The Biographer

My grandmother is with me today.

She’s been dead for over fifteen years now. It is not her birthday or her death day. But she is here.

It’s because I’m hungry for chicken and dumplings.

My grandmother’s best friend, Ellen, used to make the best dumplings I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot). She, and quite a few other little old ladies, cooked for a local church’s monthly fundraising dinner. My father and I would get dumplings from time to time and bring them back to eat with my grandma.

I free associated: chicken and dumplings, Ellen, and Grandma.

Grandma lived less than a half a mile away when I was born and I am told that I had a crib in her bedroom when I was a baby. I stayed with her one night per weekend from toddlerhood through middle school and cannot recall skipping a weekend, as long as my family was in town. Sometimes, I would be there for a week at a time during the summer. Once, a week and a half through a snow storm.

I was not a very happy kid and for several years she was my best friend when I had no one else. From my grandmother, I learned the importance of searing a roast, how to kick ass at rummy, and how to patiently play solitaire. She taught me to appreciate old movies, the Golden Girls, and Wheel of Fortune and used to tell me stories about what it was like to grow up in Philly and Baltimore during the Great Depression. Once she found an antique revolver on the railroad tracks. On Sundays, her parents would give her and her siblings nickles so that each could buy either a pickle or a licorice stick. (She preferred the licorice and I thought she was crazy.)

Most importantly, she taught me about how awesome it felt to be someone’s favorite person. For a while, I was her world and she was mine.

My grandmother and me.

My grandmother and me.

My free association didn’t end with Grandma. It actually ended with a feeling: chicken and dumplings, Ellen, Grandma, sad. My memories of my grandmother are not all good ones and the bad memories are strong, and happened more recently than the good. They often eclipse my happy thoughts.

At first this post was going to be about how, when we are small, our favorite grownups can seem near perfect but that they quickly tarnish as we grow older and wiser.

How, as adolescents, we can never grow into all the dreams that our families have for us.

How, as much as my she loved me, she also failed me.

How I believe that she would not be supportive of the adult I’ve become.

How one of the worst moments of my life was spent with her, three nights before she died. It was the last time I spoke to her.

At first this post was going to be about how disappointed I am in her.

I’ve changed my mind.

As I was writing, I remembered something else: how much I loved her.

My grandmother has very few living relatives and no one was as close to her as I when she died. Only a handful of people even remember her now. I have at least one family member who seethes with anger at her, all these years later, and I believe that the others are either ambivalent or have forgotten her entirely. Certainly, I am one of few living people that loved her and I am probably her last remaining friend.

When Ellen died, it hit me that I hadn’t tried hard enough to visit and talk about my grandmother with her. Ellen was the last person I knew who loved my grandmother like I did and I’m sure that she would have liked to talk about Grandma a bit. Now, I don’t really have anyone to share her with. Instead, I have a collection of memories, some of which she gave to me (the revolver) and others which I created myself (the smell of her pork roast).

As I was thinking about what memories to share here, I realized that no one else cares that she drank Sanka in the morning and Nestea in the afternoon, that she always slept on her side with no pillow and was certain that wet hair would keep you/make you sick no matter what the illness or season. I cherish these little things that twine together to construct the person who was my grandmother, but I’m the only one.

I am her memory keeper. She is with me every day.

Today, it’s because I’m hungry for chicken and dumplings.

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8 responses to “The Biographer

  1. Maybe she would have accepted your choice. Remember it is your choice and you have to live your life. Being different is accepted more and that is a good thing. There are so many other things to worry about. May your memories sustain you and have a portion of chicken and dumplings for me. I am not allowed to eat either because of the salt content.

    • Thanks- unfortunately, I don’t ever get to eat chicken and dumplings anymore. I can’t make them the way the church ladies did and I live in an area where dumplings are made differently then back home. Always a disappointment. I decided to make homemade chicken noodle soup instead. But, I think this weekend I’m gonna make my grandma’s pork roast and have a bit of a moment. This post was good for me, I think. Thanks for reading.

  2. *offers up the internet hugs*

    It’s never, ever, EVER easy to lose someone–especially when the relationship isn’t as wonderful at the end as it was in the beginning. The mixed-bag of memories can be . . . I think “volatile” is probably the right word. What you’ve described here is something I’m dealing with myself, having semi-recently lost my mum, and I thank you for the articulateness with which you’ve voiced thoughts that have been tumbling about my brain.

    • I’m sorry about your mum. *return e-hug* I’ve still got my parents but my grandmother is without a doubt the closest person to me who has passed away. None of the good or bad ever goes away when it’s someone you really love. After a while, you don’t think about it as often but the little things do stay with you. Best to try to concentrate on the things that made your mum unique, the ones you’ll not forget, then worry about conversations and such that you can’t change. Now, if only I could take my own advice…

  3. Cuando perdemos a alguien que nos transmitía afecto, vemos un vacío en nuestra vida, la extrañamos. Si somos cristianos podemos sentir el afecto de aquel Maestro de Galilea. Que Dios le bendiga.

  4. Beautifully written, it reminded me of my Grandmother but even more funnily enough of my husbands Grandmother. For some reason, we clicked from the moment we first met and often within his family I feel like her memory keeper as she entrusted me with so many stories and special times that even now I am still telling them stories they never knew!

    • Thank you! It’s fabulous that you can share memories of your husband’s grandmother with his family. I’m sure that that’s wonderful for them. I hope to share mine with my grandchildren. 🙂

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