I made a promise to myself a week ago that I would do something kind of crazy tonight. In the grand scheme of things, this “something” is not really that crazy, but it’s still crazy enough to make me feel like my stomach is made of tiny butterflies. There’s a lot of nail-biting going on over here right now.
I may not keep my promise; however, despite the darkness, the night is young.
I keep telling myself that I’m going to go for a run soon, but then I think about how cold it is outside, and how cold it was when I took a walk one night this time last year. A year ago today, actually. The night my grandmother died. A year ago. Today.
My grandparents haven’t had the greatest timing when it comes to the whole dying thing. In 2006 my grandfather had his heart attack right before Christmas, and in 2008 my Papou had his heart attack right before my father’s birthday. I, like my mother, assumed my grandma would never die, but she did — last year. Three days before Thanksgiving.
Maybe she wanted to make sure no one came over and bothered her.
I admit, I got a good chuckle out of writing that last sentence. It was a little twisted, a little shocking, and a little harsh. Just like Her.
Just like Her.
When I was a kid, that was all I wanted to be — Just like Her. I’m not really sure why. Maybe because she said funny things, like “Goddammit.” Or because she made really good grilled cheese sandwiches and always had soda in her house. Or because she used to let me play with shaving cream.
Now that I’m older, I can’t help but notice how many ways I already am just like her. Whenever I say or think the words, “To Hell with ’em,” I smile and think of grandma. Whenever I make damn sure to have the last word, I smile and think of grandma. Whenever I’m faced with situations that range from somewhat scary to utterly terrifying, I take a deep breath and tell myself, “Think of grandma.”
This act is something I like to call harnessing my Inner Polack. As someone who is 1/4 Polish, all thanks to grandma, I’m allowed to say that.
I think my height is also “thanks to grandma.” So’s my foul mouth. So’s my love of donuts.
Good Lord, she was always the first person to tell me when I “looked great” or when I “looked fat.” She was also the only person in the world who would offer me meatball sandwiches after I told her I just had lunch. “You can do it just this one day,” she’d insist.
Dear God, it was no use telling her what was what — she invented What Was What.
I’m giggling right now as I remember Classic Grandma Moments. I remember sitting on a bench with her at a shopping mall in Downey. I must have been about four-years-old. A woman wearing a gigantic back pack walked by us — she had a funny walk — and a bottle of lotion fell out of her back pack. When my grandma told her she had dropped something, the woman didn’t understand. My grandma eventually communicated to the woman what had happened, and after the woman picked up the bottle and walked away, I asked my grandma why the woman walked so funny.
“Well…” said my grandma, in her Rhode Island accent, “she’s re-tahted.”
I didn’t ask her what it meant. I just assumed that everyone who walked funny was re-tahted.
A few years ago, after my grandfather had died and my grandma was practically bed-ridden, my younger brother, Michael, and I went to her condo to say “Happy Thanksgiving.” At that point, visiting grandma was pretty hit or miss — I either came out of her condo smiling or sobbing. This time, I’m pleased to report, was somewhat upbeat. The three of us had a good little visit, and somehow the subject of Women vs. Men came up.
Michael said, “You can’t trust women. They’re devious.”
My grandma paused, took a breath, smiled, nodded her head, and said, “Yup.”
Michael and I laughed, and then grandma looked Michael right in the eye and said, “Ya think ya smaht, but ya not as smaht as a woman.”
Years ago — and I mean many, many years — I thought that the day my grandma died would be the worst day of my life. I knew it was inevitable, but I couldn’t help it — the very idea of it was enough to make me tear up.
Then my grandfather died and my grandma had a bad fall and everything changed. My mother worked herself sick trying to do the right thing and grandma just kept getting older. I was away at college and phone calls from home became depressing. Every time I was in town, the phrase “let’s go visit grandma” inspired nothing but pain in my heart. The days of grilled cheese sandwiches and shaving cream were over.
Last year, I was standing at the stove stirring a pot of homemade vegetable soup when the phone rang. My mom answered it, and she just said, “Yes, I’ll be right over.” It was my grandma’s caretaker saying there was something wrong. This had happened hundreds of times before. My mom got in the car, and I kept stirring my soup.
Fifteen minutes later I sat down at the kitchen counter with a steaming bowl of my homemade vegetable soup. I heard the garage door open. My mom came in, and she told me that my grandma had choked.
“Grandma didn’t make it,” she said.
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. After four years of going to visit my grandma One Last Time, she was finally gone. I hadn’t seen her since her 94th birthday two months earlier. I cried for a minute, and then my mother had to go back to the condo to deal with…ya know. Everything. As usual.
I finished my soup, and then a friend of mine came by to get me for our nightly walk. I told her what had happened. She put her arms around me, and when I said, “I’m okay,” I really meant it.
I’m “okay” tonight, too. The kitchen table is covered with pieces of dried bread that will eventually be made into stuffing. Michael just got home for the Thanksgiving break. It’s cold outside, and all I want to do is curl up on the couch with my family. More than ever, I’m thankful that I can do that. People don’t stick around forever, even though sometimes it sure feels like they will.
There’s no way I’m going for a run, but I think I will do that crazy thing that makes me feel like my stomach is made of tiny butterflies. Time to harness my Inner Polack and say, “Hell with ’em.”