Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Mary Miksad - Nov. 13, 1910 - Jun. 24, 2008
Snapshots of Grams
I am three years old, and I am in the back yard of 31 Parsons Street. It is summertime, and I am standing on the cement walkway that leads down into the yard, and I see my Grams in the second floor window, hanging clean white sheets on the line to dry in the hot sun. She smiles, waves down to me, and I smile back at her. I know that later I will tippy toe up the creaky backstairs after dinner to visit with her and Pops, and she will sneak me a Stella Doro cookie, give me a big hug. I am comforted and feel safe knowing that she lives upstairs above us.
I am four and once again climb the back stairs to visit my grandmother. I pass by the toaster which sits on the kitchen table, and that always seems to have two toasted slices of bread popped out of each slot, although I am not sure why. I see my grandmother in the living room exercising along with Jack Lalanne on the television, wondering what on earth she is doing, and why Jack is wearing that funny blue jumpsuit. Despite the fact that I am just a child, it doesn’t escape my attention that my grandmother does this routine each and every day, so I stand next to her on the carpeted floor and start doing some of the exercises with her. Together we raise our arms towards the sky, then bend over and touch our toes. We do jumping jacks, and what a pair we must look like as we do them; she holds her big bosom in place with her hands as she does hers, and I, a klutzy four year old, can never seem to coordinate my arms and feet, so I just jump around the living room. Later she pours me milk, and she has tea, and we share a some cookies.
I am five years old and my brothers, and I, and my cousin Eddie John are playing in the backyard on 31 Parsons Street, making up games the way that kids do, playing catch, running around, climbing trees. One of our favorite things to do in that backyard is to have relay races around the big azalea bush on the far end of the property. Two people line up where the cement walkway meets the grass, someone yells, ‘ready, set go’ and off we run, down the yard, around the purple flowered bush, and back towards the finish line. My grandmother comes down into the backyard, and joins us in our relay race, running just slow enough so that each of us wins by a hair. Afterwards she congratulates us, praises us. Grams is always praising us for something we do; even the smallest things that hardly seemed worthy of praise receive a “Good, Good, Good!”
I am six now, and we are getting ready to move from my grandparents house on Parsons Street, to our new house at 393 Upland. I am in the car with my mother, and I am feeling anxious. I am sure my mother senses this, as I ask her how far it will be from our new house to Grams and Pops’ house. She tells me it will be exactly one mile, and to prove it to me, she drives the one mile there and shows me on the odometer. But to me—a six year old—it might has well have been five million miles, because the only home I know—where my grandmother and grandfather live—is no longer where I am going to live.
I am nine, and my grandmother brings me to my first Penny Social in the basement of her church. I love that I am alone with her on this day, that I am the center of her attention, and I especially love her teaching me exactly what a Penny Social is. We walk around the church hall, looking at the items displayed on the folding tables, deciding which items were worthy of our tickets. We use Prell Shampoo at home, so I really want the pink-colored strawberry-scented shampoo, so she advises me to put a bunch of my tickets in the basket beside the shampoo to up my chances of winning, and when I do win it, it’s as if I had won the lottery. I open the top of the shampoo bottle and inhale the sweet, strawberry scent, and Grams breathes it in, too, and I am happy that she thinks I made a wise decision at my first Penny Social.
I am ten, and we are down the Jersey shore; my parents and my brothers, John and Michael, and my Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Ed, and my cousins Eddie John, and Mark, and Kevin, and my grandparents are there as well. And there is Grams, on the shoreline, in her practical swimsuit, wearing her white sailor’s cap. There she is again, on the boardwalk, as we watch the fireworks, wearing her cap. And, again, next to my Aunt on line at the Dairy Queen, cap on head. If I flip quickly through the photo album in my mind, I can see her, each and every summer, in her white sailor’s cap for as long as I can remember.
I flip even faster and I see animated images of my grandmother whiz by, like in those flipbooks that fascinated us as children. Grams at the stove on Thanksgiving mixing a slurry of flour and water in an old pickle jar, then blending it slowly, patiently, with the turkey drippings, to make a smooth, flawless gravy. Grams filling plastic Easter eggs with half dollars, to hide in the backyard, even though the kids are probably too old to hunt for Easter eggs. But we do it anyway—willingly, happily—after our ham dinner and kielbasa and paska; a family tradition. I look up at the window, on the second floor of the house on 31 Parsons Street, like I did when I was four, and there is Grams, looking down at us, smiling.
I flip faster…
Grams tasting my brother Michaels’ cheesecake—her recipe that he made for a family holiday—and showering him with praise. “Good. Good, Good” she says as she digs in; my brother beams.
A family birthday party, everyone singing the Happy Birthday Song, then Grams starting the next chorus of “May the Good Lord Bless You…” and we all join in.
There is Michael and Nancy living downstairs from Grams at 31 Parsons Street, and Michael Junior, climbing the back stairs to visit Grams, as I did when I was a child, playing in the backyard, running around the old azalea bush.
There is John and Maureen moving in to 31 Parsons Street, the house once again filled with family. Family—always family.
There is Mark and Mati, moving in to 31 Parsons Street, and Grams leaving her home for her new home at Cabrini Nursing Home. In the first time in all the years I’ve known her, I see sadness. But this is Grams, so it doesn’t last long.
As I quickly flip through the past five years, there’s Grams giddily beating her friends at cards, or the horse races; dimes, quarters. There’s Grams, at her 95th birthday party, surrounded by family. There’s Grams, just two weeks ago, as I sat with her in her room, saying “Good, Good, Good” when I told her I’ve been busy with work this summer.
And there she is again, on June 23rd, and I am in the photo as well. I am sitting quietly next to her as she sleeps, wondering if she can hear me, touching her arm and telling her I love her, thanking her for all the things she has showed me, taught me in the past 44 years. I thank her for showing me there really are good, humble, honest people in the world, because she raised a family filled with those virtues. I thank her for never being needy, for always being independent, because in her I saw a role model and realized that I too could be a strong and independent woman. I thank her for watching Jack LaLanne on the old television set in her living room when I was just a child, so when I grew up, I would know that staying fit and active was important. I thank her for my father, for if it were not for him, I would not be here right now, nor would my brothers, John and Michael. I thank her for treating my mother, Barbara, like a daughter for the past fifty years. I thank her for my Aunt Mary Ann, for without her I would not have my Uncle Ed, and my cousins, Eddie, Mark and Kevin. I thank her for her flawless matzoh balls, and her flavorful stuffed cabbage, her incredibly moist nut rolls, her smooth gravy, and of course, her heavenly cheesecake. I thank her for all those things, and so many more than I could ever list; that I either don’t have the vocabulary for, or there are simply no words for.
And then I kiss her head, tell her I love her, and my album closes.