My grandma loved to crochet. Once, during a visit to Iowa with my dad in the late 90s, I admired the lace tablecloth on her table. “Oh, do you like it?” she said. “I’ll make you one.”
I cherished the offer. Still, that was the visit in which she kept forgetting that I’d already eaten breakfast. She repeatedly asked if I wanted certain household items that she and Grandpa weren’t using anymore, and although I gave the same answer every time, it didn’t seem familiar to her. She often seemed a little perplexed over references to conversations from within the past hour. Eventually my eyes locked with my dad’s in silent acknowledgment that we could no longer hope that Alzheimer’s would withhold its sinister fingers from her. So I knew that she would not remember her offer to make me a tablecloth, let alone be able to undertake such a project, despite a decades-long history of skillful needlework.
On the plane back to Michigan, I mulled over the visit and Alzheimer’s and her offer and her many previous crochet projects. A few days later, she phoned: What were the dimensions of my table? What color thread did I prefer—white or ecru? And the following week, the same phone call. And then another. Each time I answered the questions, surprised that she had not forgotten the tablecloth, each time knowing that creating an intricate crocheted tablecloth would be too confusing for her at this point.
A few weeks after the last phone call, I received a package. It was the lace tablecloth. Behold:
My grandma died 10 years ago tonight. I miss her.
She loved crocheting, birds, the color blue, and beautiful things. She took joy in feeding others—in feeding them lavishly. (Lavishly, I assure you.) This year’s Thanksgiving dinner featured two of her famous pies (peach cream and apple), compliments of my sisters, and everybody got all excited.
She wrote regular letters to my sisters and me when we were kids, telling of farming and church dinners and birds and coffee with her sisters and the upcoming Tulip Festival and construction on the highway and that Gramp said to say hi. Of family reunions and upcoming visits, and what would we like for dinner when we came? She often included newspaper clippings: “Thought you would like this,” she’d pen on the clipping in her distinctive handwriting. Or, “This reminds me of you.” Her letters invariably included three sticks of Juicy Fruit, one for each granddaughter. (In the winter the gum had grown brittle from traveling for days in the cold; in the summer it would be melted and we’d have to put it in the freezer for a while if we didn’t want to have to scrape it off the wrapper.)
Grandpa and Grandma had two sons. I often wish I could compare “mother of two sons” stories with her. Ask what she would do. Inquire whether her experiences had been similar. Laugh and shake our heads together.
She once mentioned that when my dad and uncle were young, the TV would mysteriously break on the first day of summer vacation and not work again until the first day of school. It’s hard to imagine what was on TV in the 1950s Iowa that would inspire her to divest the television of its tube for the entire summer. Didn’t they only have three channels back then? Surely not all of the few options would have even appealed to kids. Surely my dad’s and uncle’s indulgence in TV would have been minimal anyway. But long before “screen time” was even a term, she hacked it off at the knees. Even a meager amount would not be allowed to muddle up an Iowa summertime. So I probably wouldn’t need to ask her opinion on today’s “screen time” practices.
I would like to ask her if people ever told her that she should add a girl or two to the family, and if the implication that two boys weren’t good enough irritated her. But knowing her, she probably didn’t care about other people’s opinions on this topic.
I would like to tell her of the time Ace took a toad into the house and of his passionate protests as I chased them both back outside (“I only lost him once so far, and it’s okay because he didn’t poop!”), and then wait for her to tell me a story like it.
I would like to tell her of Sonny’s extensive rock collection—none of the rocks may be discarded (none of them), because one is shaped like Australia, and another probably contains gold, and one of them sparkles and it’s so cool, and that one is a souvenir from our vacation. All of them (all of them) are special. I’d like to tell her about this and then listen as she tells a similar tale.
I would like to ask her at what point in any particular ruckus she’d kick her sons outside. (Even if it was snowing hard. Not that I’ve ever done that.)
I would like to ask her whether she ever stood outside her sons’ bedroom at night, listening to their whispers and soaking up their brotherhood.
She would write letters to Sonny and Ace, and tucked along with the letter would be two pieces of Juicy Fruit and several newspaper clippings (do they still make those?) telling of toads and snakes and rocks. “This reminds me of you,” she’d note.
The evening after she died, J and I attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah, its significance magnified and resonating among my swirling memories and emotions. Maybe someday the Messiah will cease to remind me of her, but that day has not yet come.
I wish she could have known Sonny and Ace and that they could have known her. But this morning I showed them the lace tablecloth and explained how it came to be. On the way to school we talked about Grandma some more. (“Tell the story about the huge lunches she packed that week she babysat you and your sisters!”) And tonight I played selections from Handel’s Messiah and told them the words were true.
I look at the tablecloth, and I hear her words from the newspaper clippings: “This reminds me of you.” I hear the Messiah: “This reminds me of you.”
Lots of things remind me of her, and for that I am thankful. Especially tonight.