Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Remembering My Grandma

I've been putting off this post for a while. I haven't wanted to accept that my grandma is really gone, because she has been such a warm, comforting presence for my entire life. I don't want to waste time here being sad, though; instead, I want to share some of my favorite memories of my grandma. They won't mean much to most of you, except maybe (I hope) to remind you of some of your favorite memories of your own grandmothers.

I don't know much about my grandma's early life, other than that she spent her childhood on a farm in Utah, and that she had pet sheep named Fleecey and Weecey. I've always found that to be the most endearing story, though I suspect Fleecey and Weecey met an untimely end. I got into a debate with my grandma once about the phrase "knee-high to a grasshopper," which she used when she was referring to herself as a child. "Does that mean your knees were at grasshopper height, or you were the height of a grasshopper's knee?" I asked her. I think we decided on the latter. Either way, in my mind's eye, she was an extremely tiny girl.

 When I was little I spoke in a squeaky voice, and my grandma called me Mara Mouse. She bought me mouse-related things, like books and toys, and always read me my favorite mouse stories when she babysat. She also made up an entire series of tales for Sarah, Aaron, and me called "The Birdy and the Worm." The Birdy and the Worm were the main characters obviously, and we would throw plots at her, like "The Birdy and the Worm Take Karate" (I remember that one in particular). She always did the voices when we asked her to. I can't recall her ever turning down an idea.

My grandma with her partner, Orin, and Sarah. Spring of 2012.
Going to my grandma's house was always special. She had the most immaculate house I've ever seen; even the garage floor was spotless. Her house hardly changed at all during my entire life, so every time you walked in you knew exactly what to expect: the matching set of mugs hanging from the baker's rack; the butterfly magnets on the fridge; the little porcelain egg inside a whisk hanging from the wall (as a kid I remember wondering, "How did that thing get in there?"). She usually had a little bowl of pastel-colored nonpareil mints (which I have just learned are called Smooth N' Melties) on the dining table; my whole life they've reminded me of her, and they remain one of my favorite candies, although you don't find them very often.

Jack with his great-grandparents.
She kept a set of Barbie paper dolls in the spare room that we were allowed to play with, as long as we were very careful and didn't bend the tabs. In her bedroom, she had an Asian painting of a dragon next to the bed, and I remember that we were all very scared of it when we were young. Until the day my grandma told us that he was a friendly dragon, of course, and then I was only a little scared of him. When we took baths at her house she would give us this ancient Tupperware to play with, and somehow they seemed like the best bath toys of all time (especially the funnel!). She had a collection of stuffed animals that we were also allowed to play with very carefully. When I was little I had a bizarre habit of wrapping and giving things away, including a stuffed gray cat with a pink bow on its neck that I gave to my grandma. Every time I'd visit, I would look at that cat and wish I hadn't given it away (I don't think I've ever admitted that out loud before). Of course, I never would have dared to ask for it back, and it stayed perfect on my grandma's shelf over the years.

My grandma kept several hummingbird feeders on her patio, because she loved hummingbirds. Sometimes they would make nests outside her kitchen window and she would show us the eggs or the babies. Her favorite flowers were pansies. She had the softest skin on her hands, and her hair never went gray, even at 89. She was an amazing cook and always made it look effortless. Her lasagna recipe is the only reason I eat lasagna. For years and years she drove an old yellow Subaru with wooly seat covers. Whoever was lucky enough to ride shotgun got to help shift gears.

Aaron, me, Grandma, and Jack in April, 2010.
My grandma could be extremely silly, especially when my mom, Sarah, and I got together with her. We were in a hotel room one time, and I think one of us most have been looking in the mirror complaining about something. Somehow it turned into a funny faces competition. The duck face made it in there (long before that was a "thing," for the record), along with that hideous one where you pull the corners of your eyes down and the corners of your mouth up, and use your pinkies to make a piggy nose. But when my grandma did it, she would somehow make it the saddest face you'd ever seen, with these pathetic little noises. We all laughed so hard we peed.

But my favorite memories are of the times my grandma got to see Jack. It was never often enough, but it made her so happy. She loved being a great-grandma, and I have no doubt that if she had lived a little longer, Jack would have remembered her with as much love as I do.

Helen Herzog
August 22, 1923 - March 5, 2013

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