Things I Am Learning From My Grandma Part 15Nicole Shabtai

I am the eldest of three kids who all live far away from each other. However, in this rare moment, we’re all gathered around our Grandma. My sister and I squish together in an armchair while my brother feeds her vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. Grandma points to the childhood photos of us that surround her; then, “You are always here.” Her eyes and mind are focused. She’s wearing a white dress that drapes across her delicate frame. “I feel stronger today. I am trying so hard,” she says. “I want you to remember your strong Grandma.” We tell her that we don’t need to “remember”, we’re looking at her. My brother spoons another bite out of the proper ice cream sundae dish.

Lesson One: At some point in your life, acquire great serveware. When you’re not entertaining, you can be entertained by the fact that you own martini glasses and a cake dome. 

“You’re a special boy. You’re kind and gentle. No one is like you,” Grandma says to my brother in between bird-like bites of ice cream. I am sitting silently. I have a line of questions I desperately want to ask, but I am afraid. I don’t want to upset her. As you may recall from Part 2, my Grandma was a war widow. I don’t know much about her first husband or their marriage. It immediately dawns on me that I started writing this series in order to find out more about this time in her life. What am I waiting for? “How old were you when you first got married?” I blurt out in spite of myself.

 Lesson Two: Sometimes there’s just no time for fear. You have to go for it.

“I was nineteen and we eloped,” Grandma says. I know that his name was Bernard. However, she doesn’t ever say it, so I don’t either. I ask how she met her husband. “We knew each other our whole lives. He lived around the corner from me. He came from a big family like mine.” The information is flowing freely. “I was an individual. I wasn’t a carbon copy of everyone else.” She tells us that her family thought she was crazy, but she didn’t care. My brother, sister and I all make eye contact. We want to know more, and steer the conversation gently.

Bernard was “tall, slim, blonde and very handsome.” They moved out of New York and lived for a while in Virginia and Vermont. “He was in OTS [Officer Training School], because he was very bright.” I wonder what it was like to be so young and married. “What did you do with your days?” I ask. While living in Vermont, she befriended a female neighbor, who happened to be a writer. “I guess I was inspired to write,” she tells us. I am floored. I ask what she wrote. “All kinds of things. Stories. Love Letters.” I ask if she still has any of them. She doesn’t answer. I ask again. “I know where they are,” she says. I lock eyes with my sister. At once we are both sighing and laughing without making a sound. “Where?” I ask, expectantly. “I buried them. You won’t find them for a hundred years.” I can’t tell if she’s confused, telling the truth or messing with me. I imagine it’s some combination of the latter.

Lesson Three: You don’t have to give it all up. Some things are just for you.

“That was a very happy time in my life,” she says. Maybe that’s why I never wanted to bring it up. My fear is with loss comes sorrow, and whatever joy you may have felt beforehand disappears. I think it has to do with holding on— to regret, guilt, or any other thing from the past that doesn’t serve your present. But that’s my s**t, and it doesn’t have to be that way. “I have the ring upstairs. It is gold with little bells. I think I want to be buried in that ring.” There is a silence. We all heard it, but we don’t comment. “That was a very happy time in my life,” she says again, now smiling at us. Like all siblings, we have been together through some great moments, but also share the painful ones. Although difficult in some ways, I will remember this day as one of the greats.

*** Note on the photo: I tried to take a picture of all of us holding hands, but because I am kind of technologically incapable, I took a video of us holding hands instead. My amazing brother took the featured photo of my Grandma and I.

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  1. I love this series so much!!

  2. i always cry when i read these. I love this !!!

  3. That picture is beautiful.

  4. this was beautiful. my grandfather recently passed away, so my grandmother moved in to a senior facility in the town i live in now. it has been years since we have been able to meet up and see each other so often, and i love it. i am straight up and honest with her about everything, and my mother (her daughter) will always tell me ‘shes an almost 84 year old woman you cant tell her about your boyfriends past or the fact that your hungover it worries her and shes just lost her husband’. i kindly then explain to my mom that i do more listening that i do talking first off because i know she needs it, but also because i can learn so much about my grandfather through her eyes. being around her has made me realize, our generation is missing something that their generation had. compassion and love for others, and incredible strength!! best wishes to your grandma.

  5. Tearing up.. This was amazing. Your grandmother sounds AMAZING.

  6. I love you coco. I gather so much strength from you, and from this series. You’re the bravest person I know. – David

  7. The photo alone makes me tear up. I was very close with my grandma and think of her every day. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. This is such a wonderful series. Thank you for sharing these precious moments with your beloved grandma.

  9. These are always so wonderful and beautiful, often making me tear up. I love that you are doing this! Love and strength to your family and your grandma!

  10. this is beautiful.