A Love Letter by Erin Burton
September 14, 2017
She was tall (about 5’9″), thin, and always active. She loved going on walks, gardening, and picking wild berries. Her hair was always perfectly curled, her clothes always pressed with the most perfect creases, and her socks were always bright white (this still baffles me). But, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of my grandma was the way she was always smiling, her cheeks always pink, and the warm hugs that flowed freely. Grandma was quite the woman.
The Comfort Food
Growing up, I spent many weekends with my grandma. I loved sleeping over at her house and spending one-on-one time with her. Grandma would have one of her famous desserts waiting for my parents and me when I was dropped off. Seven-layer bars, red-velvet cake, warm peanut-butter cookies, or some other perfectly prepared dessert filled our tummies as soon as we arrived.
In the evening, I loved to help grandma cook. She was a great cook, and so patient with me when I ‘helped’ around the kitchen. In the morning, I would awake to the smell of breakfast cooking. Pancakes with frozen wild blueberries that she had picked up in the Canadian wilderness were always my breakfast favorite. Designs or funny faces made with the blueberries would delight me as she slid the warm plate of pancakes on the table. Grandma would have cooking shows on in the kitchen while she cooked, and I’d sit and watch. I most certainly didn’t watch cooking shows at home, but for some reason, I loved this tradition at Grandma’s house.
Our days were often filled with taking walks to Central Park on the railroad tracks. Once there, we would walk around the lake and I would play on the playground. On certain occasions, bands would be playing, so we would stop, listen, and sometimes dance. Grandma would drive me to the local drugstore where she would buy me my favorite shade of lipstick (even though I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up yet). I still remember the wonderful purple tone I once chose.
But, I think my favorite thing of all was sipping on one of Grandma’s delicious, homemade chocolate malts. They were the best and we always shared.
As I grew up, Grandma remained one of my very best friends. I talked to her about things that I never talked to anyone else about. She was the best listener, always caring, and always supportive. My grandparents owned the family cabin when I was growing up, and my family spent many summer weekends with them. Grandma went from rocking me in the hammock when I was little to taking long walks with me through the woods where our conversations ran deep. We spent many hours on the cabin deck overlooking the lake while we drank Pepsi (it was always Pepsi), talked about life, and laughed over many card games of Canasta. There was also a garden center near the cabin where we went to pick out annuals (flowers) to provide pops of color in her gardens and pots every spring. I spent many hours helping her plant annuals in her gardens, and weed throughout the summer. As you can imagine, our conversations continued.
I can hear her voice repeating the two phrases she always said to me: “You done good, kid;” and, “You are perfect just the way you are.” These were always followed by one of her hugs. I can just see her red cheeks and sweet smile as I’m hearing her words in my head. Gosh I miss her.
There is one thing that made Grandma remarkable, exceptional, and one-of-a-kind: Grandma never said a negative word about anyone else for as long as I knew her. Never! She was always positive. Can you imagine?
The Final Chapter of a Life Well Lived
In the spring of 2006 Grandma had a stroke. I remember feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach when my mother called me crying with the news. I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t cry (yet), and I was scared to go and see her in the hospital. We still aren’t sure why she had the stroke, but we suspect that it was caused by a fall she had had just two days earlier. As she was stepping into her beloved garden, she had tripped over the rabbit fence, and hit her head on a rock that was lining the stone path through the garden. The family and I spent many hours, day and night, in the hospital by her side–running to her bedside whenever her eyes would open.
Grandma ended up living for seven years following her stroke, though she wasn’t herself, as the stroke had affected her physical and mental abilities. Grandma didn’t understand her new limitations (needed help walking, using the bathroom, showering, and eating), and would often get angry when someone would try to help her or explain why she couldn’t do things such as garden, drive, or walk downstairs. Now it was the family’s turn to take care of her, just as she had done for all of us her entire life.
My grandfather cared for her in their home for several years, doing the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Family members came to visit often, sitting to talk with Grandma and help with her physical therapy activities. Grandma could no longer garden, so every spring I brought annuals over and plant them just as she had done when we gardened together. I came to weed the gardens throughout the summer, and drink a Pepsi on the deck with Grandma and Grandpa afterward. The family brought Grandma to holiday celebrations, birthdays, and weekends at the cabin. She was and always will be an intrical part of the family.
The final years of Grandma’s life were spent in a wonderful home specifically built for memory care. There were only a few other ladies in the home that was situated just miles from my grandparent’s house. Grandma had many visitors, she loved her caretakers and roommates, and seemed more at peace. She had moments of clarity in the final years where she made comments like “I know why I’m here, and I’m okay with it.” She also began to talk more and more about wanting to see her parents, and wanting to go home. A home that we suspected meant to be with God, as her faith remained strong.
On April 13, 2013, Grandma passed away peacefully and went to be with her Lord. We suspect that she’s having a very hot cup of coffee with her beloved parents that she missed so very much, or maybe she’s having a Pepsi while she gardens. Even though I miss her terribly, she left me with amazing memories and life lessons to pass on to my own children. I’m a gardener now, so I think of her often when I’m busy in the gardens; my children have mastered my grandma’s chocolate malt recipe and they think that no treat is better; and we often toast my grandma when we all drink a Pepsi on the cabin deck. A beautiful woman, a beautiful soul, a beautiful friend. Grandma’s love was happiness.
Your turn: What do you remember most about the times you spent with your grandparents?
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