Grandma

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My grandma, Mary Lee, passed away one year ago today. She would have loved my blog (it would have tickled her to know I was writing again). And it hurts everyday that she never got to see it come to fruition. We shared the same style and sense of humor. She taught me to cook at the age of eight, gifting me with a cookbook just like the one she was given as a child. And, boy, could she cook!

There were always goodies to be had at Grandma’s. Always. She could make anything.

She lived up the road from us. And for those of you unfamiliar with my father’s house (and why would you not be), this was about a quarter of a mile away.

Both of my parents worked and so Grandma was the one who would watch us when we got home from school. My sister and I were the oldest grandchildren and we selfishly had her all to ourselves for many years.

Grandma found most things funny. And she had a laugh to prove it. Big open-mouthed and loud with delight. She never held back. Her laugh would tumble out to tackle you with its hearty, “Ha! Ha!” She was the only person I have ever met who actually made those words when she was laughing. Nobody was immune to it. Nor to the twinkle of mischief she would sprout in her eyes.

One thing Grandma was known for was taking horrible pictures. It’s true. Her mouth was always twitching. Waiting to erupt into laughter. This resulted in almost every picture she ever took ending in a crooked half smile. And then the giggles would burst forth and more pictures would have to be taken. I think this is the very reason she refused to ever get a “real” camera. Within her cluttered purse there was always one or two disposable yellow contraptions. I never can see one and not think of her.

She made my childhood an adventure.

There was not a play I did not see, a museum we did not wander, or a summer day not spent swimming. Afterwards we would indulge in grape juice and sliced cheese. And nothing ever did taste as good as that.

Growing up on a honey farm offered treats most kids never have. A snack would be a spoonful of fresh honey. She kept vials of pollen in jars nestled between a crazy supply of miniature salt and pepper shakers, and if we were good, we could have a teeny tiny bit on a spoon. Pollen. It tastes like dried-honey-powdered-sugar-mixed-with-sunshine-and-earth.

And because of her, I know this.

And because of her, I crave this.

She grew butterflies from cocoons, ordered long before the fancy kits my children would become accustomed to. She raised silk worms just so we could watch them grow and weave their threads all over her containers. The surfaces in her home were always littered with science projects. Jars filled with seashells, rocks or bugs. Even her piano was not immune to the biological mayhem.

And brainteasers. There was not a brainteaser that my grandma did not own. She always wanted our minds to be working. Learning. Puzzling something out. My son loved to go there and sit on her floor, playing with her collection of devices. It was no wonder she raised three valedictorians.

Grandma sewed most of our clothes growing up. Once there were many grandchildren and she could not sew it all, each of us was given one special pair of pajamas to be cherished instead.

In the summertime, she would take me with her to the fabric store to pick out a pattern and material. I would work on a new sewing project during every summer break. Although, I cannot remember finishing a single one (shocking). I did, however, learn some rudimentary sewing skills that I still use to this day.

Every night for her ended in a relaxing bath. She slept with piles of books in her bed. Not next to, but in. Because she never knew which land she might want to visit. Or which story she wished to attend.

The woman was not all sugar. She was spice, too. Feisty as there ever was. But in a good way. In a way that we all wish we could be.

If you went to out to dinner with Grandma, you knew you would always get dessert. Sometimes before dinner. But you would always get it, because it was her favorite.

Grandma loved long chains of jewelry (although you would just as often find her wearing a project crafted from her grandchildren). She wore maxis long before everyone else. Her style was cheerful, bright, and flowy. Grandma loved clothes and the more wild the pattern, the better. And hidden either in the pattern of her clothes or the jewelry adorning her limbs, was always a bee.

That woman was up for anything. She got her ears pierced for the first time when we did. During the time “Dirty Dancing” was all the rage, she took me to see the musical tour starring many of the dancers and dances from the movie…And she loved it.

She followed Kris Kristofferson with a passion. And she would dance anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Because she loved music. My own children would never have spent the last nine years playing piano if I had not grown up with her robustly pounding the keys and laughing with each note.

Grandma was free. She held no barriers as to thoughts about what was wrong with people. She simply took everyone as they were. There was no topic of conversation that she would not discuss and chuckle about. Because to her every question was, are you happy?

