old (2008), Uncategorized

i miss her most while sitting in diners at lunchtime

It’s the eighth year now that March brings not only a slight thaw (inevitably followed by last-gasp snowstorms) but also intuitive recollections of the last weeks of my grandmother’s life. She’s been gone — to where, I wonder? — for almost the same percentage of my adult life that she was alive, the better part of a decade that has entailed learning both how to live without her and how to live, period.

Renegade was two years old when she died. I was still married to his father, though we lived 200 miles apart and I had long since demanded a divorce. The Philosopher and I had just begun a relationship, I worked as a newspaper editor, and I drove a 1989 Toyota 4Runner whose catalytic converter fell off three weeks before the funeral. I didn’t have the money — $700 — to get it fixed for some time, and it ended up entirely appropriate that the proverbial black sheep of the family (or perhaps its prodigal daughter) would enter and exit the funeral proceedings with all the quietude and grace of a herd of noisy water buffalo.

All the things I remember about that time are about as unclear as possible without disappearing into the haze of unlit memories, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss her just as much as the day I called the hospital — a day after my last visit, during which the woman whose birth name was Anunciata would hold my hand and forgive all my sins toward her — only to hear my uncle say in a voice choked by the strain of holding back unthinkable sorrow, “She’s gone.”

Each Spring, then, brings the same, not necessarily the same intensity of raw grief exposed to sunlight but always the identical and acute awareness of this remarkably huge hole I have in my heart that is the precise shape of every discussion and argument and tearful outburst associated with twenty-six years of trying to convince myself that the woman who loved me most (and of that I have little doubt) wasn’t precious. Call it the folly of youth or foolishness or just plain mulishness, but more than missing her pizelles and crocheted afghans and the smooth feel of her cheek when she kissed me goodbye, I miss having the chance to realize (and tell her) all of the things that made her wonderful to call my own.

And it’s always something different that brings this all to the surface. It might be the smell of homemade pasta sauce or the taste of soup or seeing an old woman with the same stature — or even just looking through my wedding pictures and remembering how I said something really dumb to her in the receiving line (basically, “Oops! I did it again!”) — but it’s always in March and yet it always surprises me.

This year, it’s eating lunch in diners and coffeehouses and average restaurants, where I am running into a preponderance of old lady friends gathered into booths and around tables, telling stories of their youth and exchanging tips on grocery sales and doing whatever else it is that old ladies do when they get together with the friends who have seen them through all the things my friends and I are struggling with these days.

When I was a teen-ager and spent a few weeks each summer with my grandmother, she’d get together every week with her old friends at the Rainbow Restaurant in Elmhurst. I don’t remember if they ordered food or dessert or just coffee (I don’t even recall whether *I* ate anything) but I can picture in my mind’s eye exactly the shape of my grandmother’s mouth when she was laughing at something her old friend Bobby Vale said and the way her eyes would twinkle when they shared stories about when their children were young and life was both less and more complicated. And I know in my own life I am cultivating that kind of history, fostering relationships with the women who will sit with me for cake and coffee in my golden years, but what I think when I see these old women now isn’t at all hope for the future but, instead, a sadness that my grandmother isn’t here to see that I’m finally on the right track. And there really isn’t any way to fix that, other than saying it out loud. But I do think I’m grateful she died in the early Spring, because it’s a grace kind of thing that I’m forced to think of being reborn at the exact same moments I’m mourning all of the things I won’t ever be able to change.