When I wrote my Grandfather Richard’s memorial earlier this year, I had lots of specific memories of things we’d done together. Building my loft bed for college. Building the bookshelf my family’s library. Visiting the metalworking shop where he worked.
Half a year later, I had to do the same thing for my Grandmother Elizabeth. She passed away in September, and I wrote her remembrance — a slightly different version of this blog post — for her memorial service in November. Writing it was a much different experience from my grandfather because my memories of her are more a loosely-knit tapestry than any specific event.
When I was a kid I spent I’d frequently spend a week, or at least a few days, with my grandparents at their home in Saddlebrook, NJ or at their cabin in Highland Lakes, NJ. Either way I spent at least half that time with my grandmother because Grandpa was usually working.
Grandma could be … eccentric, and not all that grandmotherly, at least not in the traditional sense. During one of my visits I had the sniffles. I asked for a tissue and my grandmother was shocked to learn I hadn’t brought my own. She did, however, reluctantly give me one.
She loved her dogs — her black-and-white mutt named Razzle stands out most — and was none to happy when I was absent-mindedly coloring with crayons and let a few of them fall to the floor.
Raz ate them. I, of course, was oblivious.
My grandmother found Raz chewing on the crayons. She thought I’d done it on purpose and warned me there’d be hell to pay when my grandfather got home. When Grandpa walked in the door and Grandma told him about the crayons, he just smiled and said “at least he’ll be well preserved”.
Grandma was not amused.
Most of the time, we got along famously. I think it was because we both enjoyed doing our own thing, and were content to spend a few hours on our own only to meet up for meals or to play a game. Going to my grandparent’s house meant I got to turn their tile floored basement into a Matchbox car empire, made all the better by the lake of carpets were the nemesis of such toys.
I was a big reader as a kid. So was my grandmother, and I have happy memories of sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen reading a book over lunch, absent-mindedly (clearly a recurring theme for me) eating a sandwich while the two of us read our respective books. My mom would never have let me read a book at breakfast or lunch; doing so at Grandma’s was one of my secret pleasures as a kid.
My grandparents’ lake house was another great escape, one with all manner of nooks to explore. I have vivid memories of watching the Dukes of Hazard on their small color TV and playing dominos with my grandparents far past my bed time. I remember the big nights out, when my grandmother and grandfather would go square dancing.
I’d watch from the sidelines sorting through the E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Jaws, and Star Wars cards I’d bought earlier in the day when we’d stopped by the small, red-walled news stand. Then we’d head back home and I’d snuggle into my bed in the guest room, drinking in the smell of the wood-paneled walls and listening to the rain falling against the roof.
The afghan comforter my grandmother knit for me when I was in high school went with me to college, and I still get it out on those cold winter days when I’m sick as a dog and crash on the couch watching Back to the Future. I still have the pea-green plastic cup with the Robin Hood sticker that my sister and I would fight over every time we went to see our grandparents. My grandmother’s statue of a monkey sitting on a pile of books holding a human skull now occupies a corner of my desk at work.
Small treasures. Small memories. Together they still make me smile, even on a cold, dreary day like this.