And if not, what are you going to do to fix it?

And you knew you could fix it. You could be happy. Because Grandma always believed it to be true.

She was the word, capable. At the very same time she was the word, fun.

And always was she a walking, breathing compilation of the definition, “interesting.” Her childhood was hard. Her life not easy. And yet, no one would ever know it. Because that did not define her. Her home was as modest as it gets, and yet, it was the home of a queen. My grandmother had suffered every loss a human being can suffer. But she was the epitome of survival. Strength. The matriarch. The family heart. She was never bogged down with society’s judgements or riddles or rules. She would laugh because today was the only day that mattered.

Grandma loved the beach. Every summer as a child, we would stay for a week with her on the shore. Those are still some of my best memories. Every vacation I take as an adult, I try to compare to those weeks. But how could they? With Grandma in the next bed, the window wide open so we could hear the waves crashing while we slept. Each morning woken to the joyful sound of laughter. Her toes being the first to rush into the sea.

“I’m just tickled,” was her catch-phrase. And I would be hard pressed to come up with a better line than that to describe her.

My grandma had my mother at the age of twenty one, and my mother had me at twenty one, and because I had my daughter at twenty two, I was blessed with many memories with my grandma. As were my lucky, lucky children.

Because my grandma, she was life. Never has there been a person who lived ever single day to the fullest. Who delighted in everything.

She would butter a biscuit and then shove the whole darn thing in her mouth. Because, you know, life was about indulging. And enjoying.

Every moment was special.

And as much as I am trying. Trying. Trying. To explain every piece of her. Every moment. To weave her soul back to me through my words.

I can’t.

My grandma.

She was butter.

She was laughter.

She was cinnamon.

She was rain.

She was and always will be pollen.

And I miss her.

42 thoughts on “Grandma

  1. Absolutely, beautifully written Jenni. This post brought joyful tears to my eyes. So glad you were able to spend such quality time with your Grandmother; her beauty (inside and out) definitely made a positive, life-long impression on those around her, especially you. Such a wonderful way to start off the first the day of the year honoring her — here’s to your Grandma 🙂

    • Thank you so much Angela. It has been a rough year adjusting without her presence. I just wanted to share a bit of her. She was so amazing. Thank you so much for your kind words. They made me smile today.

      Have a lovely weekend!

      Jenni

  2. Sweet Jenni, this is far and away the most beautiful thing you have written. It is so gorgeously infused with love and heart and makes me feel like I almost had the pleasure of meeting your grandmother myself. It’s a stunning portrait of a woman.

    You were so lucky to live so close to her and to have her as such a presence in your life, and in your children’s lives. I hope that all the precious memories you have will ease a little the ache off the loss. Do you happen to know Kahlil Gibran’s quote about joy and sorrow? This kind of grief born of great love always makes me think of it.

    I really feel for you, and your family, today. My grandmother died about 18 months ago and I know the pain and the hole that is left behind. Sending love…

    Kirsten

    • Thank you so much Kirsten. It is hard losing a loved one, isn’t it? Sometimes I will go to call her and then realize that I cannot. And we were all so very lucky to have her. I cannot imagine a better role model to have had. She made all of our lives better.

      Thank you for your kindness today. It is much appreciated. I have been dreading this day all year and it feels like all of the other days. Still a little empty without her.

      Thank you again! I really appreciate it!

      Jenni

      • I think when you have a grandmother you’re as close to as both of us obviously were then there’s not too much that compares. They’re special in a way you can’t even quite comprehend, or to an extent that you can’t. I used to get quite overwhelmed thinking of my grandmother and how much I loved her – it just seemed too big.

        But that love is still there, and the memories can never be taken away…

      • I love how you describe it Kirsten. That is exactly it. I think every family member felt that way about Grandma. Everyone had a special bond with her. How could you not? And, yes, the memories right now hurt, but at least they are there.

        Thank you so much.

        Jenni

  3. PS – in case you don’t know it, and so you don’t have to go looking for it:

    On Joy and Sorrow
    Kahlil Gibran

    Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
    And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
    And how else can it be?
    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
    Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
    And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
    But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
    Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

    Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
    Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
    When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

    • Oh. Thank you, Kirsten. I had never read that before. It is just beautiful. And, oh, so true. As much as I miss my grandma, I am so very grateful for all of the many many moments that I had with her. I know in my heart that it was her time to go, but it does not make it any less hard to bear.

