What I called her says it all. My grandma. Grandmas are loving, sweet, kind, generous and can wrap you in a hug you still feel 30 years later. I was particularly blessed. My grandma lived with us. She was there for me every day. She was the one who got up with me in the dark when school started at 6:45. Breakfast was one of her specialties (so was lunch and dinner and all snacks in between, for that matter). Pancakes, oatmeal, french toast. Those were not weekend breakfasts at my house, but ones she prepared every morning to send us off to school. She stood at the front door, watching me walk to the bus each morning, keeping me safe. She was there when I came home in the afternoon, with a hug and a smile, leading the way to the kitchen for the treat she had made that day. In between, she lived a mysterious life that included washing, ironing, and sitting and reading her Lithuanian language newspaper.
Grandma had lived a hard life. She came through Ellis Island at the age of 23 directly from the farm in Lithuanian, the last of 13 children, to an arranged marriage in the Lithuanian section of Chicago. I often think of how very brave her parents were to have sent all their children to this country for a better life, and how very sad they must have been to watch their last child depart. She had two children, and a husband who died when the youngest was 3. Soon after, during an epidemic in Chicago, she contracted spinal meningitis, along with her youngest, my mother’s sister. She went into a coma and was hospitalized, to awaken to find herself completely deaf and her youngest child killed by the disease.
Somehow, despite her new handicap, she sent my mother through secretarial school and was able to find some bit of comfort when my mother married and my father promised to always to take care of her also. And so Grandma was always with us. She read lips but I would often catch her standing in the doorway of the living room as I practiced my piano lesson, as if straining to imagine what she was missing.
Soon after she died 15 years ago, she came to me vividly in a dream. She was holding the hand of a small child and held the child’s hand out to me as I approached. I took the hand from her, thinking it was my own sweet daughter, thanked her for caring for my child and began to walk away. It took only a few steps for me to turn back and see her smiling at me with all the love one can imagine. I offered her my other hand, and invited her to continue with me and who I now knew was the hand of my own small self that she has ushered through childhood with such love.
Thank you Grandma, for coming to me in that dream, for being my rock, my love and my strength through all those early years, for hearing me and seeing me despite your deafness. Thank you for continuing to hold my hand as I go through the journey of adulthood with all its trials and joys, knowing that you continue to hear me. Each day, I play for you and feel your joy.