Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Grandmothers

An Old Irish Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Top o' the mornin' to you ye! It's St. Patrick's Day.  I have donned the only green t-shirt I own and the shamrock dangle earrings I've had since middle school. I fully intend to momentarily indulge in a bad Irish accent at some point during the day.  And if I had any Irish Breakfast tea on hand, I would certainly be drinking it. But even while I nod towards the celebration of Irish culture (caricature?), my thoughts wander to my two grandmothers. 

I last saw my maternal grandmother on St Patrick's Day 2005. My mom, myself, and my two younger siblings donned garishly green plastic bowlers and visited my grandmother in the medical care center to celebrate the holiday.  She died a few days later. 
We simply called her Grandmom. We'd visit her once a month (or so) with my mom at her row home in Dundalk, Maryland. (On the one occasion I spent the night there, I sat in the dark room staring out the window when I was supposed to be sleeping, mesmerized with the view of the city lights.) She had a dog named Duchess who would bark when we arrived--a raspy bark, like she had a sore throat. In her living room, my grandmother would always have a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Even though we rarely did a puzzle together, I like to think that some of my appreciate for that activity comes from her.
On our visits we'd take her to Sam's Club for groceries (she'd always send us home with candy of some sort), to the bank , and finally to lunch. I.H.O.P. and the Double T Diner were two favorites, and she always made us order dessert.
We'd visit on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve. For Easter she'd always have unevenly colored, stickyish oil-dyed hard boiled eggs, and gave each grandchild a white chocolate Easter Lamb.  We all hated white chocolate, and eventually managed to ask for milk chocolate instead. But she insisted that white was the only option, she didn't want us to get milk chocolate on our Easter clothes (though at this point I was a teenager).  
I didn't know her well but she seemed stubborn that way, completely content in her opinions and choices.  My grandfather died before I was born, so she always struck me as independent, despite the help she accepted from her daughters in getting around. Sometimes I think I'll probably grow up to be like her: content, stubborn, with a dog to keep me company and the family on speed-dial, doling out candy however I see fit.

My paternal grandmother died more recently, in January of 2014.  She and my paternal grandfather embraced our Irish heritage.  Their apartment was filled with pictures of their visits to Ireland, little figurines, shamrock teapots, and a "Guinness is good for you" plaque.  The blessing at the beginning of this post hung in their bathroom where I read it many times.  My name was her's before it was mine: Alice Mary Kelly became Mary Allison Kelly, and a good Irish-Catholic name it is. It's easy to think of her when March 17th rolls around.
We called her Nanny. We visited her and my grandfather often growing up.  First at their single-family home in Cockeysville, later their condo in Timonium, and finally walking to the retirement home down the street. When I was very young there was always the delicious smell of roast beef that'd she'd cook when we visited, the plastic big-wheel we'd pedal down her driveway, the shiny costume jewelry she'd let us tote around in plastic baggies--the secret treasure of princesses on the run. I was fascinated with her silver-backed hairbrushes and glass seashell paperweight.  When I wrote my first short story she sagely affirmed, "I always knew you were going to be a writer." I got the impression that she always liked to be in control of the climate. She kept the condo chilly in summer, and hated stuffy cars, but made us wear hats and personally zipped up our coats in winter. 
As I grew up, she grew older and slipped into a battle with Alzheimer's. I often wished that I had matured more quickly or that she had aged more slowly.  I wished that I had asked more questions, listened more carefully, appreciated Nanny as a person rather than just as my grandmother. Eventually the conversations became limited and circular, and I was left to imagine and infer.  I can remember enough details, I caught enough glimpses, to be intrigued about the woman behind them. Her fluid handwriting in the books she gave me, her enjoyment of chocolate pudding, the way she leaned so naturally, though heavily, on my grandfather as her mind began to fail her--these are all echoes I use to fill in my knowledge gaps about the woman who gave me her name. I hope she'd be proud of what I've done with it.

1 comment:

  1. I love this Alli, beautiful work as always.