      I will reread this poem again many times. Thank you for sharing it.

      I hope you are doing well. I think of you often.

      Jenni

      • If you like this you might want to track down the book it came from – ‘The Prophet’. It’s my alltime favourite. He writes pieces like this about all manner of subjects like love and death and grief and so much more. And each of them is just as beautiful. I saw someone else quoted Rumi…Rumi and Gibran make my inner world complete with their words.

      • Thanks Kirsten. I will definitely look it up. First, I need to get my darn life together. You should see my bedroom. Aaaaahhhhhh! I finally got the rest of the house done. Now I need to get that together. I finally got, y returns in order and placed them in the car so I can run errands tomorrow.

        Thank you for the recommendation. I cannot wait to research it.

        Jenni

  4. I love her from reading this.. You painted such a vivid picture of a vibrant woman… thank you for sharing this. I don’t feel loss reading this, I feel huge gains to your soul and the lives she touched. How wonderful to have all of these amazing memories. Parts of her surely live on every day in you and others…how could they not… what energy.. what love.

    • Thank you Lora. It did feel good to let it all out. Many times I had sat down to write about her and found myself unable to do so. Knowing the anniversary was coming up made me want to put a little bit of her on paper, so to speak. I also wanted my children to know more about her. We were all blessed for the time we had with her. Thank you for seeing that.

      I very much appreciate it.

      Jenni

    • Thank you Barbara. She was. She was incredible. She touched so many people’s lives. And I will forever be grateful to have had her in mine for as long as I did.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Jenni

    • Thank you, Heather. I really appreciate that. It has been a hard day.

      Thank you for being there and for your kindness.

      Jenni

    • Thank you Bridge. You are so sweet. Today has been hard. Made harder by the fact that I can not shake this darn sickness. I have never felt so run down. It could be the hardness leading up to today. Thank you for commenting and for always being there for me.

      I love you!

      Jenni

  5. Oh honey. Thank you for the most beautiful tribute I can ever imagine being written about grandma. I dreaded today, but you gave me the impossible, best gift ever with those memories I could feel and smell. Thank you so much. So instead of crying tears of sadness, I cry tears of wonder because your words were so perfect. I love you sweetie.

    • Thank you Mom. I love you too. I miss Grandma so much.

      Thanks for taking my son to the park today. He had such a great time. He cannot wait to go again tomorrow. Super excited!

      I love you! Thank you for all that you do.

      Jenni

  6. What a beautifully written piece, Jenni. I always love reading your posts, but this one really touched me. Here’s to Grandmas everywhere.

    • Thank you so much Melanie. I appreciate that. I was thinking of this today as my mother picked up my son to take him to the park to play. I know he made some great memories with his own grandma today. Grandmas are just special.

      Have a lovely week!

      Jenni

  7. Simply beautiful! I will say no more as it would never be adequate. Oh except that the first thing I noticed was her amazing, joyful smile. I want to be her.

    • Thank you Brynne. Yes, I want to be just like her, too. Thank you for being so kind. You would have loved Grandma. She was amazing. This was a hard day. Thank you for understanding.

      Have a peaceful weekend.

      Jenni

  8. I’m so sorry about your grandmother. One of my favorite quotes from Rumi is “When one of gets lost, is not here, he must be inside of us. There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.” I am so glad you were able to visit that beautiful place in you where she is and that you took us there today too. I enjoyed getting to meet her. I hope you feel better soon.

    • Thank you. That is beautiful. And so true. She is inside me. And all of her children. And grandchildren. And everyone she touched and knew with her kindness. Thank you for your sweet perspective.

      I very much appreciate it.

      Jenni

  9. Hi Jenni
    That was lovely–it was a wonderful tribute and your love for her shines through. Thanks for telling us about your grandmother–she sounds amazing, and she is definitely an inspiration for how to live life.

    • Thank you Tara. She was such an inspiration. You are right. I try every day to live in the moment. But I often fail. I need to take life more like Grandma. Thank you so much for commenting and your kindness.

