Yes, I know Gramma is technically spelled with a ‘d’, but who ever enunciates it? Everyone has a different relationship with their grandparents. There’s the spoil-you-rotten kind, the formal kind, the fun-loving kind, the nothing-but-respect kind, the inspirational-you’re-my-rock kind, the I-will-love-you-with-food-and-knit-you-sweaters kind, the you-are-more-of-a-parent-than-my-parents kind. Mine wasn’t really any of those. It’s actually really hard to define it, but it mostly existed in my formative years. Then families break apart, people move on, schedules conflict, Christmas begins to lose its childhood magic, aging takes its toll, life happens. But that doesn’t mean what we had wasn’t special. My last living grandmother passed this weekend. So I wrote her a letter, which I imagine her reading while sitting on the porch of her little red farmhouse, with my grandpa rocking beside her in his overalls, probably reading the Chetek Alert, saying nothing to each other because the sounds of their birds chirping, the wind breezing through the weeping willow, faint cow moos from the pasture, and the baseball game crackling through the radio is all the communicating they need.
When I think of you Gramma, I think of:
– Packing the six of us Kowalski’s into the family vehicle to spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with you and Gramps on the Chetek farm. Tessa and I nicknamed the long rows of pine trees that lined the long roads to your farm “Gramma Trees” and as soon as we saw them we’d say Gramma Trees over and over, until our words slurred into “gammacheese,” but we’d fight through the giggles until we saw the light of those little plastic candles you had in the window, the ones with the yellowish bubbly liquid. And oh the food. No one can make gravy like you. Or buns (mmm, those buns. Mom gave up on those kind because she felt she could never get it quite Gramma-right). Or homemade mac n’cheese. Or mush! You always cut us half a banana and on special days we got mashed up strawberries. And you always had the best tree. We’d all play cards at the table until late, and then you’d sit on the davenport and watch Linda, Mom, Kelly and us Kowalski girls snuggle up in the tiny living room in a row and do some quality steam-rolling. Holidays on the farm were the stuff of magic.
– How you and Gramps had the best names. Maynard and Vivian. Are you kidding? The best.
– The time Mom, Dad, Sean, Tessa, Me, you and Gramps squeezed into our mini-van and drove out west for an adventure. You called me out on my flatulence until you fell victim yourself, and then you became my biggest supporter. You said, “Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Thanks, Gram (though I am not sure the rest of the family stuck in the van was quite as thankful). And remember that time you walked out of the rest stop with a long line of toilet paper flowing in the wind behind you? To this day, all I have to make Ma laugh is remind her of how you unsuccessfully tried to just shake it off your foot every time you took a step. That toilet paper wasn’t going to stop YOU from getting back to the van.
– Your cuckoo clock, keeping time every hour on the hour, and the half. It now hangs on my living room wall and reminds me of many a night laying awake on the farm, waiting for Santa or the Easter Bunny. People often ask if I get annoyed with the constant chiming and I just look at them like they are nuts. “No,” I say, “It sounds like Gramma.”
– How you and Grandpa could take a snooze anywhere, anytime, in any position. I get that from you.
– Coming in from spending all day outside in the summer, roaming the cow pastures with Scottie Dog, playing in manure piles, getting so excited when we’d find a fresh one to fling at each other, jumping from the high hay bales in the barn, pretending to drive the tractor in the shed, daring each other to touch the electric fence with a stick and a glass bottle at the end to lessen the shock, climbing the fence to get close to the cows at the salt lick, feeding the cows in the barn with Gramps, flying kites on the hilly pasture in the summer, sledding down it in the winter. We would tell you about our adventures because we knew you didn’t care what we did, as long as we were safe, and took our shoes off at the door. You’d listen as you’d stir food on the stove, with a lot of “oh geez’s” and Gramma laughs. You know the one. You let our imaginations run wild on that farm, and wild they ran.
– Feeding the wood burning stove with wood and newspaper, and all crowding in front of it until our bums got hot, turning around until the knees burned, repeat.
– The time either Tessa or I (I truly can’t remember. Let’s blame Tessa.) peed our pants waiting in line at the grocery store, and you didn’t get mad at all. I don’t believe you were in a mad rush to clean anything up either, because in your mind, kids peed their pants and life goes on.
– You and Grandpa teaching us the art of indoor and outdoor fly swatting.
– And I know you remember this one, because we told it for years after it happened. Remember how Tessa, Kelly and I would sleep in your room, at the foot of your bed when we were younger? We had to stay really close to each other so we wouldn’t get stepped on by you or Gramps in the middle of the night. If Grandpa was already sleeping, we had to be really quiet when you sent us to bed, which was pretty much impossible, and one night after we heard him start snoring we were snickering about something, way past our bedtime. We heard you approaching the door, immediately stopped snickering and lay motionless, pretending to sleep so we didn’t get yelled at. You had closed the door previously, so we couldn’t hear the grown-ups having fun, something you obviously did not remember, because the next thing we heard was the loud thud of you running into it. Our eyes wide, we tried to suppress the giggles as we heard you cry out, “Oh for heaven’s sake, now who put THAT there.”
Thanks for being the only Grandma you knew how to be. Those summer adventures and holiday get-togethers defined a large part of my childhood. I recently found a To Do list for one summer day on the farm. It went a little something like this:
2. Play outside
4. Rest (because you obviously need rest after all of that reading, playing and eating)
5. Play outside
Sounds like a pretty incredible day.
These past few years have been rough on you, and I know you are happier now, sitting next to Gramps on that wrap around porch bigger than your house, listening to the sounds of the farm. You are loved and you will be missed.