Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bomb-Drop Day

December 7th, among other disastrous anniversaries, was the day my grandmother died. She died of pancreatic cancer twenty-three years ago today, when I was 15.

My grandmother loved me fully without hang ups or resentment. She was kind and passive and gushed over me like no one else. As a child, I loved her so much it hurt. And I never talk about her. Ever. Which is odd. I know I'm only protecting a relationship that I fear might've been imaginary. In 23 years I have not mourned her fully, only in dribbles. I can't seem to articulate to those closest to me what she meant. I can't seem to unlock the box where I keep her. I don't want someone telling me it was different; that she wasn't the life preserver I make her out to be.

And losing her at 15 -- HER, of all people, when everyone else was dead too or mean -- was a cruel fucking trick.

As I pry open the box, if only to show my daughters how I learned to love, here are ten things about my grandmother:

* I called her Mama. Though my mother insisted I call her Nanny. I mumbled "Nanny" in my mother's presence, but said Mama during all other times. I still think of "Mama" as our private secret, and I flush a little as I type the word.

* She was 36 when I was born, my mother 18. I am thankful I didn't join the Mother-At-18 Club.

* She had the roughest hands. I would lie on her lap as she stroked my forehead with severely calloused fingers. I would've rather died from having all my face skin scraped off than to have her stop.

* She introduced me to cinnamon-sugar toast, which to this day I love to death. She would make me shakers of the stuff in case I wouldn't be able to see her for periods of time. Her house always smelled like toast and coffee, the best food smell I can think of. Now, every weekend I make myself cinnamon-sugar toast almost subconsciously and the oddest thing -- I'm just kinda realizing -- is that I never make it for the girls. I just make it for me, ritualistically. I don't even explain what kind of comfort I feel while enjoying my weekend breakfast.

* She had coal black hair until the age of 23 when she grew a thick silver lock above her forehead. Though her entire head turned all white quickly after, she dyed it black. But she always kept the original silver streak in front.

* She didn't tell anyone she had cancer. It's presumed she had it about three years before she died. Maybe her husband knew, but she wouldn't let him tell anyone. She had refused aggressive treatment. I had said in my 10 Things About Me that she came to me in a dream only weeks before she died, when no one knew about the cancer. She was bloated to the size of a pregnant woman. I sat and watched her till a dirt lot in the dream. We always were comforted by our connection. But the image of her trying so hard to make something of the barren lot haunts me. It breaks my heart.

* Most every memory I have of her is non verbal. Her being affectionate. Her gardening. Me staring at her.

* When I was five, my mother left the U.S. to follow a boyfriend with me in tow. I did not see my grandmother for over two years. We didn't even talk on the phone. My mother's deep troubles were wedged between us.

* I didn't cry at her funeral. My mother fell completely apart which astounded me. My aunt was in hysterics and wouldn't view her body. And I thought at that young age, She's not even in there, in that body. Why is everyone so sad NOW? When my grandfather, an ex Marine sergeant who served at Iwo Jima stood over her casket, he did not move for five long minutes. This is a man plagued with meanness, and he stood there full of what I thought was remorse. Remorse that he had treated her so poorly, called her dumb and treated her like trash. I almost cried then. It seemed so tragic to be that regretful afterwards.

*After the funeral, my mother told me that she did not want to be a mother anymore, and I still don't know what to say about that.

* My mother had a reunion of sorts last year where my mother's best friend from high school and my aunt attended. I flew up for the occasion too, and when I walked into the dinner party my mother's old friend gasped. She said, "She looks exactly like your mom!" And my mother nodded looking at me. My aunt said yes too. I was 37 years old at this party, and I had never been told that before. I don't think I look exactly like her, but I know I have a similar presence. But it pained me that they all knew what I always thought had been my imagination.
* * *
I miss you, Mama.
Thank you for everything.
P.S. I had cinnamon toast for dinner tonight.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your post brought me to tears. My grandmother died over two years ago and I still find myself dialing her number to talk to her or buying a card to send her that I know she would like. A beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

D, Your courage to share something so sacred and personal is inspiring. I lost my Grandma the same year. I rarely talk about her with my family as well for fear that they may discount her value and power.

Your post brought me to tears and then to gratitude that you also had a Grandma so loving and rare.

In a strange way, We were lucky little girls. K

Glamorous Jo said...

Wow. Truly moving words. And I too, refrain from talking about my Granny to my family because I still have a grandmother who is living that I have never been close to. No one could ever replace my Granny.

Thank you for sharing this.

la vie en rose said...

i have no words...

Marigoldie said...

I was going to say what La Vie said. Sometimes I want to comment but can't find the words, and this was one of those times.

Misty Mawn said...

My daughter calls my mom Meema...it's the closest she could get to mama...For her I think grandma just isn't personal enough for the feelings they share. I am so thankful for the bond they have and pray that she will get more time with her meema than I did mine. My grandma died when I was 16. Too young to lose so much!
It feels good to miss her as much as I do...even though it hurts too. Thanks for sharing with us!

Michelle Fry said...

This made me cry but in a good way. You know, even if you found out something unpleasant about her, it wouldn't change who she was to you. I'm glad you had her in your life.

amstar said...

big elephant tears in my eyes.

you honour her well.

and if I haven't said it before, your writing is so easy to read and inviting.

publish - and let me know when you do.

madness rivera said...

Thanks for the kind words everybody.

I was glad to hear other peoples grandma stories too. Very sweet.

andrea said...

I love this... oh how I love this...

Bethany said...

Wow. Incredible post.

One of my grandmas smelled like cigarettes, black coffee and Prince Matchebelli perfume. It was a lovely smell, to me. The cigarettes killed her, though.

Anonymous said...

buckets and buckets. M

bettyboop said...

wow, cuzzo...i had no idea.
yes, you were truly lucky to have that kind of connection if even for a short time-very rare.