MOTHER'S DAY: My grandmother is the only grandparent in my family, matriarch to a relatively small extended family of three children, nine grandchildren, six great-grandsons and an assortment of spouses dwelling in apartments, trailers, homes and hope from upstate New York to Tucson.
When we are in Gram's presence we behave as we are; a nasty word slipping in here and there, sometimes to her delight, never to her dismay, because there is nothing we could ever do that would make her think ill of us. This is what makes her our champion, our safety net, our grandmother.
As children, she healed and delighted us with inventive birthday cakes and tightly-tied pink pastry boxes brimming with chocolate dipped and dimpled cookies. We sat for hours on a hot, gray summer porch watching and waiting for her car to pull into our driveway. Of course she came with my grandfather, but it was her we yearned for. We fought to sit next to her at meals in the dining room, smirking when we won out over a crying sibling.
My grandmother is my role model for traditional motherhood. Not the bake-cookies or sew-a-cape-for-Superman type mom, (we agree that's what shopping was invented for), but the worry-about-your-children-24-hours-a-day, hand-wringing type mom. I'm not sure, for example, if I learned or inherited from her the way I clench a tissue in my hand long after I'm aware it is there.
But through that worry she has also taught us trust and understanding. She has understood us through The Who, pregnancies without husbands, disappearances, astrological tattoos, fights, abortions, drugs, pierced noses and incessant job switching. And still we can return to her, sometimes bent, and know that we will be loved, not judged, by her. It's that mothering that ferries assorted kinder back and forth across a big country to visit--not only to see how she is, but to see how much they are still loved.
Now, at 94, her teaching is still done quietly, through the slow, forgiving way she moves through this life. Widowed for nearly 30 years, she moved on from a man who would get it into his head one day to chop down a glorious old yellow rose bush while she was out shopping, simply because he decided it didn't belong there. Angry for weeks, she now says, "He was just like that."
She's a woman of letters, checking and rechecking grammar and spelling in first drafts of the letters she writes, fewer these days as she continues to outlive her friends, relatives, even children. She rewrites in a painstakingly careful script, in straight, important rows, always the mother asking about the children.
When I tear my hair out over my own kids these days, she's right there to remind me how unique and fabulous each child is, no matter what.
That's what an extraordinary mother would say, and mean.
Thanks Gram. I love you.
Happy Mother's Day, warriors.
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