In Memory of Grammy (alternate title: “La Madeleine”)

My Grammy passed away the day before Thanksgiving. She had been suffering from dementia for years and finally her time was up.

I had seen her less than 2 weeks before. My dad heard she wasn’t doing well, and we made a point of visiting her. She was awake, dressed, and in her wheelchair, something that the employees where she lived said hadn’t happened in weeks. She sat with us in a quiet reading room while my parents, my uncle, and I chatted. We didn’t expect her to join in, but we had learned she liked to be around us.

My grandparents on their wedding day, June 20 1945, on a 48-hour leave from the Army.

Every time she looked at us in the eye, an enormous grin spread over her face. Previous visits had been touch and go; I was never sure if she’d know who I was. But this day, she knew us. We made a point of telling her some stories about things we were grateful for her doing, like cooking us family dinners every week for years. The only time she spoke was when we reminded her that my Grampy always helped with the dishes.

“Always,” she squeaked.

Then, a few minutes later, she looked at me and gave me the same big smile, but then this mischievous twinkle came into her eye and she winked at me, the way she always used to when I was a kid. I had to hold back tears while plastering a big smile on my face.

I leaned over her and kissed her cheek and gave her a small hug when we left, and I wondered if it would be the last time I saw her.

My dad called with the sad news the day before Thanksgiving, and we celebrated the holiday with her in mind – grateful for all she’d done for her family over the years.

As her memorial service approached, Sherpa told me that he thought he’d like to try making Grammy’s oatmeal lace cookies to bring along. I had mentioned them to him but was SO touched that he even thought of it.

He made the batch with my supervision, and I thought I would hold off on trying one until the service. He brought one up to me as I was doing some work.

“Here, this one broke…” he said, with air quotes. He left me with the cookie and I burst into tears the instant I bit into it. It was a perfect memory of my Grammy. I realized then that I hadn’t had one of those cookies since 1994 when my grandparents moved into the “old-folks home,” as Grammy put it, and she stopped baking. This cookie was like Marcel Proust’s madeleine, transporting me directly back to my childhood.

The day of the memorial came and my dad offered me a slot at the mic to say something about Grammy. I wanted to, and I wrote something. I tried to keep it simple and short so that I wouldn’t cry, but that effort was FUTILE. I couldn’t shut off the water works, especially not when I was speaking. There were just a few friends of hers there, and when I got up, I heard, “Oh, it’s the granddaughter.” That really did it for me. Here’s what I said for Grammy, and it will be much better understood here than when I read it then:

I’d like to say that I’m very grateful for all the happy childhood memories Grammy made for me. She was a very loving grandmother. She made excellent dinners for our family every Friday night for years and years, and she hosted many holidays at their home. During the weekends I’d spend with her and Grampy, she’d spoil me with shopping trips and breakfast in bed, especially during visits with my aunt. She had a closet full of bath toys and an office full of art supplies for me. She put a lot of love into her family and I won’t forget that.

My dad and uncle gave very nice eulogies, reminding us all of her love for all creatures great and small. Dad told the story of their time in Oxford, MS, living with William Faulkner as a neighbor. Faulkner heard they were moving up to PA, and although he did not interact with the locals, he saw Grammy and the kids on the street, swept his hat down in front of him, and said, “Good evening, Mrs. Ford.”

Sherpa’s cookies really won the crowd over at the reception. It was amazing to have Grammy’s lace cookies – which are difficult to make and even harder to keep from breaking – to share among the people who loved her.

I’ll close this post the way Dad closed his eulogy: “Goodnight, Mrs. Ford.”