I walked into the bathroom earlier to see that Nephew has been filling in a puzzle in the crossword book I keep in there. It’s a habit I picked up from my grandma, my mom’s mom. She always had a puzzle book in the upstairs bathroom of her house. Sister and I would often start working on one of her puzzles during a visit and carry the book into the bedroom we shared, where between the two of us, we’d end up completing the book before the end of our visit. Poor Grandma; I wonder how many new books we made her start that way.
Grandma’s kitchen was magic. No matter how late we arrived after driving all day from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, there would always be sandwich materials (or similar “easy” foods) laid out on the table for us, and Grandma would sit with us while we ate at 1 or 2 in the morning.
The kitchen freezer was the magical epicenter, forever stocked with Klondikes. (What would we do for a Klondike bar? Drive more than 12 hours, of course!) Even after we children and grandkids were certain we’d eaten the absolute last Klondike in the house, more would materialize the next time someone opened the freezer.
Much entertainment was found in the main stairs’ banister. The supporting posts were wrought iron, alternating some pattern of straight and twisted bars. We cousins would always spend at least some time sitting on the stairs, pulling up the bases of the posts and watching them either slide straight down (thunk!) or rattle through the multiple twists.
Grandpa, her husband of more than 60 years, had a reading chair at the base of the stairs and could often be found there in the evening. But every night, he performed a ritual. Before bed, he’d walk over to the grandfather clock in the living room and fiddle about with the innards. I can’t remember how old I was when I finally realized he was pulling the chains to wind the clock’s works, but his ritual and the sound of that clock’s pendulum and hour chimes are inexorably linked to Grandpa and Grandma’s house in my memory.
Most evenings, we visitors and Grandma would settle around the kitchen table for games. One was well advised not to challenge Grandma to Scrabble unless one was prepared to lose; she was a self-effacing force to be reckoned with. Or we might get out a deck of cards for a round of King’s Corners.
Grandma introduced me to Shirley Temple’s version of A Little Princess; it may have been the first black-and-white film I saw. She let me play with “ancient” games she’d kept for years, as well as the old stereoscope; but I don’t remember her ever cautioning me to “Oh, be careful with that! It’s ever so old.” I don’t remember her ever being too busy to listen to her grandchildren or spend an evening with us in the backyard as we chased down the lightning bugs. And she adored stuffed animals, with several scattered around the house.
Grandma is also the reason I’m writing this post at 1am. (I come by my night owl tendencies honestly, you see.)
Funny how a simple thing like walking into a bathroom and seeing a puzzle book can end up here…
I miss my grandma.
She was born exactly 70 years and 16 days before I was (to the best of my knowledge, which is admittedly incomplete, we are the family’s only two January babies from her generation to present). She died at the ripe old age of 99 and a half. But the woman – the personality – that I knew and loved as my grandma passed away several years before that; though I firmly believe crosswords and Scrabble kept her mind healthy much longer than we should have been able to expect.
I’ve realized tonight that my emotions about Grandma’s death are twisted up with the anger and frustration inspired by my then-boss. The way he (in my opinion) misunderstood and mishandled the concept of bereavement leave ended up being the camel-breaking straw in a year-long string of stress and frustrations; I gave my notice shortly after returning from Grandma’s funeral. And if I’m honest, there’s some guilt wrapped up in there too, for the way I started avoiding Grandma (emotionally if not physically) once her mind started slipping away; the woman my parents took me to visit wasn’t Grandma anymore, and I pulled away. Looking back on it, I’m not proud of that.
But I am proud – and I think Grandma would be, too – that a new generation is filling in an elder relative’s crossword books left in the bathroom.
You know, I don’t have any firm thoughts/beliefs on what happens after we die, but I’d much rather believe in reincarnation than Heaven. It wouldn’t be fair to deny other families the chance to have the wonderful spirit that was Grandma in their lives.
(After I hit “Post”, WordPress informed me this is my 100th post. That…seems fitting, somehow.)