For as much as she hated being thought of as old, my Grandma made a hell of a Grandma. Really, she took to the task like you wouldn't believe. I can't say I knew her before she was my Grandma, but in the time I spent with her, she never once failed me. Think about that--it's really an honestly remarkable feat, when you think about it, because pretty much everyone will let you down--hopefully only in small ways, but sometimes big ways too. Parents, siblings, friends. Someone will break a promise, snap at you, there will eventually be something, because in the end everyone just ends up being human. You can't blame them. But I really, truly can't remember a time when my Grandma Claire wasn't anything but my Grandma Claire. I know that my family, my Dad and his siblings, carry burdens from childhood that surpass anything I could imagine, because Grandma was a little more existential than she could've been about running a household. But you'd be hard pressed to find someone who loved as fiercely as my Grandma loved. My cousins and I got the very best of G. Claire--all of the fun, the lightheartedness, the affinity for the most God awful candy you could find. There are a lot of things to say about Grandma that start to glint at what a special person she was to us, though it's difficult to condense that kind of spirit into a laundry list of qualities. When we were kids, she would play with us for hours, literally hours, on the floor. She would always have candy on hand, although once she told Rachelle and I that she would only eat one piece of chocolate a day, and then that was enough. One a day. She kept candy hidden all over the house, but it was the breadbox that most of us remember, there was always candy in the breadbox. She would have freezers full of push pops and Icees. She played a lot of cards. She was always up for anything, you'll see in pictures that she was just as at home backpacking as she was at a party. She used to stay in her pajamas until 1 p.m., which horrified a lot of people but frankly, I loved. She played the piano with a lot of heart. She loved it so much that she wanted you to love it too, so we all learned a little bit. I still can play today, because of my Grandma. She made you feel really proud of yourself, because everything was a big deal for Grandma. Birthdays, holidays, new boyfriends, babies, Tuesdays, everything. Everything was an occasion, a reason to celebrate. She loved a party--the people, the noise, the happy, smiling faces, the dancing! She loved to dance--my best memories of Grandma are her on the dance floor with Pepere, twirling around ethereally, beaming at people.
She read a lot too, sometimes we would trade books back and forth. Always love stories-- Grandma read some seriously sappy love stories. Although, I will say, she handed down a murder mystery one time that really threw me for a loop. She was seriously invested in this blog--she and Pepere would read it religiously, I know. She would call me and ask me about stuff I had written, sometimes to tell me she liked it, sometimes to tell me she didn't like it. Once I confessed on here that I wasn't a huge fan of Valentine's Day, that I thought it was a joke, and she told my Dad, OH NATHAN, she doesn't really mean that, does she? I did--but the thought of someone not loving a day dedicated to love was heartbreaking to her. Let us not forget too the things she would say, which was basically every thought that occurred to her. There was no filter, and it was hilarious. She told me when I came home from Africa that she thought I would be skinnier. For someone whose got a pretty quick tongue, that stumped me. Sorry? I can find food anywhere? Not everyone there is starving? She was good that way.
I think the biggest thing about Grandma though is that she was more than the sum total of the things she would do. All the Grandma stories, describing her wonderful attributes, you can't capture that in a story or really in words at all. I've been struggling for days to write down what I feel about all this, about Grandma not being here anymore. I know that I don't know all the ways that she'll be missed yet. I know there will be the big moments in my life that will make her absence achingly clear--I won't dance with her at my wedding, she'll never hold my babies in her arms, she'll never play me another birthday fanfare. I can predict that hurt. But I can't tell you when the real sadness will come. Maybe it will be when I can't hear her voice in my head saying, Hi honey, or when I can't hear her say OH DAVID. Maybe when I see something sparkly and red, when I see "hey sailor" nail polish, when I want to know what's going on with the rest of the family because G. Claire always had the scoop on everyone. It'll be all those things and more, I'm sure.
But here's the beauty of Grandma--she left her mark on this world, and not just in the things she said or the places she hid candy. She left pieces of her indomitable spirit in each of us--in her kids, definitely, but also her grand kids and great-grand kids. My Dad will always have a little of Grandma in him, I think, whether he likes it or not. He's very stubborn, you know, and she was too. And he loves us, his own kids, the same way that Grandma loved us--with a fierceness that borders on the edge of obsession. All of her kids are like that with their kids, and that's a pretty good gift, I think. I know too that my cousins and I are products of Grandma and that there's no denying it. We got together the night before the funeral--there were a lot of us there, almost all of us. We got together to remember Grandma and swap some of our memories of her--everyone knew her a little differently, but there was a lot of overlap too, so that we all remembered some of the same things.
I don't know if I can accurately describe how it felt to be together in my house, but I think the closest I can come to it is to say that there was a powerful sense of camaraderie in the room. A really magical feeling of togetherness, of being in it together, despite being separated by age, distance and time. It was remarkable, because even though everyone was sad, we were also so happy. It was so much fun to be around these people that I love by obligation, but also by choice--my cousin Josh said about the gathering, in his eulogy, that he'd want to know every single one of us regardless of blood relation. I couldn't agree more with him. You can't choose family, but I'd choose mine over anyone else's any day. To want to be together, that's something. You could say a lot of things to connect that to Grandma--you could tell say it's her love of a party that passed down to each of us, which is probably true, you could say that it was her way of having fun at all costs was genetic, which is also probably true, you could say a lot of things. But I really don't want to minimize the magic of my family and my Grandma's influence on each of us into any one explanation. It's bigger than that, and bigger than us.
Suffice it to say, without getting too mystical, that even though my Grandma isn't physically here, she's still with us. I'll miss her, I know we all will. But my fervent wish is that it will only make us hold each other closer. Think about it. I won't be dancing at my wedding with G, but I'll be dancing with the rest of my mad clan, so how far away could she be, really? That's my theory, and I'm sticking with it. It's with a sad, heavy heart that I say good-bye, but it's also with a very, very grateful one. Thank you, Grandma, for the family that you created and for the way you taught us to live, for all the love you gave, for the example you set, for the candy you hid in the breadbox, and for never leaving anybody empty-handed. You were the gift that keeps on giving, and we love you so much.