I’m a fortunate person to have been loved by people in my life, but a grandparent’s love – my grandma’s love specifically – is a different thing altogether.

Sometimes it was protectiveness, sometimes hopefulness, sometimes it was intense pride. Sitting here now I can’t actually picture her saying the words “I love you” out loud – it just wasn’t her style – but man, was it something I felt in my bones. She wanted so much for me. I really do hope she knew I turned out ok. 

I struggled for a while to find a photo that reminded me of how I’ll remember her. I’ll always picture her the way she was in my early teen years: in flats, jeans, black and gold handbag, and her red windbreaker. I swear she wore that thing until it was threadbare. So much so that I can’t even imagine if and when she gave it up. In my mind, she had it right until the end and only gave up wearing it because it stopped fitting. 

I had a million first things with her. My first fish. My first Budweiser. My first tear-off lottery ticket. My first “talk”.

She spent so much time talking on the phone. To friends, to her sisters, to the rest of the family. Always with the gossip. I suppose that’s the way.

She was loud. She was outgoing. Her laugh would fill a room. She’s the kind of person that makes you want to be funny just so you could hear her laugh. It was the kind of laugh you could hear loud and clear over the clang of a horseshoe pit and Hank blaring on the radio. She never lost her Western PA accent and I loved her for all those idiosyncrasies.

  • “Taired”
  • “Faire” engine
  • Going “futher”
  • Referring to my wedding as “not some hillbilly stomp”

I swear she must’ve been 4’10” on a good day but she never seemed small. She was fiercely independent. At times she was captain of the boat or driver of the dump truck. She was the queen of proving people wrong out of spite. 

She also had the habit of finding the most hilarious birthday cards. You’d often get one and think “did she stock up in a major way back in the 80’s? Is she just running out her personal inventory? How does one know how many cards to keep on hand is enough?”  It seemed like she did eventually run out and her cards got more modern overnight which was a subtle but sad thing to me. A change in traditions can be like that. Like when her Christmas decorations got smaller and smaller over time. I know she was mostly just wearing down over time – her body and her energy finally starting to fail her little by little.  Growing up, she had this elf that perched on a ladder pretending to hang garland on the tree. It was a fixture. I’m probably makling it up, but I remember it hanging around for years after her full size trees gave way to a table top fiber optic facsimile. She wasn’t sentimental, and in the end I’m convinced she gave away just about everything. I like to think she saw it as making sure everyone had the things they cherished or that she hoped they lived a second life somewhere else. Probably not. She probably just wanted less stuff cluttering up her house. So it goes. 

Some of my favorite moments with her weren’t overt. Like the time she pulled the RV over on the way to the lake because she wasn’t happy with the clothes I had. We went to Walmart and bought a few things. I cherished the polo shirts we got in particular. I must’ve worn them a hundred times that school year. I’m pretty sure one of them was in my school pictures. I didn’t come from much but she raised me to have self respect and confidence. She was proud of me. Always proud of me. Or like the times she’d read something in the paper that made her think of me. She’d cut the article out and drop it in the mail. I loved the idea of getting those and wondering to myself what about me triggered the thought. She could be opaque in that way when she wanted to. And maybe I ultimately loved that? I wish I had acknowledged it more.

Time is a cruel bitch. It takes a living, breathing, three-dimensional person and reduces them to a series of flashbulb moments. 

I’ll always remember asking up in her couch to the smell of breakfast and coffee and sound of the spoon rattling around in those Corelle coffee mugs. The fact that she’d always buy the specific cheese I liked from this nothing deli in town. The fact that she’d always make my birthday cake with buttercream icing – my favorite – and leave me a little tub on the side to indulge. I’m pretty sure it was for dipping graham crackers but I definitely took a spoon to it if we’re being honest. I’ll remember riding between her and my Grandpa on the bench seat of their dump truck. I’ll remember her every time I make a packet of Lipton noodle soup.  I’ll remember me and my Grandpa heading out for minnows before dawn and coming back to a fisherman’s breakfast before we hit the water. Raspberry jelly toast and butter 4 lyfe. I’ll remember countless days on the boat. I’ll remember the deafening sound of the motor and the waves breaking – too loud to talk l, but watching her face when the light was still weak and everything glowed. One of those rare moments of not knowing what she was thinking. 

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. But there are a lot of us that know that and will try to pass on whatever we can. 

Thank you Gram, for so many of those flashbulb moments and good times and good lessons. I love you always.