My grandmother was never “that kind” of grandmother. She wasn’t patient; she wasn’t sweet; she wasn’t given to strong, public displays of affection. The only thing she ever taught me was how to win at Gin Rummy. “Hold up your cards, Jordan!” I can still hear her snap. She cheated.
She may have been that grandmother for my cousin; I don’t know. My cousin was everything I was not as a child. At family gatherings, she wanted to help cook, to set the table. I wanted to sit in my dad’s lap and listen to the men talk, or hide in a corner with a book, or roam through the house, opening drawers.
Did Grandmother teach her all those things I didn’t learn? How to make her special sweet potato casserole and how to grow old elegantly and how to set the table, with forks on the left and knives on the right? How to keep the bottoms of the cookies from burning, and the trick to hiding your paperback romances in the top of the closet so that your curious granddaughter does not find them? When she died, I was surprised by how much I missed her.
It was only recently, as we both got older, as I became, in her eyes, an adult with thoughts and opinions of my own, and she became, in mine, someone with years and years of stories to tell, whom I suddenly realized that I barely knew, that we began to find ways that we met and meshed. We both liked our tea the English way, hot with milk and sugar. We both knew to make friends with the librarians so that they don’t care if you check out lots of books and keep them forever. We both loved to travel, both planned dream trips we were afraid we’d never get to take.
Holidays – family gatherings which she was once the center of – feel strange now. When the poetry book that I’m working through asked me to write a poem about loss, it was Christmas that I immediately thought of.
Christmas, One Year Later
And I pass back and forth
between kitchen and living room,
crowded with cousins, and aunts and uncles,
thinking you must always
just be missed in the other room.
I keep smelling your perfume,
and someone made your sweet potato casserole
with the walnuts in,
and at first I assumed it was you.
I keep listening for your laugh.
When we hand out the gifts,
there’s no pile of envelopes
with their creased fifty dollar bills,
and when we line up for photos by the tree
I almost tell them to wait for you.
When we say our goodbyes,
waves from the cousins,
Aunt Jennifer’s brittle hug,
Gail and Joe’s slaps on the back,
there’s no wet smack on my cheek,
no squeeze of my elbow,
and I can feel the lack of it
all the ride home.