Ninety six. Today. 96.
That is how many years my grandmother has graced this earth. Ninety six, amazing, fabulous years.
She was born the same year as Richard Nixon, Vince Lombardi, Vivian Leigh, Rosa Parks and and Jimmy Hoffa. She doesn’t have any of their notoriety, but she has outlived them. Less than one month after she was born, Harriet Tubman died.
She was born before Television, before we landed on the moon, before World War I. She has just lived through her 17th President. She survived breast cancer more than 30 years ago. She never learned how to drive a car, but she makes the best Rice Crispy Treats ever.
While I was growing up, she would stay with us for 3 months every summer and one month at Christmas. She always arrived with a suitcase full of goodies for my brother and I.
I never knew her with anything other than silvery-black hair. She is itty-bitty: barely 5 feet tall, but her character could span miles. She makes me giggle when she asks for ‘another glass of hooch’. She always calls me Darlin’.
A Depression era child, she wasted nothing. Butter dishes were put in the fridge so that the smallest slivers could be scraped free. She wore the same dress to my wedding that she wore to my parents’. My dad wanted to get her something new, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
Aside from my parents, brother and I, she has outlived all of her friends and family. As long as I have known her, she has always been intensely private. I know there was hardship – a marriage she felt forced into, years waiting to have a baby (she had my dad in her mid-30’s), a marriage that dissolve, the loss of her father – whom she adored. But I have heard very few detail from her.
It is only over the past few years, as Alzheimer’s has crept its insidious (but possibly blessed) way into her brain, that it has jostled free some of the tragedy she carried with her, leaving her with much of the joy she must have experienced when she was young.
As the disease captures each latter year, it peals away some of the misery she lived with – leaving her with far more pleasant memories. My stoic, but caring grandmother never chatted with me about love – until about a year ago. When asking about my marriage (an event she does not recall witnessing) she is prone to saying, “Now, Darlin’, isn’t love grand?” with such passion, I often choke up.
It is getting harder and harder to chat with her. She remembers less each time we talk. She doesn’t not know I am married or that I have children. She doesn’t know my daughter is named after her. She doesn’t remember that she has met her great-grandchildren – or that they call her Gi-Gi, even though their pictures are on the table right at her elbow.
When I called today, we talked for 2 minutes and 1 second. Even though she knew she was talking to someone who loved her, she couldn’t place me, so she wanted off the phone. She is still aware enough to be proud.
The pride runs in the family. I am proud of her grace in the face of this disease. I am proud of the strength that pulled her through a broken back and a wretched nursing home facility this past year. And I am proud that she is still sassy as ever after 96 crazy, amazing years.
P.S. for my husband: It is fantastic to consider all that my Grams has seen in her lifetime. And yet, after nearly 100 years, she has still never seen the Cubs win the World Series. (Cue my husband breaking down into hysterical laughter)
Happy, Happy Birthday Grams!