My maternal grandma, my only surviving grandparent, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. She has been living in a nursing home near my parents, which is located on the other side of the state. When she came to our wedding last year, she was in a wheelchair because she had become prone to occasional falling. In the last few months, she had lost the ability to form complete sentences or, at times, coherent thoughts, and was unable to feed herself. When K and I visited her after Thanksgiving, one of her nurses had asked her how she was doing and her reply was clearly her desperate wish, “Dead.” With her last, shallow breath yesterday afternoon, her long suffering ended and she is finally at peace.
My grandma, whom I had called Mimi, was always one of my favorite humans. During my childhood, I easily considered her my very best friend. She taught me many of my favorite and most treasured lessons about life, like the importance of being thrifty, caring for the environment, creating beauty out of anything you have on hand, and never taking anyone’s shit.
During my early childhood, my mom was a substitute elementary school teacher, and my grandparents watched me on days when my mom had to work. One of my favorite foods at that age was fish, which I pronounced “tish,” and Mimi readily fried it up, day after day, even though she knew that the ocean perch would stink up her entire house. We would dig through her packed basement for all sorts of objects that were just begging to be transformed into fun new games and activities.
I spent long summers with Mimi and my grandpa, Papa Joe, at their rustic cottage in Ontario, where we fished for hours on the placid lake, took long walks, picked and preserved wild raspberries, and appreciated the simplicity of what life can bring. I played endless games of Gin Rummy with my grandparents and pleaded Mimi to stay up late each night, telling me stories by kerosene lamplight about her childhood. I would spend sunny days on the hammock, writing stories as wild as my young mind could conjure up, running back to the porch to show my grandma my creations. She always encouraged my writing and I like to think that I am honoring her memory by maintaining this blog.
Outside of the home, Mimi’s first and only job was as a bra fitter in the lingerie department at the original Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit. As my body matured, she used her experience as a large-busted woman (like me!) coupled with her knowledge gained at that job to teach me all about how to find the perfect bra. One time, we spent hours in the TJ Maxx fitting room, trying on bras and laughing our asses off at the ones that were completely ridiculous. One bra was teal with almost entirely sheer mesh cups and a lace pattern of a singular rose over each nipple. She squealed when I showed her, declaring, “Everything’s coming up roses!” and we laughed until we could barely catch our breaths.
One of the most meaningful things about my relationship with Mimi is that she taught me about family and culture. Each summer and again at Christmastime, we would set aside an entire day, filling the house with the scent of butter and sauteed onions, to make pierogi with my mom. As an adopted, red-headed Irish/German (with a dollop of Italian for good measure) kid, she gave me the gift of her Polish heritage, teaching me all of the best swear words and her top-secret recipes. One of the largest compliments she ever paid me as an adult is when she told me how tender my pierogi dough was when I surprised her with my first solo attempt. I decided to make pierogi today – my first time making them gluten-free – because nothing taps into a memory quite like the senses of taste and smell.
One of my largest regrets is that I never got the opportunity to tell her that we plan on naming Falco after my late Papa Joe, but I am choosing to think that, wherever she is now, she already knows this in her heart. Seeing her and my Papa Joe with little Falco would have been such a gift, but I know that they’re now watching over us and our baby-to-be.
I love you, Mimi, and I will deeply miss you and will always keep you in my heart. Please give Papa Joe a big squeeze for me.