Tomorrow is my Grandma’s birthday. She would have been 78 years old.
She passed away in 2007. When I think of the year 2007, the number seems as if it was about three years ago; in reality, it’s been eleven years. She’s been gone for eleven years.
It’s weird to reflect on everything that has happened for me in the past eleven years because she wasn’t here for any of it. She never got to see me drive a car. She never saw my dorm in college. She hasn’t met any of the wonderful friends I’ve made in adulthood. She missed me crossing the stage at my college commencement. She didn’t get to read my blog when I lived in Europe. Or see my photos when I moved to Southeast Asia. She never knew I taught English to kids all over the world. She doesn’t know that for the past two years I’ve worked at the newspaper that used to be delivered to her front door every morning. All of the little moments from the last eleven years that have pieced together to make me into who I am today – she wasn’t there for any of them; yet, she has continued to be an instrumental part of my life this entire time.
I turned 28 last month, and I have no idea why, but this is the first time in my life that I feel like a real adult. I don’t necessarily believe that the late twenties transforms a person’s mentality into feeling more adult, so maybe it’s just where I’m at in life right now that has me feeling older. I’m only mentioning this because I still think of my Grandma everyday, but all of my memories of her are from 11+ years ago – my childhood. Now that I’m nearing the end of my twenties, it feels surreal to have a full decade of my life that she wasn’t around for.
One evening when I was five years old, I wanted to hatch an egg. I was wearing a purple night shirt and I walked to the refrigerator, pulled out an egg, set it on the floor, scrunched my arms into little wings and laid on top of it – just like a chicken. Everything seemed to be going well until I felt the egg bust open. My Grandma had been in the family room watching a Lifetime movie and a commercial break flashed across the screen, so she came into the kitchen just in time to see me standing up with slimy egg covering the front of my night shirt and smeared all over the kitchen floor from my poultry shenanigans.
There were countless times in my childhood where I’d spend the night at her house, and every morning, I’d wake up to the sun peaking through the kitchen windows as it rose from the east, and the sound of pots clanging as she lit another burner because she almost always made breakfasts from scratch. Sometimes we would go to Bob Evan’s for breakfast and our favorite waitresses would always greet us special because we were a pair of regulars and everybody there knew who we were.
When I was 14, she bought us each a gym membership and we went to workout classes together. I’d been severely overweight for my entire life and she never ever said anything negative about it, but she initiated a step toward us both making a healthy change. When she was here, nobody in our family went through anything alone – she was always there to walk by our sides.
When I was very young, she taught me how to play Yahtzee, Uno, Scrabble, and a multitude of other games. If she were here now, she would see that nobody has been able to beat me in Scrabble for about ten years – all thanks to her. I taught my youngest sisters how to play all of those games, too, and now it’s one of our favorite pastimes when we get together – especially during the holidays.
She always took care of my sisters, cousins, and me when we were sick. I remember a few occasions in elementary school where I had strep throat or some other germ most likely picked up from the playground, and I would lay on the couch in the family room at Grandma’s house, and even though I physically felt miserable – her house was always the best. When we were sick, she would make toast with butter and jelly, give us Sprite, and the morning would be filled with episodes of Mr. Rogers, Scooby Doo, and Rugrats. I still remember she would put her hand on our foreheads to take our temperature and she would spend her entire day taking care of us.
There are so many days where I still cannot believe she’s gone. It’s been eleven years and I still have moments of disbelief. She was here in a time before smartphones and when everyone still had a landline. She never got to watch This is Us, one of the most emotionally charged shows I’ve ever seen, but I think she would’ve loved it considering how much she loved Lifetime movies. She never got to see Barack Obama as President. People were still using paper maps or printing road trip directions when she was here. Digital cameras were the way to take pictures when she was still here, and MySpace was the big social media website. She didn’t get to see my sister walk down the aisle at her wedding last year, and she’s got a handful of great-grandchildren who will only know her through photographs and stories told to them. As I said before, 2007 feels as if it was only a moment ago, but it’s been eleven years. Eleven long years that have somehow flown by when I blinked.
Just as she did, one of the last things I do every evening is wipe down the kitchen table, counters, stove, and sink. I think she’d be happy to know that I love experimenting with new recipes in my slow cooker – just like she did. A few weeks ago, I watched an episode of Unsolved Mysteries because that was our show when I was growing up, and we’d always watch it together before bedtime. Last night, my sister and I went to the final home game of the 2018 season for the Chicago White Sox – Grandma’s favorite baseball team; and I’ll always think of a “living room” as a “funchroom” because she was an authentic Chicagoan and that’s what she called them. It was only when I got older that I realized people referred to those spaces as anything else.
It takes a special touch to turn a house into a home, but if you’re lucky in life, you get a few people who feel like home. A few people that regardless of where you are, there’s a familiarity, security, and love about them that brings a comfort that may only be described as a safe place – just like home. She was one of the remarkable people that I will have in this life that felt like home. The number of years between the last time I saw her and the present will continue to get bigger, but she’ll always exist in the foundation of who I am today, and the memories I have of her will continue to feel like home to me.