When I was little, Gram always said things like, “You better eat something! You’ll shrivel up and blow away!” When I was a vegetarian Gram, bless her heart, would try to convince me to eat the potatoes and carrots she’d cooked in with the roast because, “They’re vegetables, aren’t they?!” It didn’t matter how many of us showed up for Sunday dinner, nobody would ever go hungry in her house. She was always feeding people– which was no small feat in a family of 6 kids, 20-odd grandkids, great and great-great grandkids and, now, even one triple-great grandbaby.
Uncle R and I were talking the other day about when exactly it was that Gram was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure; it was 1993, the year after we lost Grandpa. Her first heart attack was three years after that and I was at the hospital with her when the doctor told her that she would get to a point where she’d only be able to sit in a chair and wouldn’t have the energy for anything else. That was 16 years ago and, until recent years, she’d barely slowed down!
Grandpa always said that Gram was the most stubborn woman he’d ever met and I don’t think most of us saw quite what he meant by that until he wasn’t around anymore.
She held on to every plastic container and glass jar that anything ever came in– probably an effect of surviving the Great Depression and knowing what it is like to truly have nothing. She’d get really, really upset if we tried to get rid of any of those things, however, she’d eventually forgive us and just begin collecting more.
I can’t count the number of times we all had to warn her that the basement stairs probably weren’t safe for her anymore. She never even stopped climbing up into the barn loft until we took away the ladder– and that wasn’t very long ago!
I know that quite a few of us inherited that stubbornness and without it we wouldn’t be as strong as we are today. It was that stubborn spirit, that force of will, that gave us all 20 more years with her than we had with Grandpa. And we all loved her and were so thankful for it.
The last time I sat in her kitchen and talked with her, Gram told me she wasn’t having any more birthdays; she didn’t want them. When I rose to leave I told her I loved her and, like all the times before, she exclaimed, “Oh! I love you too!” and she hugged me as tightly as she could, pressed her soft, wrinkled face to mine, and kissed my cheek.
And, in the hospital on August 28th, she did the same thing. I had spent the whole day before holding her hand and talking to her, wondering if she knew I was there because she hadn’t really acknowledged anyone. But that day I said, “I love you, Gram!” and she said, “I love you too!” as clear as anything!
That was the real secret about Gram: her capacity for love was infinite and the force with which she loved us all was just as stubborn and tenacious as everything else about her.
So, if you believe in an afterlife, you have to believe that there will be one hell of a Sunday dinner waiting for all of us when we get there…and that there will always, always be containers for leftovers.