She didn’t wish for longevity. Her husband had been gone for 30 years. Her friends had all passed. Growing old was lonely.
I jotted this bit of a conversation down weeks ago. A friend had been telling me about her grandmother who had just passed away at the age of 96. This conversation has had me thinking about my own grandmother who turned 89 in November. Her husband, my Pop, has been gone for 13 years. I know that her days are often lonely. Sometimes I call her in the early evening and she has already gone to bed. Other days, when I arrive for a visit, I’m struck by how she’s sitting alone in the living room crocheting. The closet full of blankets, shawls, and hats that I now have are evidence of just how many of her days are spent sitting right there in that chair.
This morning, after a long night of helping Rose grow teeth and too much time in the house, we all piled into the car to visit Grandma. I was in search of a story, she’s always good for a story. I also wanted to fill her day with a little less loneliness.
The way her face brightens when she sees us, let’s us know that the visit is welcome. She loves my kids. I believe she loves the busy they bring and the care she can give them.
Today, we found her upstairs in her bedroom, cleaning. She was moving furniture to sweep the dust that hid. This action itself is a defining example of who my Grandmother is. Strong. Self reliant. Determined.
Piled on her bed were framed photos. Me. My sister. My brother. My parent’s wedding picture. Her own wedding. The photo of my Pop with his big smile. As my girls piled on the bed, Grandma retrieved her wedding album from a trunk beside the bed. As Wren and Adi leafed through, she named the church that they were married. As Wren commented on her dress, she shared how she sent it back to Italy. The church needed money.
Once all of the photos had been returned to their permanent places, the same places I had placed them when I helped her dust her furniture as a little girl, we headed back downstairs for lunch …of course. But on the way, something caused Grandma to stop in her tracks. Back up the stairs. She wanted to look through old pictures. “Do you have time?”
The random photos that filled the shoe box she pulled spanned from her years in Italy, right before she came to America, to photos of her own children growing up, then the photos of me and my siblings, and then the great grandchildren. Each photo brought her somewhere else and she’d stop and share bits with Wren, who is always in for a good storytelling session.
Once Adi, who doesn’t yet have the patience for old memories, had grown tired of jumping around and playing with the same stuffed duck and doll my sister and I always clung to as little girls, we placed all of the photos and memories back into the shoe box.
Finally in the kitchen, the girls requested noodles and even though it wasn’t even noon, Grandma obliged. She keeps boxes of their favorite noodles just for these visits. Over lunch, the stories spilled in true Grandma fashion. There were stories from Italy told in the same breath as stories from last week and twenty years ago. There was gossip about neighbors and people I have never heard of. Bits told in English with strings of Italian woven in.
As we were getting ready to leave, everyone’s belly more than full, the girls began to demonstrate moves from their upcoming dance recitals. “You work for them now,” Grandma said referencing the cost of dance class. I shrugged. “It’s ok,” she said. “As long as they remember it when they are big girls. It’s ok.”
This is what my Grandma has done all these years. Remembered. Hung onto the bits and pieces that mattered most. Hopefully in those moments of loneliness, the remembering keeps her going.
I went in search of a story. Instead, I think perhaps, we created one.