My grandmother, Betty, passed away peacefully in her sleep early this morning at the age of 83.
My grandmother has passed on, but she is not gone. I don't say this in some sort of New Age-y sense. I am orthodox in my beliefs about death. I will pray often for the repose of my grandmother's soul. I know she is not some winged-and-haloed angel looking down on me. I believe in angels, but I know that they are different from the souls of the dead. I know she's not sitting right beside me like a ghost. Nonetheless, I know that she is here. She is where I am. Because she is a part of me.
She is here in the fastidious way I keep house--something I teased her for when I was in high school and part of a familial rotation that cleaned her house almost daily after her first stoke. I have inherited from her the way I dust, my near-obsession with order and cleanliness, the meals I make (at least some of them; I must say I never shared her penchants for liver and onions or creamed fish), my preference for keeping my bedroom windows open at night--even in the middle of winter.
When my family attends the occasional fish fry on Friday evening, she is here. She loved these fish fries so much, that when I was a little girl, I used to call her Grandma Big Fish, because of a restaurant we frequented on Friday nights that had a large fish attached to the wall.
She is here in the way I make my coveted pie crust recipe--one that she never had a written recipe for because she made it from memory but I have since devised. I will never forget the Christmas following her second stroke. As always, she cooked from memory, and as always, she made her famous "purpleberry" (marionberry) pie. Only, this time, she forgot to put in the sugar! Oh, it was the most awful pie we had ever tasted. But, in a desperate attempt to make sure that she didn't realize her mistake, every family member took a huge slice--or seconds--so that we could polish off that entire pie before she was able to sit down and have a piece herself. My grandmother, who loved nothing so much as to see her cooking (usually excellent) eagerly and gratefully devoured, beamed. She figured it must have been the best pie she ever made. We never told her. I think we all felt a little sick afterwards, but it was worth it for that proud smile on my grandma's face.
She is here in my daughter's bright blue eyes. My infant son's nose. I confess I don't think I ever much looked like my grandma. Though I passed on her blue eyes to my Sophia, I don't have them; mine are brownish-green, inheritted from my Mom and her father. I am short in stature, like both my grandmothers, but unlike my Grandma Big Fish, who was rather stocky, I took after my petite paternal grandmother. I hope that someday I will inherit Grandma's gorgeous white hair. Some older women have that stiff, steel-grey hair, but my grandmother had the most beautiful, soft, white crown of hair.
Most of all, I hope that I inherit her hands. Not their actual structure. It's too late for that. Mine are short-fingered where hers were not, fine-boned, where hers were not. But, I loved the way her hands, even when I was a child, were worn by age and hard work. Her hands bear the marks of her life: pin pricks from all the handmade clothing she dressed her large family in; strength from the bread she kneaded, the thousands of cookies she baked, the hundreds of delicious pies for which she was famous and without which no holiday was every complete; they were worn with long years of service on behalf of those she loved and the long hours of employment to ensure her family stayed above water; I'm sure they swelled during the pregnancies that saw her six wonderful children--my mother and aunts and uncle--into this world.
In recent years, weak from multiple strokes and old age, her hands were not so active. She dusted and did her laundry but no longer sewed. She may not have cooked much for herself, but my uncle had a meatloaf waiting for him every Wednesday, and she would still bake from memory my aunts’ favorite cookies. The other chores were done by her children and grandchildren as a testament to her giving so much to them over the years. Her hands were now freed for holding ours and for resting while she who gave so much could enjoy the fruits of her labor and rest in care finally lavished on her.
I hope that my hands, though small and delicate, may come to be like my grandmother's. That they will become worn, as hers were, with uncountable hours of service. And someday, when I am quite old, I hope that I will have the legacy of a loving, capable family who will be able to care for me while my hands are free to hold theirs.
My grandmother is gone, but her legacy lives on. In the next few months, our family is due to welcome three more great-grandbabies. I wonder if they will have her eyes, her nose, maybe even her hands.