I had two amazing grandmothers.
You'll note the past tense. They're both gone now, and I still miss them. They couldn't have been more different but in some scary ways, the same.
My grandmother GeeGee was a classic: Republican, Catholic, bridge-playing, country-club golfing, delicate-boned charm wrapped around a steely core. She had one husband who adored her, and three sons who were commanded to.
She would have loved the fat blush-colored rose I picked and put in the big cut crystal bowl I took from her apartment after she died, the only thing that didn’t break in the mail on the way over here to Hawaii. It floats, a spiral of creamy pink fragrant petals. She would have enjoyed the sight of it on my table–she was a big fan of “just a few flowers, but just the right ones.”
I can remember some things about her so clearly: the powdery Chanel smell she had, the fragility of her tiny bones, the transparent white cotton candy of her hair, fluffed up over her skull to look like more than it was; immaculate coral colored nails that she had done every week. She was always a woman of style (even if it was a style I didn’t get) cardigan golf sweaters, button-down blouses and what she called “slacks.” For evening she liked Chanel suits and shoes with a lot of gold or gems on them. (The rows of them, carefully lined up, some of them new in the 50’s, were particularly wrenching to leave in her apartment for the Goodwill.)
I relate more to my grandmother Stella’s taste: voluminous ethnic pullovers, satin pajama pants, reams of beads and strange, large pendants with foreign gods on them, her long white hair in a braid to her waist. She always cut a swath, with her love of bright bold fabrics and her “more is better” philosophy.
My grandmother Stella was GeeGee's opposite on the political spectrum: liberal, a feminist, a working woman, an agnostic (though she tolerated trips to church “for the music”) she had two unhappy marriages and six children, and to the end of her life, opera was her passion. She died this Thanksgiving, because she was dramatic that way. We thought she'd go on Christmas if she could have–after all her name was Stella Natale “Star Christmas.”
The cool thing about a grandmother is, that no matter what the family baggage, what the relationships are like with other family members (namely, parents, aunts and uncles) grandmothers are a step removed and however batty, colorful, selfish, drinking, or crazy they might be (and both mine had their moments) as a grandmother they kind of get a free pass. It's a generation removed, and that adds a layer of acceptance and tolerance.
Grandmothers can be cheerleaders. And role models, and spoilers, caregivers and criticizers. Usually they are our first and primary connection to another generation, to history. They have so much to share of a world we'll never know, that will be gone when they are. I
f you've got a grandma, love on and appreciate her. Get her to tell some stories. Spend some time with her, and if you can't, make sure she knows she's loved. If she's gone already, don't forget her. Find a way to live with and share objects she left behind, and tell stories of her with your children.
Both my grandmothers were powerhouses, and I think I inherited a little something of that. The gift of a grandmother lives in your very DNA, and we are finding more and more, human traits are more than choice–they are often inherited. Appreciate and celebrate those whose lives became yours.
What are some of the things you'll remember about your grandparents?