Today would have been my paternal grandmother's 90th birthday, except that Saturday was the one-year anniversary of her death. Which means that one year ago today, I was back in my old hometown with my parents and brother and all of my aunts and uncles and cousins trying not to think about the fact that it was Grandma's birthday and we were about to bury her. I think today may have been the day my brother and I drove around town looking at all of our old houses (we moved a lot) but I really can't remember. I don't remember much about the funeral, which was one year ago tomorrow, either. I think I was just a little numb.
One thing I do remember about that trip was going to my aunt's house after the service and helping my dad sort through boxes and boxes of old photos that had belonged to my grandmother. Grandma was big on photos of family; she brought out the photo albums whenever we went back for a visit and I never got tired of looking at them with her and listening to her recollection of the details of each photo. I wish now that I had taken notes, or recorded her, or something like that.
But these were photos that I had never seen before. Many of them were of my grandma and her siblings, or her parents, or other family members long gone. Some of them were of Grandma when she was younger.
I don't know much about my grandma's early years. I know that she and Grandpa grew up on the same street, and that she worked in a factory during World War II, and that she gave birth to my father while Grandpa was off in Europe fighting the Germans. I guess I knew that she had been a young girl once upon a time, but until I saw the photos, it never really hit me.
She never talked about herself. When we called or visited, she'd talk about what other family members were up to. Now that she's gone I sometimes wish I had asked her more about herself, about what she liked to do when she was a girl -- did she read? Draw? Dance? What were her hopes and dreams? But I suspect that even if I had asked her all these things, my questions would have been kindly and subtly deflected. She'd turn the conversation back to me somehow, to what I liked and what I did. Then she'd offer me an RC Cola and an ice cream sandwich, and I'd forget what we had been talking about.
By the time I had arrived on the scene, she'd settled into a happy rhythm as a wife and mother. She took care of her husband and her children and her house. She was modest and kind and gentle and sweet. She managed to be quiet and lively at the same time. There was a calmness to her, a steadiness, and yet a thrum of energy. She created beauty and love wherever she went. And, I suspect, she was stronger than any of us ever knew.
She was the heart of our family.
I miss her every day.