      Have a lovely Friday.

      Jenni

    • Thank you so much Cynthia. I definitely will write more about her in the future. It was a really touch post to write. Plus, I can not shake this sickness. I cannot cry anymore this week. It has been hard.

      Thank you for always being there. I appreciate it so much.

      Jenni

  10. Thank you so much for this great dedication. It has been a tough year of adjusting without our mom. By far the most heartfelt descriptive blog you have written. You captured her spirit perfect and shared it so eloquently. Thanks for sharing this with us! I can’t think of a greater tribute on the one year anniversary of our loss. Having our big family gatherings on holidays has helped us carry on. I know Grandma would be so happy to hear your goal this year is to write a book – she always knew you could and would! Your writing talent should be explored more! Lots of love, Auntie M.

    • Thank you Auntie M. It has been a hard year hasn’t it? When I think of all the things she would say about her passing I cannot honestly believe that she thought any of us could move on like she wanted us to. She was our rock. I have been so under the weather. I thought I was getting better, but had a big relapse today. So that compiled with the sadness has made for a tough week.

      Thank you for your nice words about the story. I just wanted to share with everyone what a wonderful woman she was.

      Sweet dreams and have a lovely weekend!

      Jenni

  11. Jenni, what a beautiful post about your grandmother. It’s an honor to get to know people that are special to you and the reasons why. I love her photo and great crooked smile! Thanks for sharing Mary Lee with me and letting me get to know her through your eyes. My grandma, Mama Lola, who has passed, also loved the beach and rolling in the sand and waves of the warm, black sand beaches of Guatemala at age 84. Young at heart when it counted! Thanks again. Love, jess

    • Thank you Jess. Grandma Lola sounds like she would have gotten on swell with my grandma. I love the memories you shared of her. Thank you for reaching out to me. I really appreciate it. I hope you and your family our doing great during this holiday weeks. I do not want them to end. I have so enjoyed the peace of my kids being at home. I am sure you feel the same way. Hopefully I will get to see you soon.

      Thanks again. I appreciate it. Have a lovely weekend!

      Jenni

  12. Wow. I truly felt like I was walking hand-in-hand with you down memory lane. Grams was an incredible gal and I miss her so much. I loved the early mornings on those beach vacations where we would all wander out of the hotel rooms onto the balcony, all bleary-eyed, and Grams would be there waiting for us, drinking coffee with Mom. They’d bundle us up in anything they had sitting around (most often it was beach towels) and we’d sit out there snuggled-up, watching the world wake up. And her absolute joy in finding sand crabs. She must’ve found thousands of sand crabs during those summers. Such fun. And how she taught all the grandkids how to swim in her pool even though she didn’t know how to swim herself. I don’t know how she did it, but it worked. 🙂 And the many, many loaves of homemade french bread she’d bake for all of us. I can’t smell or see french bread without thinking about her. You are absolutely right, she was sugar and spice. She was such fun. Anyway, I love you and I’m thinking about you. Hope you’re feeling better. Xoxoxo

    • Thanks Mandi. I forgot all about all of the french bread. Oh my goodness. For a while there it seemed like it would never stop. But, oh, how good was it?! I could really use some right now. Yes, she was definitely sugar… And spice. Which is why she was so awesome.

      I thought I was getting better but I just feel awful right now. I am going to go finish cleaning the other rooms so that I do not feel so overwhelmed.

      I love you! Have fun with the kids tomorrow. I will think about you…while I am sleeping. ; )

      Jenni

  13. The absolute best memories from my childhood almost always involve us at your grandma’s house. I remember the slow walk along the dirt road from your house to hers. The constant and genuine interest she had in our lives was amazing and I carry it with me today. To this day I have never known a woman like her. Your tribute to her took me flying back in time and gave me the gift of the good cry I needed. I am grateful that she was such a huge part of my life. Your tribute to her was unforgettable and the most beautifully written piece I have ever read.

    • Thanks Lizzie. You made me cry. She loved you so much. She did give us so many wonderful memories. Can you imagine our childhood without her? I can’t. It would have been incredibly boring. Thank you for your perspective and the memories you sent in your email, too. I love you so much. I wish you were closer!

      I Miss You!

      Jenni

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