When you say the word grandma, a lot of people picture a rosy-cheeked, sweet, little, white-haired lady. Maybe she’s wearing an apron, rolling out cookie dough. Or maybe she’s wrapped in a shawl, sipping tea from delicate bone china after having knit another pair of pink mittens. When I hear grandma though, my mind conjures a devilish grin and hands wrapped around a glass of rye.
My Grandma Garbas didn’t fit the mold. She was sarcastic. She snuck whiskey into football games, hinting to the fans around her that the thermos contained Earl Grey. She liked to gamble and would play cards all night. To my knowledge, she never knit a thing. And she dyed her hair a hot shade of orange-red.
I loved that she had edges. That she was honest, and real. Those are the kinds of people you give your whole trust. And it made the tender moments even more precious.
Grandma loved flowers especially and that appreciation is a gift she gave to me. When she would come to visit, she’d take me on walks. My little hand in hers, she would guide us past the wildflowers in the park and quiz me on the names. Honeysuckle. Dandelions. And she would point to the flowers in the neighbours’ plots. Impatiens. Pansies. Geraniums. I can’t see a beautiful flower today without thinking of my Grandma.
On my thirteenth birthday, I came home from school to find her big car in the driveway. She was waiting for me. She gave me jewellery and a small bottle of perfume and told me that I was a young woman now and that thirteen was special and she wanted me to feel special. When I think back, that’s how my grandmother always was with me – always doing something to make me feel noticed and dear. The gifts didn’t matter – it was that she was there, waiting. It wasn’t until years later that I found out my birthday was also the day she’d lost a daughter, Cathy. All those years that she celebrated me when she must have been grieving and I had no idea. I never knew to thank her or to hug her extra-long.
After dinner one night, my grandma asked me to sit with her while the others moved to the living room. I could tell something was up and was curious. It seemed some joke was afoot. She slid her hand under the table and dropped a small, pink velveteen box into my palm. “I’ll give your brother money but I want you to have this. From a warm hand,” she winked. When I opened the box, there sat what I hadn’t noticed missing from her finger: my grandmother’s wedding ring.
A year later, unexpectedly (at least to us), Grandma was gone. I wore her ring on my wedding day, just a few weeks after her funeral. As I slipped it on, I remembered her hands. Her hands that stitched my First Communion dress although her knuckles were knotted with arthritis. Her hands that made us so many delicious perogies and cabbage rolls. Her hands that tended her own roses. And her hands that held mine, guiding me through the earliest years and the later ones, pointing out the things that were beautiful. And making me feel like I was one of them.
When I think of myself today, a grown woman, the parts I love best wear my grandmother’s fingerprints. My love of beauty, my value of honesty and individualism. By being who she was, she nurtured so much in me. A granddaughter’s life is graced by her grandmother’s. For always.
And there aren’t enough thank-yous in the world to cover it. Or enough rye to toast her.