When I was a little girl I was lucky enough to be able to live at my Grandmother’s house for a year. My parents may have thought it was the most unlucky of days since we were living there because my Dad had been laid off. We were in limbo. But I didn’t care. What kid would? I got to live with my Grandma! And she was the best there was.
I can remember getting off the bus after school just in front of her tiny two bedroom house in Idaho and enjoying something delicious she had made for a snack. Almost always it was something chocolate. She loved chocolate! And I don’t know how she always managed to fit us all in her kitchen for dinner, but I always looked forward to whatever she was cooking. Her house may have been small, but her lot was HUGE. Countless days I’d wander all over that property playing Little House on the Prairie while feeding her chickens, climbing trees, or pulling fresh raspberries straight off the bushes and stuffing them in my mouth. Oh, how my mouth waters just thinking of all the berries I snuck out of her garden!
Summer nights were my favorite. Her little house did not have central air so it was more comfortable to eat dinner outside on the picnic table. Afterward, my brother and I would swing from the willow tree branches or ride our bikes until the sun went down. Exhausted from a long day of play, we didn’t argue about having to climb the stairs into her attic to sleep. We shared the space as a bedroom during that time and I can remember peering out the window pretending to be a princess locked in a castle many nights.
My grandmother was a musician too. Her baby grand piano took over her crowded living room. It was definitely not made for such a little space, but she was definitely made to play. I could listen to her play for hours. And she did. I would sit next to her on the bench while she played and I used to think that all she needed to do was glide her fingers over the keys and they would do as she commanded. She would never allow me to bang on the keys like many children do. I had to be intentional about what I was making up in my head. But she never turned me down if I asked to play it. Many afternoons when I got home from school she would give me a lesson and patiently wait as I tried to learn the notes. She taught me many things, but the appreciation of music is probably what I am most grateful for. To this day, I love a good piano piece and can’t help but think of her when I listen to it.
As with all good things, my time living with her came to an end. My dad got a job that moved us all the way to Alabama. I was only nine at the time. Old enough to protest. Too young for it to matter. My family would go visit most Summers. But it was never like being able to be spoiled rotten every single day. I wish I had held on a little more tightly to that time of my life. I wish I had appreciated my grandma’s cooking, her laugh and the way she loved the simple things.
She died two Summer’s ago while living with my aunt in upstate New York. She was 96 years old. And as was typical of her life there was little fanfare. No funeral. No memorial service. Her body was cremated and sent to be buried in her church cemetery in Idaho. Preceded in death by my grandfather, her home was cleaned out and most of it sold off. Including her piano.
I’m not really one who loves things, but I am pretty sentimental. And like my grandmother taught me, it’s the simple gestures, the thoughtful moments that fill up a life. So the other day when I got a small unexpected package from my aunt it piqued my interest. I hadn’t heard from my aunt in years. Anything could have been inside that envelope.
When I opened it up, I couldn’t believe how fast I could fall in love with something I didn’t even know I wanted. It was my Grandma’s handkerchief from the 1950’s. A friend of her’s had given it to her and even stitched her name in the corner. Helen.
The tears fell freely from my eyes. I blubbered like a baby. It was probably the sweetest gift anyone had ever thought to give me. Suddenly all the awkward piano lessons, raspberry-flavored summers, and freshly baked cookies were set before me in my lap. I could feel my grandmother’s love wrap around my shoulders and I could smell her Avon perfume. It may have been just a hanky to my aunt who was cleaning out a box in her attic. But what she really gave me was one more moment with my grandma and a tangible way to remember that the smallest things in our lives mean the most.
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