Today “would have been” my grandmother’s 96th birthday and I can’t help but again think of dozens of woulda’s coulda’s and shoulda’s. If she were here, I would have made chocolate chip cookies to celebrate. I should have done that last year but went for store-bought cake and ice cream instead. I could have put the extra energy into her 95th and made it something we’d all remember for our lifetime.
But then… I do remember the store-bought cake and ice cream. I remember the meal, and her sitting at the head of the table. I remember her acceptance of our gift – and ‘acceptance’ was about as good as it got. I remember her asking me to make her a cup of tea so she could see how much better the new microwave was than the one she’d had before. So, I guess it was a good day.
She’d started to say all her days were the same. That’s never a good thing, and though she wanted to be part of our day, and share our experiences, she just didn’t have the drive to do so any more. She wanted to want to spend time with us outside of the house but no longer had the energy. She was tired and I have to accept that, though it’s hard when I consider all the escapades of my youth and her younger years.
There are too many to detail. Some make me cry as they make me laugh. She drove. Got her license when she was in her 50’s. She had a green Pontiac and once, when I wanted to photograph the sunrise on the beach, she said she’d go with me. And she did. We planned it out – two secret agents on a mission. She lived downstairs from us and was ready with her keys in her hand when I met her in her kitchen at 4am. By 4:30, we were on the beach, squealing at the sight of a beach rat, huddling close, giggling like kids and running along the dock to get away from it down there on the sand. And then we sat on a bench. And waited for the sun to rise. I still have the pictures I took that morning and when I look at them I see the whole thing – not the sun coming up but the fun. The moments. So simple. So special. And fleeting.
And so today, I will celebrate a life that made mine so much more colorful than it would have been otherwise. In her honor, I made something I should have made for her at some point. It’s a treat that, until recently, she made very year for the holidays. Struffoli or “honeyballs”. While she made bowls and bowls of them, I’ve only made one. And in making that one I was reminded of the staying power of that woman. The chutzpah. The energy. I’d never be able to make as many perfect little dough nuggets as she – each browned identically to the others, perfectly matched in size and shape. So when I look at my one bowl I see her, standing at her kitchen counter, rolling the dough into shoestrings, cutting them – thousands of them – frying them, piling them into bowl upon bowl. I see her with brown hair, slightly darker brown hair, grayish hair. White. Changing but always constant.
My one bowl looks somewhat like hers yet something is different. Something is missing. I suppose it will always be that way. We’ll have them tonight to celebrate the life she shared with us and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get up at 4 tomorrow to watch the sunrise. Though I know something will be different, and something will be missing from that moment too.