Cup of Gram
The first sip and I am sitting with my grandmother on her white wicker love seat, my head resting against the tender pillow of her arms. They are the same arms that held me as an infant, rocking me through my first colicky months of life. Gram was not a petit or bony woman. She was sturdy and full figured with soft skin that jiggled some when she laughed. Her arms were the perfect cozy nooks on which to rest my head or be wrapped up in a hug.
I breathe in memories of rose perfume, its scent infused into face creams and alive in the fresh cut roses from her garden. I remember sitting on her bed during summer visits, watching her nightly ritual of removing and applying layers of skin products to try and smooth out the lines of time. She would leave me with a smear of fragrant night cream on my cheek as she kissed me goodnight. The next morning, I would wake to a light floral breeze wafting through the window and “Good Morning Princess Petunia” in a singsong voice. Even her nickname for me was a sweet-scented flower.
I remember big wheel races down the long narrow driveway and pink and white frosted animal cookies with sprinkles. I remember sugary cereals, strawberry Quick and Tang. I remember sticky hands dripping with juicy plums plucked straight from the tree and eating sun-ripened grapes right off the vines. I remember Gram pruning blooms from her prolific rose bushes as my cousins and I ran through the yard playing hide and seek. I remember the prism of light filtering through thick colored glass vases and bowls lining the living room window. I remember the soothing tick-tock of the cuckoo clock that played It’s a Small World at noon and midnight.
I remember Gram sitting in her wicker chair crocheting patchwork blankets for each new grandchild. I would take a strand of yarn from her overflowing basket and crochet never-ending chains as we watched her “stories” on television. Then she would retire to her bedroom to take an afternoon nap. She wouldn’t acknowledge that she was actually sleeping. When asked, she would always say, “I am just resting my eyes”.
Gram looked ancient to my young eyes with her silver hair and deeply creased face. But anytime I asked how old she was, her answer was always the same, “100 degrees in the shade”. Regardless of her age, for as long as I could remember, Gram had youthful vitality and spunk.
There was the summer she loaded her Vanagon camper with five grandchildren and my auntie for an Alaskan adventure, never once disgruntled by the noise or complaints or the engine that broke down more than once. There were trips to Mexico in a caravan of Volkswagens—all the cousins and siblings, aunts and uncles sprawled out on the beach and crawling into the ocean. There were the holidays with everyone crammed into her house, blankets and sleeping bags covering every inch of the living room, abundant food and plentiful laughter. There was Gram at her piano, plunking out jaunty tunes on un-tuned keys and singing with the wavering bravado of aging vocal chords. And in between visits and trips were the rebus letters she sent. Sweet hand-drawn pictures in place of some words, so that I could “read” her letters long before I could read.
I remember the year Gram married her high school sweetheart. She had already lived a long life; care-taking for an ailing husband, becoming a widow and single mother of five, teaching kindergarten and managing an orchard of fruit trees. She had traveled the world on her own and played the role of matriarch to decades of family. But for a year or two, she was a white haired young bride traveling the world with her true love and settling into a new life in the turquoise and Adobe of New Mexico. When Phil passed, Gram and her aching heart returned to her California home where she continued for another few decades.
As time passed and I grew older, so did my Gram until age 95.
I remember the day I heard she had died. I was living in the upstairs of a friend’s home, transitioning from chaos into a new life. Unable to process her death at that time, I simply wrote a single short line across the top of my journal page. Gram died today.
Several years prior I was back in her house after many years of absence. I was sitting in that same white wicker settee next to Gram, resting my adult head against her soft pillow arm. Her health had declined and her hearing was mostly gone. My voice was too quiet for her to hear so we sat together in silence. We didn’t have to talk to remember. We didn’t have to speak to say I love you. We knew that would be our last time together.
I hadn’t thought about Gram for a while. Years passed since that last visit and even more since her death. Then, sitting in the corner of a local café, I took that first sip of a rose tea latte. Steeping in the sweetness of my warm cup, was the warmth of my sweet Gram. Every sip offered another memory. The scent of roses evoked her presence. Now, when I wish to connect with my Gram, I only need to seek out a hint of rose.