Today is Grandma’s birthday. I still have the reminder set up in my calendar, but I don’t need it. October 8 has always been top of mind, since I was a kid. Even last weekend, as I passed the greeting card aisle at the grocery store, I felt compelled to stop, before remembering I didn’t need to anymore.
I think about these two ladies every day. They’re inextricably linked, as they often were in life. I just came across this photo as I was browsing my “Grandma” albums, and while generally unremarkable, it manages to capture their dynamic perfectly: my mom with a slightly mischievous grin and my grandma simultaneously amused and incredulous. “Lin, what are you doing?“ The decent amount of booze on the table (that’s Grandma’s customary martini in front of her) is no coincidence, either.
This was also summer 2010 in Minocqua, our last "good” season up north, before my mom’s diagnosis the following November. As my dad has pointed out, the cancer was probably already there. Now when I look at pictures from that trip, I can’t help looking at my mom’s chest, thinking about the silent time bomb inside.
I think about both of these two even more as Archie gets older. I can’t believe he’ll never have a grandma. With us losing Alan’s mom two years ago, my dad is Archie’s only grandparent, and Archie couldn’t ask for a better “Papa.” But there’s something about a grandmother that’s special. At least in our family, women are the socializers, the storytellers. My grandma is the one who told me how she and Grandpa met, who passed down her recipes, who repeated the funny quotes from my childhood for decades. I will forever know that my mom once sent me to my room after I got into trouble, and before I went up, I turned around crying and said, “Don’t forget to call me for dinner!” The two of them would laugh as hard the thousandth time they told that story as they did the first.
Now, as Archie has started talking and coming up with his own gems, I long to share those moments with Mom. I can hear her laughing at how he almost sarcastically asks, “I’d like more French fries PLEEEEEEASE.” Or his new habit in the morning, as he’s leaving for daycare with Alan, of turning to me and saying, “Mommy, you go to the kitchen.” (Alan: “Yeah, know your place, Mommy.”) Or the sweetness of him gently getting my dad’s attention with “Papa?” then looking him right in the eye and saying, “Happy birthday, Papa."
She would love the twinkle in Archie’s eye, and she’d be someone he could laugh with over his mom’s own quirks and foibles. I imagine her watching him and telling stories about how he reminds her of my brother and me, and maybe even hearing new stories from my childhood that Archie would inspire. I wish I could call her to revel in the joys of motherhood, and to commiserate about some of the challenges: the times of loneliness, of doubt, of losing your temper despite all best efforts.
I’m forever grateful we were able to bring Archie out to visit my grandma for her 90th birthday, just over a month before she died. I remember her looking at me holding Archie and saying, "Chris, it’s so funny to see you with a little one.” I know it’s something she and my mom had talked about and hoped for, that I’d become a mom myself. I like to imagine the two of them together somewhere now, and my grandma telling my mom all about Archie and how happy I looked with him.
My mom’s relationship with my grandma wasn’t always perfect, but I know she was always grateful for the long calls just to chat, for the cackle-filled cocktail hours, for the connection to our family history. I feel that void, and I’m sad that Archie will, too. As he sees other friends with their grandmas, I dread the day he’ll ask us, “Where’s my grandma?” I’m honestly not sure yet what I’ll say.
I do know I want to start writing down the stories, collecting the photos, documenting the family that preceded him. With our world becoming so unpredictable and, in many ways, so transitory, I want Archie to know he’s on solid ground. The generations before him faced wars, the Depression, cancer and more, and through all of it, they persevered, because they wanted nothing more than happiness and success for those who came after. And now it’s my job to do the same.
Happy birthday, Grandma. Cheers to our family–past, present and future.