What My Grandmother Was
in response to writing prompt: “tradition”
To my family, my grandmother was tradition.
I don’t mean that she pushed traditions on us, or that she was committed to keeping our family’s traditions alive in some we-can’t-forget-our-heritage kind of way. I mean that she was our rallying point. With her, of course we’d color Easter eggs together. Of course we’d celebrate every birthday. Of course we would do Christmas as we’d always done it. And now?
There are only two stories you need to hear to understand the kind of person my grandmother was. First, she once raised baby ducks (yes, a box of actual fluffy baby ducks) in her two-bedroom apartment for literally no other reason than to delight and entertain her grandchildren. (I named mine Joe.)
Second, when I was very small, she owned and operated a beautiful small-town flower shop. As her first — and, at the time, only — grandchild, I was given free range of the storefront. I’d pick up a teddy bear, and she’d say, “You can keep it.” And so it was. Then one day, a woman came in with her young son. When he picked up a teddy bear, I walked over to him and said, in my three-year-old wisdom, “You can keep it.” And my grandmother said, “She’s right, you can.” And so it was.
Christmas was her time to shine. It started with me, that first and only grandchild. You should’ve seen the overflow of presents she couldn’t really afford but couldn’t resist purchasing anyway just so that she could see the look on my face when I came downstairs on Christmas morning. Then my sister came, and the gifts doubled. Then my brother came. Then two cousins came. Then two more cousins came. And don’t forget those kids’ parents — they all needed plenty of gifts, too. She couldn’t stop herself — nor did she see any reason to. (No, not even a negative checking account balance.)
Now she’s gone, and she’s been gone for a few years, and her absence is more than just an empty space, it’s a chasm. I can see it in my mother’s eyes when there are fewer gifts under the tree, and when she realizes that being down a gift-giver means she couldn’t do anything about it even if we actually wanted her to. (To be fair, Mom, the gifts your adult children ask for cost a lot more than those toys used to.) I can see it in the uncomfortably shifting glances of my aunts and uncles when they RSVP “no” to a get-together because the energy of their own small family is tired and fragile. And the extrovert in me feels it when family gatherings end far earlier than they once would have.
But — truly — it doesn’t all feel like brokenness. Most of those kids aren’t kids anymore, which means we’re scattered, geographically and mentally. And really, really ... really busy. But I don’t feel an absence of love. I don’t feel an absence of support. It’s just an absence of tradition.
When my grandmother left us, we didn’t want to lose anything else. And the fact that we did feels like … failure. Though on the other hand, not always.
I’m somehow content with today while still longing for the past. And I don’t think that’s unusual. Even my mother talks about how she grew up with traditions she’d always assumed would continue forever. They didn’t. And I, having not been alive for them, never felt like they were missing. We made different traditions in their place.
I think that’s what’s happening to my family now. People grow, families change, and new happiness can take the place of old. And while it’s not always comfortable, I think it’s healthy, and okay.
And maybe even hopeful.