If you know me, or if you've read any of this blog, then you know how I feel about my grandmother. She, along with my dad, raised me. She is my mom. I adore her for more reasons that I can ever list and love her more than I could ever find the words to describe.
As she travels into the second half of her 96th year, we are losing her. Her dementia started years ago, but after falling down the stairs during Hurricane Sandy, her descent into another place inside her mind has been excellerated, especially as of late. I went to see her last night, along with the rest of the family, in the hospital as she was struggling to identify faces and where she was. It's something that is beyond heartbreaking to watch or even wrap my head around.
I've spent the last few days remembering so much about her that miss desperately: the way she used to make me breakfast every morning, the smell and taste of her chocolate chip cookies as they were first taken out of the oven, how delicious her chicken was, how she made white cake with a line along the top center that somehow tasted sweeter than the rest of the cake and how I always saved that piece for last, the way her button box smelled and how as a child I would always wonder how a person could collect so many buttons, the way she looked at me when I found out I needed brain surgery and just said that I was too pretty for anything to happen to, how in her 90th year she stayed up drinking with the family and dancing to My Chemical Romance, how she would strain my orange juice for me if she accidentally bought juice with pulp, and how she always used to say that I will always be her little girl.
I'm not sure who she thought I was last night, I didn't ask, but she smiled at me whenever I looked at her and I know somewhere deep inside she knows how much I love and cherish her. When I was leaving, I leaned over, kissed her on the cheek and told her I love her. She said she loved me back. Then I told her that she was my favorite, and whispered to not tell Daddy. She smiled really big and winked at me. And that's an image I will hold on to for the rest of my life.
So in honor of Grandma Aggie, as we all struggle with something that is lurking in the not-too-far-off distance, I am reposting what I had written about her in my book, so that when the universe decides it's her time, it knows what a special lady it's acquiring. I love you Grams and it's breaking my heart to see you go.
My father and I were living with my grandparents in their two-family house. We had the upstairs, they the downstairs. The house was always there for the family. Before my dad moved in, my aunt was living upstairs. Over the years my cousin was in and out of the TV room/second bedroom in the back of the first floor, next to my grandparent’s bedroom.
There were thirteen stairs in the house that lead upstairs. I used to always count them, half hoping one day I would find out that I had counted wrong and there would be twelve or fourteen, that there would be something new I could discover, like the one time I found toys that had been hidden by my cousins in a hole under the carpeting in a corner of the stairs. But, there were always thirteen.
I liked spending time downstairs, especially in the winter because my grandparents had radiant heat and I loved the way it felt on my feet. So did the dogs my grandma had through the years. Grandma’s knick knacks always fascinated me. Resting on a hutch in the living room, the glass animals seemed like tiny treasures. One day I even asked her if I could have them when she died. I was a tactful little one.
She was also my first stylist, always trimming my hair and bangs for me when I needed it, until I got older and became a victim of the late-80’s/early-90’s permanent wave. Then I had to turn to a professional. I actually thought these faded away like New Kids on the Block, but just this morning a co-worker said she had just gone for one. I wonder if she listens to New Kids on the Block.
Grandma made me breakfast before school and ironed my clothes. She seemed to iron everything in those days, even her sheets. She’d say things like, “Well Heavens to Betsy.” When my dad worked nights, she would take care of me. In those early years, she was my mother.
She’s loved Budweiser for as long as I can remember, but even longer than that. She says that she had her first beer ever when she was seven on Coney Island, with her aunt. She will fight you fiercely if you tell her there’s no way that is possible. I made that mistake once.
She’s only had Scotch once, but promptly resumed her loyalty to Budweiser. She swears drinking beer is the only reason she is still alive. At the time of this writing, she is 94 years young.
“My sisters didn’t drink—dead,” she’d say. Grandma likes butterscotch on her ice cream and wears Jean Naté.
I’m pretty sure she’s also where I got my ability to be punctual 90 percent of the time and a sometimes overwhelming need for order. I was always fascinated by my grandparents’ dressers. Grandma’s had a level of organization that I loved and was baffled by. She had rows of hankerchiefs, sheets, and pillow cases neatly folded and in perfect rows. The dresser had a distinct scent that she said was from the smelling salts she kept in there. No one was ever fainting, to my recollection, so I don’t know why she would have them. Sometimes Grandma was a jokester, though, like the time she introduced me to garlic by telling me to take a big bite of a clove.
One summer day, after Grandpa had passed away, I came downstairs to find my Grandmother hiding behind the kitchen table.
“Um, what are you doing Grams?” I asked.
“I think you’re good to get up now,” I told her and laughed.