Sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, I could look out the window and watch the rabbits, squirrels, and quail families nibbling on the scraps of food that we had set outside for them.
Grandmother was already hard at work whisking crepe batter or preparing pans of German pancakes for the oven. Orange sauce and vanilla waffle sauce were simmering on the stove, ready to pour as the family began to wander downstairs.
As early as 5:00am, Grandmother would be working in the kitchen. Freshly bathed with her face made up beautifully and without a hair out of place, she waited for the family to wake and come downstairs. She’d have plans for every meal and every snack throughout our visit.
We’d head for the garden with Grandpa and pick strawberries as soon as breakfast was finished. We wandered their hill during our visits and picked wildflowers, which Grandmother thanked us for profusely and displayed proudly.
Grandmother’s enthusiasm for hosting large family gatherings was contagious. As children, our excitement would build exponentially as we climbed the hills in Dewey, AZ, to arrive at their house on a Sunday afternoon.
As the dust billowed behind our vehicle, and our stomachs dropped as we raced over those hills, we knew our grandparents would be watching out the window for our arrival. They were often at the foot of the long driveway by the time we stopped the car.
My grandparents made us feel like special guests every time we were in their home. Grandmother always watched from the kitchen window while we played in the yard. The smell of freshly cut wood brings back memories of helping Grandpa in his workshop.
A sunshine-filled garden sends me back in time to their strawberry patch. We would sit across from Grandmother and Grandpa at the kitchen island and eat those strawberries with cream within moments of bringing them into the kitchen.
Sitting at their counter, playing checkers or Shanghai rummy, there was always a dish of candy corn and roasted peanuts in between us. This was Grandmother’s favorite snack and I can’t eat candy corn without a peanut alongside it to this day.
She had a way of smiling craftily over the cards in her hand as she waited for us to take our turns. Having their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren visit were the events they planned their lives around.
As an adult, I visited their home with my girlfriends. One time, we arrived very late, past midnight, and my grandparents had already gone to bed. Grandmother left a sweet welcome note on the kitchen counter next to a tray filled with salty snacks, sweet treats, and mix for hot cocoa already in the coffee mugs. We carried our fully-loaded tray up to our rooms feeling incredibly spoiled.
At the end of every single visit, Grandmother prepared treat bags for each of us to open in the car on the way home. Those bags made the goodbyes a little less painful as we clutched them in our laps and gleefully opened them the moment our tires touched the paved road.
Trail mix, Miniature Reese’s cups, Werther’s originals, Reese’s Pieces, Peeps for Easter, candy canes for Christmas, Ding Dongs, all of these things made an appearance one time or another. There might be homemade Rice Krispy treats on occasion, because Grandmother considered them a healthy treat.
My mom’s one-time request for healthier treats resulted in the addition of chocolate or yogurt covered raisins and nuts. Grandmother loved to spoil us with sweets that were rarely seen in our childhood home. If we were leaving close to lunchtime, there would be a sandwich and chips included as well. Grandmother’s love language was food and this was evident in every large or small event of our lives.
Losing my grandpa, who was her biggest admirer and champion, changed her. When he first became ill and was planning a high-risk surgery, she used that event as a reason to celebrate their life together. They re-read all their love letters from World War II and spent time remembering their years together.
Grandmother was bossy at times and Grandpa was known to simply turn off his hearing aids at regular intervals, but I never doubted that they loved each other. Grandpa called her his chickadee and I knew that he adored her. They took care of each other and they acted like lovebirds through over 60 years of marriage.
I couldn’t possibly number the times I saw them kiss or hold hands. My grandpa never failed to whisper in my ear that he loved me every single time I hugged him and I know that he did the same for her when he held her hand and smiled at her.
As a child, I took so much of what they created for granted. I enjoyed the fruits of their well-tended relationship without giving thought to the fact they dedicated their lives to each other and their families. As an adult, their love inspires me to make my own marriage as fulfilling as possible.
My grandmother wasn’t perfect. She struggled a great deal over the past twenty years as her life changed significantly. I remember visiting with her in the years after Grandpa died. It was heartbreaking to see the way Grandmother, always so strong and capable, had become feeble and confused. She would smile and pat our hands when my mom reminded her of who we were.
Towards the end, she was a shell of the person I once knew. My family gathered this past weekend to remember her life. Death has a way of smoothing over the rougher years and bringing the happy times back into focus.
We’ve laughed and cried and remembered more happy, joyous times in the past week than we have in years. I smile to think that my grandmother is no longer in pain and that she is reunited with the love of her life.