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.


13 thoughts on “Longevity

  1. This is a very moving slice, told with such tenderness. I’m sure your grandma appreciates how much you love her, and I’m sure she loves you and your daughters in return. You are right to focus on the loneliness she must be feeling when so much of her life is gone. You and her grandchildren are what she has left to get her through this final stage of her life. She is lucky to have you in her life.

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  2. What a sweet, sweet slice! A friend’s grandmother just died this weekend at 101 and she was saying that even though you think you are ready, you never really are. Her grandmother was from Italy also and she recalled many stories passed down to her. Your family is lucky to have this time together.

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  3. What a beautiful portrait of you and your family. I love the way the whole slice revolves around story. When my mother in law was old and alone, my sister in law asked her what she did all day. She replied, “I sit hear with all of my wonderful memories.” Your slice reminded me of that.

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  4. What a lovely slice today. We do create our own stories, don’t we? I love that your grandmother keeps ‘their favorite noodles” on hand. But my favorite line in this piece is “after a long night of helping Rose grow teeth” is just perfect!

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  5. What a lovely slice. I love how you went in search of a story and got stories but didn’t tell your grandmother’s stories after all. Instead, as you say at the end, you created one (no perhaps necessary). In this slice, you told your story and her story and your daughters’ story, weaving the generations together, moving easily back and forth between old photographs, old memories and the present moment – and even looking to the future. It is lovely. Thank you.

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  6. This piece is beautiful. You absolutely created a memory and shared the significance of time spent with grandparents. My Grandma passed away when my youngest was one and a half, and I wish every day that they would have had more time together. Enjoy every single one of these precious moments.

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  7. ” she loves the busy they bring and the care she can give them.” This sentence stands out for me. Describing children’s activities in an elderly person’s home at “the busy they bring” captures so much so neatly. I enjoyed the whole slice and appreciated the warmth and coziness you created throughout.

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  8. This is my favorite slice of yours that I have read in the past few weeks! Your slice is beautifully written. You absolutely created a story, a cherished memory, instead of your quest to hear another story.
    Your craft is phenomenal. I love the line, “There were stories from Italy told in the same breath as stories from last week and twenty years ago. “


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