The last time I talked with my grandma was Sunday night. She seemed to be in a good mood. We were playing a word game, and when my mom took the letter she wanted, my grandma sassed her, saying “Oh, why don’t you just go home!” and laughing.
We made plans for her 94th birthday next week. She didn’t care that she was going to be 94—“It’s just another day” she said. I asked her where she wanted to go eat on Friday—today—and she waved her hands and said “I’m happy to go anywhere” and we decided on Red Lobster because she likes the shrimp. But then I guess she made other plans without telling me, and she’s having lunch somewhere else today, without us.
My grandma was a generous woman. She worked a Mike-Rowe-worthy dirty job at a cigar factory for almost 30 years (and because of my exposure to that cigar factory, I will always love the smell of raw tobacco) and never complained even when her hands turned yellow from handling the giant bales of leaves. At night, with those same tired discolored hands, she would knit, crochet, sew, and tat the most incredible lace. When she retired, she donated the skill of her hands to the
My grandma taught me not to be afraid of ghosts. That sounds weird, I know. But when I was little, my grandparents moved into a haunted house. It was not an old creaky spooky mansion, just a regular ranch house where the previous owner had died, but not moved on. Her name was Mrs. Winters. Mrs. Winters would walk up and down the cellar stairs and rattle door knobs and that was about as menacing as she ever got. In fact I believe she was a kindly ghost, because when I slept there, she would cover me up. I was never afraid of her because my grandparents were so matter-of-fact about her presence. I suppose I thought everyone’s grandparents lived in a haunted house. I believe that when my grandpa died there, he took Mrs. Winters with him, because I never felt or heard her again.
My grandma was quirky and generous. When I was a teenager, she sat me down and said if I ever wanted to try a cigarette or to drink alcohol, she would buy it for me and share it with me. She didn’t want me sneaking around and getting in trouble. I think that’s exactly why I never did—because of her offer. It might not have been “cool” to smoke or drink with Grandma, but I never felt the urge to sneak booze with friends either.
I had a bad cough every winter for most of my life, and she made me a bottle of homemade cough medicine. She drew a label that looked like a pharmacy sticker, with infinite refills and the ingredients. She liked everything to be hand-made when possible. When my friend had a baby a few years ago, my grandmother crocheted a receiving blanket as a gift. My friend entered it into the Durham Fair, and it won a prize, which she gave to my grandma, who was shocked that anyone would think her simple blanket was worth any honors.
If you know me well, you know I inherited something else from my grandma besides her hands. She was stubborn. When I was little, she had a fancy red coat. When something happened that made her angry, she spoke up. She’d put on that coat and go to whatever place she was upset with, and speak her mind. When we said Grandma was “putting on her red coat” we meant “going on the warpath.” I don’t have a red coat, but I’ve been known to venture down that warpath a time or two! My grandma’s red coat is long gone, but she never stopped speaking her mind or being stubborn. When her doctors told her to take her blood pressure medicine or she would have a stroke, she said she didn’t care. She made her choice. She was ready to go.
She lived almost 94 years. She had slowed down a bit toward the end, but she was still mentally agile—when I took her to the bank recently, her checkbook was only off by less than a dollar—and she didn’t need help with anything. Only her very last day on Earth wasn’t a good one, and trust me, it was only a bad day for her body. Her soul was already gone. She had 34,324 good days and who can ask for more than that?
February 23, 1918
February 15, 2012