My Nana made the best tuna salad sandwiches and tomato soup. Okay, so the soup came out of the Campbell’s soup can and she just heated it up, but there was something about how she did it that made things taste so much better. I have spent my adult-life trying to recreate her tuna salad but have never quite gotten there. My grandparents lived five blocks away from my elementary school, and we were allowed to go home for lunch. It was a treat to walk to their house, sit at the table in their sunny breakfast nook, and eat that delicious lunch followed by a single scoop of our favorite ice cream – Ben & Jerry’s coffee heath bar crunch. She stockpiled it in the freezer. We’d eat and talk in the quiet house, while the clock that hung in my family’s old general store tick-tocked on the wall behind us. That clock now hangs in my living room – I look at it and always remember our special private lunches. By the time I was in middle school, the effects of Alzheimer’s disease had taken away the Nana I knew, but I’ve held on to those moments I did have.
My other grandmother (just called Grandma), on the other hand, is a whole other type of lady. My first memory of her involves a hip-strapped pistol, goggles, and a WWII army motorcycle. She owned her own business for quite a few years, taught me how to mix a vodka tonic when I was eight, and is still known to keep a shotgun by the door of her farmhouse “to scare away the wildcats.” Pushing ninety years of age, she still lives on her own, drives herself to wherever she needs to go, and travels throughout the year. Up until she was probably in her late-70s she would smoke just one cigarette after dinner each night – never even thinking to have one at any other time of the day. She is the type of woman who could go straight from a trap shoot in the woods to a fancy cocktail party. While Nana was demure and reserved, Grandma also keeps it classy but has a sort of reckless abandon that I can admire. I like to think that I’m a little bit of both of them.
I’ve been thinking a lot, this week, about how influential my grandmas have been in my life as my family deals with the recent death of my mother-in-law. Her battle with lung cancer was short and vicious. She was diagnosed the same week that Charlie was born. We were in the same hospital at the same time, while I recovered from a cesarean and she had her lung biopsied. She told us that she just wanted to see his first birthday and she made it to his 14th month. Charlie was her greatest therapy. The wide, toothy smile that they share was spread across both of their faces whenever they were together. Even when the final stages of her illness made it difficult to speak and even more difficult to hold him, they developed what seemed like their own language. She would hold out her finger to him and he would hold out his and they’d have an “E.T” touch – he’d giggle and she’d smile. They were buddies through and through.
But it’s unlikely that Charlie will have a first-hand memory of those moments with his Grandma. And he will never have memories with his Nana (my mother) since she was gone long before Charlie was even a possibility. He still has multiple grandparents (step and biological) that will fill the gaps, but he’s all out of grandmas and I can’t help but be sad about that. My grandmothers offered a sense of stability and comfort that cannot be replicated by any other relative.
No grandmas is a sucky hand to be dealt, but having two grandmothers that lived their lives with such integrity will be a great example, to us as parents and to Charlie as a growing little person. The best I can do is always remind him of his grandmothers and what they gave him – through us. Charlie’s dad has patience, an overwhelming kindness, a wry wit, and a gentle soul thanks to his mother. I know that I am forever grateful to her for giving the world (and me) a person as wonderful as my husband, so Charlie will also be reminded of the ultimate gift that she left with us.
And of course, I will keep trying to make that perfect tuna salad sandwich.