I didn’t really realize it was issue.
I mean there were signs here and there, but nobody can have it together all the time, especially when you are getting up there in age.
I was so used to her calling me Chelsea that when it became a regular thing, I didn’t think twice. I mean at least it rhymes.
But one Christmas names were suddenly forgotten completely.
We had appetizers, “Oh, hello dear, and what is your name? Where is your husband? Is this your baby!?”
Then we had our main course, “Aren’t you cold? Is this your baby?! When did you have another baby?”
And dessert, “Whose baby is this? Where is your husband?”
The questions became repetitive as her confusion rose.
We sat Grandma down on our couch, tucked her in with warm blanket, and helped her eat her apple pie.
Grandma is from Italy, born in Sicily in 1924.
She came to America with her dad and sisters at 16.
She has been making authentic Italian food ever since I can remember.
She has never bought a can of marinara in her life, and used to give the evil-eye to all processed packets of parmesan.
I had to write down her recipes by hand, because she never did, she just had them memorized.
Where I struggle to keep a succulent alive in a humid climate, Grandma’s garden reached the trellis of their track home’s roof. Spirals of tomato vines, vibrant heads of romaine, and bushels of herbs speckled her back patio in neat orderly rows. Grandma used to spend more time outside than in, talking and singing to her vegetables like a mother would from morning to night.
But Grandma also had a feisty temper.
If she saw you throw away a perfectly good container, like the family size of Country Harvest Margarine, she would threaten to give away your cannoli that night at dinner. If she saw you use the dishwasher for ‘easy’ cleans, like silverware and plates, she would make you re-clean every pot by hand, just to prove her point that we should never take machines for granted.
Grandma taught life skills with stern love and shared her family culture in everyday meals and Italian holiday traditions. She created a family unit that was founded on order, respect, and love, which is no small task in a family with 7 boys!
She was such a constant presence with all our weekend plans, that we came to expect her input on everything from menu selection to the time any and all activities would start.
But that Christmas there were no plans. That Christmas the garden was bare. That Christmas one grandkid brought a can of marinara for the store-bought mozzarella sticks, and no one said anything.
After dessert we loaded the dishwasher, silverware and all, and sat around the fire.
One of the grandkids started playing the Baby Shark song on an iPhone and got Grandma’s attention.
She watched with tears in her eyes as my 1-year-old, the baby, came and sat on her lap and sang, “Grandma Shark Do-Do-Do,” with hand motions. We took lots of pictures.
Grandma may find it hard to remember that I am Kelsey, not Chelsea. That I although I have known her since I was 16-years-old, I am actually her granddaughter-in-law, married to her eldest grandson for the last 10 years. She may forget that we gave her three great-grandsons, 10, 7, and 1. Grandma may also find holidays much less orderly as my husband and I took over the task of hosting them, and she will most definitely be appalled at my attempt at her recipes, but those are like we said, just the tiny details.
What the grandkids seek, is to keep her here with us for as long as we can. We can tend her garden, and for the most part, we can cook, and clean. We can’t be her though. We can’t be our family without her. She has worked hard in her life, and cared for each of us. Now it is her turn to let us show her how much we learned. Grandma, you are loved and very much needed, and you laid the foundation for who we are now as a family, and will be forevermore.