The idea to write this post was inspired by Magpie Girl, whose own grandmother recently died. In a blog post, Magpie Girl suggested to her readers that we “remember the people whose wisdom and laughter have touched us by creating memorials to them for Dia de los Muertos.” Although I’m grateful my grandmothers are still alive, they are both over 90, and I know my time with them is limited. This letter and one I plan to write soon to my other grandma are small attempts to celebrate these amazing women and their place in my life. It’s kind of sentimental, I know, but that’s just how these things tend to be. Feel free to get sentimental back at me, by sharing some of your memories of people who have been important to you.
I’ve been thinking about you and decided to write a letter. I realize it’s been a very long time since I’ve done this, even though letter writing was an art and practice my mom taught me as soon as I was old enough to write.
I have scores of memories of you, but for some reason my thoughts keep wandering back to a particular week one summer, when Bill and I stayed with you and Grandpa at the cottage while our parents were away. Was I seven or maybe eight? Here’s what I remember:
We went walking through the Northern Michigan woods to pick wild blueberries, which are so tiny. We picked berries for what seemed like forever, yet the bottoms of our pails were barely barely covered. You motivated us by taking our buckets and showing us how full they’d have to be if we wanted blueberry pancakes, and how much more we’d have to pick in order for you to make a blueberry pie. You taught us persistence and hard work. Then you went swimming in the lake with us so we could cool off and relax.
Every night we played Yahtzee or cards. You were so hard-core and competitive. When we played 99, the first person to lose their last penny to the pot had to go do the dinner dishes. (The second person out had to entertain everyone at the piano.) I used to silently resent how much work we had to do while we were visiting you, but now that I know more about your own childhood—especially the years after your dad died, during the depression—I understand you better. And even though there was always work to do at your house, there were lots of games and good food and music, too, with your skillful piano playing and everyone singing along. You understood the balance of life.
That same week, I remember you put rag curlers in my hair. I always wanted curly hair, and you made it happen! You tore strips off of an old, thin blue towel then rolled my hair around them, tying the ends in knots. While you worked, you told me that was how you used to make Aunt Ann’s hair curly when she was little.
When my mom and dad weren’t at the cottage with us, I got to sleep in the second bedroom, which was a treat. I loved the headboard, with its built-in bookshelf and reading light. I remember lying in there, with blue rags knotted in my hair, while you taught me the Lord’s Prayer. Each night that week, you worked with me on memorizing it, section by section. It made me feel so grown up to know it, and so excited at the thought of how surprised my parents would be.
You’re 94, now, and I know you’re getting ready to leave this earth. You keep telling me this, even though I don’t want to hear it. But I have to trust, once again, that you understand a lot more than I do about the balance of this life and the journey toward the next. And I’m comforted knowing I have no shortage of memories, lessons and love from you, to carry along with me.
My Grandma T. (Virginia) with my oldest daughter.