In March 2011, I wrote the following post. It’s a sweet story — and a reminder. I took it out of storage and dusted it off for today.
A number of years ago, I was able to accompany my father on his trip to his hometown. He was meeting with his siblings and their spouses to inter my grandparents’ remains. My mother was planning to go with him, but got sick just before they were supposed to leave. I filled in for her.
I had no idea what a special trip that would turn out to be. We went to the cemetery and sat on a little knoll while my father and his brother and sister reminisced about their parents. They each shared memories of how their parents had made their house a home. They talked about my grandmother making elaborate Halloween costumes for them, her competitive side coming out, so that they could win the town’s contest. They talked about their cousins and their pets and their school and their growing up years. Then my uncle said something which I will never forget.
He said, “They were young once. They fell in love. They had dreams and passions just like we do.”
I don’t know why that was so profound, but it hit me squarely in the heart.
My grandparents were old the whole time I knew them. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s. She smoked and drank martinis. I have seen her wedding picture and she was once beautiful.
My grandfather had Guillain-Barre syndrome in the late 70’s or early 80’s, I think. (Perhaps one of my siblings has a better memory for these details.) It transformed him from the robust, fun Grampa that I loved to go see, to a weak man confined to a wheelchair. I have wonderful earlier memories of him throwing the Hollywood brick (it was made of foam) at us, and tricking us every time with it. In fact, I think we all (the grandchildren) wanted that brick when they were emptying out the apartment, but no one seems to know where it went.
Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t always go back to happy memories. I remember my grandfather weeping in a wheelchair when I came to visit when I was pregnant with Philip. I remember my grandmother smoking and sniping.
“They were young once. They fell in love…” I chose, then and there, to replace my memories with happier ones.
Yesterday, I caught a little glimpse of that with my mother. We were sitting at the table, with a full plate of marmalade sandwiches. She had made ten or so before I got there — for the others. She looked up at a window ledge, and asked my father, “What’s in that vase?”
Now, you need to know that my mother has always a way with plants. Her home was filled with them. She had the most beautiful Christmas cactus I have ever seen. She would take little pieces of the Christmas cactus, stick them in a cup of water, wait for them to send out little roots and then move them to pots. She started so many plants that way. And the house is still littered with pieces of Christmas cactus stuck in water. That’s what was in the vase.
My father looked up at the milk-glass vase with the sad little piece of Christmas cactus drooping over the edge. “Well, that’s a genie in a bottle,” he said. “If you rub it, he’ll come out and grant your wish.”
My mother giggled like a schoolgirl. She looked at him and smiled.
When he left the room, she said, “I’m so lucky I found him.”
Oh, Mom, you have no idea.
“They were young once. They fell in love…” She was back to that point in her life. I want to remember her that way.