a brilliant life

This year on Thanksgiving Day, with turkeys in the oven, potatoes boiling, and dishes piling up, my Grandmother quietly passed away in her bed. She was 92 years old. She had battled many months of illness, and her death came as no surprise, though because you are prepared for it doesn’t make it any easier.

I sat with her a few hours before she died. I held her hand and told her that I loved her. Then I went home to begin preparing dinner, and a little before 1:00 my mom called to tell me she was gone. There’s now a gaping hole in our family where Gram once was, and as of now I don’t see how it will ever be filled. It’s as if you knocked off the top of a pyramid, and now it’s no shape at all—steep walls end in a blunt plateau instead of the brilliant apex that once was. We’re sheep without a herder.

Gram and Grandpa during the war. How gorgeous are they?

It’s taken me a few weeks to be able to write this post. I swim between tears of grief and fond, happy memories. I don’t want to remember my Gram as she was in the last year of her life; I want to remember the better times. She was a party animal, for one thing. She loved good food, good drink, and lively conversation. After my Grandfather died, she became lonely and hired me to cater a dinner party for her once a week. She would dictate the menu, and I would cook and serve to her and her guests. She was always careful about whom to invite; people, in her mind, brought certain characteristics to the dining table and every week the guest list, and the conversation, was completely different.

During one of these particular parties, Gram asked for Ruebens and “good German beer.” I obliged. But just as I put the sandwiches on the griddle, the power went out. Gram and her guests were in the dark with their beers and appetizers. As I flitted about in a panic, phoning the power company and stressing out about the pound of warm-ish sauerkraut stinking up the kitchen, Gram kept her cool. She asked me to fetch every candle I could find. We found a battery-operated radio and turned on some music. My mom brought over pizza and Gram and her friends had a raucous “blackout party” that none of us ever forgot. Gram never gave up; she just rolled with the punches.

Gram appreciated good food, but she didn’t know how to make it (at least not in my experience!). The last dish I ever remember her making was an apple crisp, sometime in my early teenage years. She poured through the cupboards to find them bare of oats, but found a box of Cornflakes instead. Lo and behold, a mushy, gloppy apple crisp was served for dessert (more akin to applesauce than apple “crisp”). My brother and I choked it down, but it became a running joke. “Dang it, I’m out of flour!” “Got Cornflakes?” and “Shoot. I’m all out of eggs.” “Don’t worry. I have Cornflakes!” 

Four generations of women. Me (holding Charlie, just born), Gram, Mom, Lucy.

Gram was generous. When she learned I was going to grad school to become a teacher, she offered to help me. She had been a teacher and believed in the profession. But when I chose to stay home with Lucy after she was born, forgoing my expensive education, Gram was supportive. She had raised six children at home. She thought that was important, too.

I’ll miss her terribly. I miss her terribly. I’m wracked with guilt—did I do enough? Did I appreciate her enough? Call enough? Was I a horrible granddaughter? But I can’t change anything in the past. I just hope that wherever she is, she knows that she is loved, and thought of, and remembered, always. Hopefully in heaven they have ruebens and good German beer. And oats. You know, if she ever wants to attempt an apple crisp again.

Love you, Gram. xoxo

Gram at her 92nd “Roaring 20’s” birthday party in April. Cheers!