Grandma lived in a house in the middle of Belleville, Ontario. We went to visit on Thanksgiving, around Christmas, Easter, and other weekends here and there. Considering that we saw her far more frequently than we saw my other set of grandparents, my knowledge of her life is pretty vague and muddled.
She was an only child, and from what I understand her parents were very protective of her. She was a well-trained singer in the operatic style, and at a young age (teens?) was offered a chance to either train further or tour – I’m not sure which – but was not given permission by her parents. I think she met my grandfather at a fairly young age as well, but they didn’t marry for years to come. Somewhere in the middle of the courtship she moved to Chicago and I have to guess that she lived there in the 20s – can you imagine the stories she must have had to tell? My grandfather waited for her (or went with them? I’m not certain). It wasn’t until her late 30s, or perhaps she was 40, when she had her first baby, my father. Mimi, my aunt and godmother, followed several years later. When you consider the times, this was pretty incredible.
At first I was going to write that my memories of her are one dimensional, and that I wish I had had the chance to get to know her better. That last part is still true, but in rummaging around in my mind for memories, I realize that I do remember a lot.
If I close my eyes and think about it, I can hear her voice. I’m sure that her singing was considerably faded, and her voice was less sure, than it was when she was younger, but I still remember song following her everywhere, flowing around her. A little humming here as she powdered her nose, a few notes of a song as she watered the African violet, with its fuzzy leaves, on a windowsill. She’d sing as she puttered in the kitchen, interrupting herself to hand me wash-warm glasses to put away in their cabinet in the dining room.
I can hear her laughing, and see the mischievous glint in her eye, as she and Mimi watched a football game. They laughed and chuckled about the players’ little “tushies,” until both were gasping for breath.
I can feel the fluffy powderpuff, as she playfully dabbed my nose after doing her own and penciling in her eyebrows, sitting at the vanity in her bedroom. The final step in her morning preparations was a little spritz of her perfume (was it Shalimar?) – she always said the same thing as she did this, but what it was I cannot recall. There was a warmth, a rhythm, a comfortable predictableness to this routine and I loved to sit and watch.
Grandma’s teddy bear sits on a shelf in my room, quiet and remembered. It wasn’t a childhood one, in fact, she apparently never had anything like one as a young girl. At one point she expressed regret about this, and the next Christmas we gave her a teddy bear. He ‘slept’ at the foot of her bed for years, and she would talk to him every night. I remember how touched she was that Christmas, sitting in our living room, hugging her teddy bear, happy.
I remember her hugs, her smiles, her laughter from soft chuckles all the way up to belly laughs if something was truly funny, her conspiratorial winks as she slipped a special treat for me into the groceries while Mom looked the other way. She always had those little mini-boxes of cereal for us when we visited. I remember feeling ever so special and grown-up when she deemed me old enough to have a bit of “milk-tea” with the adults after supper. She went every week, I think, to have her hair done – shampoo and set – at the stylists’. Again, she had a set phrase for this, as she cupped her hair and primped with a practiced flirtatious gesture.
Why am I writing about Grandma? Why today? No, it’s not her birthday. In fact, tomorrow it’s Mimi’s birthday.
This morning while waiting at an appointment, Cameron was playing. There was just something about how he held his chin, how he tilted his head, the shape of his mouth, the playful glint in his eyes.
Hi, Grandma. I miss you.