjoyed the several years ours was in her living room. I never got to hear her play, though. That was too much to expect. But at a recital in Colorado she got to hear me play. That was enough.
She was never really comfortable with a son, or grandson, working as cops. She deluded herself into thinking we were not really street cops, that we had other, unrelated jobs. I tried to gently correct her. It never worked.
My father dreamed of owning a boat. Not one to shop the market, he'd decided to build one in their back yard. Restrictive zoning probably would have put the brakes on that, but it didn't constrain his dreams. The plans changed over the years, but the name of the boat remained the same. Annie B.
She loved to read. She was happy her oldest had written a published novel, but was aghast at the sex scenes. Later years and eye issues robbed her of its pleasures, until she discovered (with a little help) large print. She'd begun reading again when the final, cruel malady struck.
My last real sight of her was after she'd walked us to the front door of her care center. She'd begun the long, slow good bye that had taken my dad, and so she could not leave without an escort. She smiled - shy, content - and waved good bye. She cried, because she always hated good byes. I cried, because I always hated to leave her.
She is gone, but not really. I look in the mirror, at my children, at my
grandchildren and I see her. I look into my heart and I feel her. I
look back on everything she was and I love her.
I cry, because I hate good byes.