When you think about the image of grandmother, what comes to mind? White hair pulled back in a bun, knitting or baking cookies perhaps? My grandmother would never have been spotted with even one white hair on her head, hated wool with a passion, and baking, well … that was something best left to others. She was also the best grandmother a girl could ask for.
My grandmother Theresa was loved by everyone. She was the life of every gathering and a joy to be around. Everyone who knew her was touched by her larger-than-life personality that stayed with her until the very end. Funny, beautiful and a bit unconventional, I couldn’t imagine my grandmother any other way. It’s a good thing that my grandparents lived next door, because their house was where the action was. My grandmother had a gift for turning life’s mundane moments into a party. Never one to sit still and let life pass her by, my grandmother believed the more fun, the better. Which is probably why there was always something being celebrated at her house.
Birthdays were particularly festive at my grandmother’s house. Back in the day when flannel-backed plastic tablecloths were all the rage, my grandmother had a special one she pulled out at every birthday party. White and decorated with colorful hats, balloons, gift boxes and the like, that tablecloth became a cherished birthday tradition and can be seen in many family photos. There we were gathered around the table with a big cake, mugs of coffee and a random “DairyLea” milk carton with the flower logo off to one side. Those gatherings were epic, and what I wouldn’t give to have that tablecloth on my table right now.
On Sundays when we’d all gather for dinner at my grandmother’s, you could find her at the stove wearing one of her cobbler’s aprons with the side pockets and the snap closure. Gently, she’d stir the gravy (don’t ever call it sauce) and the meatballs knowing precisely when they would be ready. Sometimes she’d start singing at the top of her lungs, and while she wasn’t exactly Rosemary Clooney when she sang, that didn’t squelch her enthusiasm. When she sensed the crowd was growing restless with hunger she’d announce that “The macs are going in!” so that we knew dinner would be ready as fast as water could boil.
Despite her aversion to baking, my grandmother had an impressive sweet tooth. When we were little, she tried to bake for us, in fact, if the Jiffy Company made the mix, my grandmother would bake it. Those little blue and white boxes that produced just a few muffins or cupcakes were always in my grandmother’s cabinet. She kept them right on the lower shelf next to an ever-full glass jar of her beloved watermelon-flavored hard candies. Grandma would do anything to make us happy, but we all knew baking just wasn’t her thing. Still, there were incredible deserts to be found at her house. Luscious cheesecakes, mile-high apple pies (a la mode, of course), decadent crumb cakes and a rainbow of cookies were always on hand, and always accompanied by my grandmother’s mug of coffee.
As the years went on and life threw terrible curveballs at our family, somehow my grandmother was able to maintain her brilliance and sweet spirit. November is my grandmother’s birthday month, and it is impossible to believe that she is not here with us. Celebrating is the last thing on my mind because all I really want to do is lie down and cry for all the loss my family has endured in the past 12 months. But deep down, I know that my grandmother wouldn’t want that. So today, I’ll force myself to wipe my eyes and press on. I’ll pour a big mug of coffee and a slice of apple pie and pour over the family photo albums with my kids. As sad as I am, there is still reason to celebrate because I get to say that I had the greatest grandma in the world.