Last week my cousin Sally called. I don’t see or hear from my cousins often so it was an unexpected connection. Sally wants to give me the antique typewriter our grandfather used when he first started to work for golfing equipment companies in the 1930’s. I like the idea of having something from my grandfather. He was a man I barely knew.
My father’s parents divorced before I was born and it was my grandmother who was in our lives. The first time I met my grandfather was a spring afternoon when my sister and I answered a knock and opened our door to a man I didn’t know.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” the man said.
My sister and I shook our heads.
“I’m your grandfather.”
I only remember seeing him one other time, when he came to Chris’s high school graduation. While he was at our house he came out to the garage to inspect how well I was preparing our sailboat for a summer of racing. He ran his fingers along the sanded bottom, making sure it was smooth. He nodded.
I asked Sally to tell me more about our grandfather, which led to stories about our grandmother. She was a tough, independent, divorced woman which was a step outside the norm at the time. I don’t remember many hugs or sitting in her lap, but she endlessly knit hats and mittens for me and my sisters and our children once we had them. She knit for church fairs. She made her own yogurt, gardened until she was in her 90’s, mocked the creaky walk of all the old people in a rehab facility where she spent time after an accident at 97 (she was probably the oldest person at the rehab and the accident wasn’t her fault), and lived to 102. Visiting her in the hospital towards the end of her life, she complained that she couldn’t get a needle and thread. “What good am I here? I can’t even sew while I lie in this bed.”
In the 1950’s my grandmother was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She was treated with cobalt which was sewn into her abdomen and left there to irradiate the cancer cells. Later the cobalt was removed and Sally remembers being with her mother when they drove my grandmother home up after the surgery.
“I need an apple,” my grandmother said when she got in the car, wearing a wool coat she’d sewn herself. They stopped at a local store and my grandmother went in and bought two apples. When she got to her house she went straight to the kitchen, and without taking off her coat, took out the bottom of a pressure cooker, poured in oil and popcorn and turned on the burner. When the corn was popped, she sat down and ate the apple and the popcorn.
At the time, doctors told my parents that my grandmother probably wouldn’t live another five years. She lived another 50.
Her name was Grace.