I stood at the window on Easter, watching the chickadees in last fall’s garden, when my great-grandmother suggested that I choose a book to take outside and read on the grass. As she filled my arms with a yellow print bedspread to sit on, I grabbed a pen. Gramma handed me a small, old book she’d seen me looking at, and told me it was mine.

The week before, my great-grandfather Poppa had died, so my mother drove me over from Maine to New Hampshire. She’d suggested that I keep Gramma company for a few days, while she went home to take care of my siblings. Never having stayed there alone before,I felt older.

When bored, I’d always walked out back in the small field, but now there was another reason to go. Having been told that the boy next door would mow the grass soon, I sat facing his white house with red shutters and dreamed. Using the fountain pen, that was worn smooth, I wrote on the empty inside covers of the book. I didn’t write that I was at Gramma’s house after Poppa died and that she was her calm, caring usual self. There was no mention of their 68-year marriage. Instead, I wrote that Gramma cooked parsnips and kept orange juice in a jar, that she wished for a wide-brimmed hat and that the boy next door had glanced at me while walking by.

Gramma always pinned her hair up and wore simple, fitted cotton dresses that she made herself. Hourly she wanted to know if I was hungry, wanted a board game, or a notebook. There was no TV in the house and the one radio was in Poppa’s room. She sat down only to take a call or eat at the table, since she was steadily sewing, washing, cooking and cleaning.

Supper was cooked on a large coal stove, but when I woke, there was a distinct fragrance from a tiny blue kerosene stove for small meals. From the time I was 9, she’d clear a spot at her small table, which was wedged into the pantry, where the cast-iron pans hung from nails on the wall. She’d set down a stenographers notebook for me, then her high-heeled oxfords would tap away to the kitchen, leaving me to keep time with the ticking of wind-up clocks.

When my mother came to pick me up to head home, Gramma hugged me, said, “See you by and by,” then stood at the front door waving till we were out of sight.

Six months later, after I’d started college, my mother called: Gramma was gone. I cried for hours, days.


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