Thirty-three years ago, I was the first grandchild, the favorite. You actually called me Number One which made me wonder if you were just trying to remember the birth order of your grandkids or if I was, truly, Number One. I think we both know the answer.
Seventeen years ago, when I got my driver’s license, I spent a few hours at your place each week. You would ask me the same questions (how was school today?) and request the same favors (to rewind Bette Midler’s The Rose so you could listen to it on repeat again. And then again.). I did your make-up for your Saturday dances, and introduced you to my first boyfriends. You asked the Italian one if he was “our race,” which was humiliating and awful all rolled into one, but you telling the one with the bad attitude to “keep it in his pants” was stellar.
Fifteen years ago, I moved away for the first time. I kept in touch during college. Or at least I tried to; my psycho roommate never did give me your messages. Dad sprung for my first cell phone so I could keep in touch better, and each time I called, you asked me the same questions (how was school today?) and requested the same favors (will you come visit soon?), and there were times that I lost my patience with you because you never listened to my answers. Once, I actually tested you: you inquired about my day and I responded, “It was rough. I was late to class, had an abortion, and then got caught stealing a car.” You simply said, “Uh huh,” like Mom does to me now. I often wondered why I bothered calling you. I still feel bad about that…
Ten years ago, when I got my first teaching gig, you were afraid for me because it was in a “bad district.” You offered to call the school just to make sure they knew how important it was to keep me safe. Thankfully, you never did make that call. At least, I don’t think you did. That was the thing with you: everyone thought you were under control and walking the straight and narrow, and then we would hear about you shaking down the neighbor girl for free pens or calling companies complaining about their products in hopes of getting more of the same product for free. You were, at the very least, a project. But because you were your daughters’ project, the rest of us were pretty amused. What the hell did you ever do with all of that soup anyway? And the typewriter you begged me and Zach to sell for you because “teachers need to type,” well, I have a confession: we lied when, after months of you hounding us, we told you that we sold it. You were just so adamant about it, and continued to ignore our explanation of the whole computer thing. We donated the damn typewriter to Goodwill and never looked back. We hope you’ll forgive us.
Nine years ago, I had my favorite English class call you on your birthday and sing. I made it a tradition because you liked it so much, and my students were always happy to oblige. Finally, after three years, you learned that you were on speakerphone and couldn’t say things like, “Is that one student who was a bitch yesterday treating you nicer today?”
Seven years ago, you grew older, more forgetful, and the steps in your apartment made it so getting in and out of the place was a monumental task. Mom had to make hard decisions, and I think some still haunt her today. But you definitely helped make up her mind when you called 911 at 2am asking someone to bring you a blanket because you were cold. Yoi. We all assured her it was in your best interest to move into the nursing home, and we were really good about visiting, but you were royally pissed off. And when you were pissed off, you were PISSED. OFF. Pap used to call it “gritting,” and I have no idea where that came from, but the family knew if you were “having a grit,” we should keep our distance. Fortunately, you grew to like the nursing home, especially on music days. You may not have been able to polka any more, but you still jammed out pretty good in that wheelchair.
Six years ago, I was pregnant for the first time. I couldn’t wait to tell you, but I didn’t even have to say the words. When I sat down at the edge of your bed and said, “Zach and I have something to tell you,” you replied evenly, “I know. You’re pregnant.” I thought for sure Mom had told you, but she swears she never breathed a word of our surprise. You and I, we were just connected like that.
Five years ago, today, you took your final breath and made a quiet exit. You never did get to meet your first great-grandchild, who, by the way, was a boy! We both thought I was having a girl; her middle name was to be Rose after your favorite song, but God had other plans. I was at a wedding when I got Mom’s call; I hadn’t wanted to go to that wedding, but everyone insisted it would help take my mind off of things. I would have rather been at your side.
I think about you every day and wonder if you’ll ever come to me in a dream. Pap did; I remember seeing him a few days after the funeral, and a sense of calm washed over me because I knew he had made it. Did you make it, Gram? I’m sure wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re getting a free pen out of it. Love you, miss you.