By Jess Bernat
I leaned my elegance and what a woman should conventionally be from my grandmother. My mother was never one to be up on womanly things; the current gossip or how to wear lipstick and have nice clothes. So I grew to love the second best thing. I came to her with my boy troubles, when I needed an outfit for school, when I wanted to get away from the confines of my own house for awhile.
The first perfume I wore came from her and it’s the muskiest Clinique ever got. The empty vial still sits in my jewelry box and the scent is vaguely still there. I never open it thinking that if that’s the last thing I have of her, it will always stay with me.
The most vivid childhood memories I have involved her.
My mom regularly worked two or three jobs and couldn’t keep a kid with her so she dropped me at Nana’s house. I looked forward to going, knowing the television would be on and we would be cooking something more than frozen for dinner. (That was also the house that had Nintendo NES with all the games and a cat to play with, so those were added bonuses.)
Watching her bake and cook so precisely was something I couldn’t look away from, fearing I’d miss the one crucial step in a century old recipe from a far away Norwegian land I could only aspire to get to one day. Around the holidays, we would make traditional Krumkake. It’s a buttery, delicate cookie that breaks apart way too easily. The iron you use to make them more or less burns off your fingerprints. We would make whipped cream from scratch, of course. Not too sweet, all too fluffy. Just how she loved it.
I forget what movie exactly, but I think she took me to see Under The Tuscan Sun. At one point, one of the characters suffered a loss of some kind. Maybe a child, maybe a spouse. She had recently lost her second husband so I guess she didn’t expect anything except laughs and ice cream when she spent a day with her granddaughter. I simply remember her breaking into tears, trying to hide it in the darkness surrounding us. And me being perfectly useless. Because how is a 14-year-old supposed to understand that? Losing the second true love you ever had, and the last you’ll possibly get.
I remember the first time I heard her curse. In a crowded public library nonetheless. “Those fucking people are horrible!” She was talking with my father about that years’ taxes and how they wanted to take the little bits of money she had just to get nothing in return. That broad was the toughest and taught me how to stand up for myself while keeping it completely classy and under wraps.
When she passes, some of my biggest regrets will also involve her. Not spending enough time with her after college. Myself assuming I was too busy to stop by after work. Not getting to know her life in the last few years. The thought of her not seeing my eventual wedding and being there absolutely crushes me. I hold onto the years I did have with her for solace. All these beautiful little pieces of a life, all these little memories, were not the little bits, but the entirety of how I’d remember her. How much life would be different, if we knew that as they were happening.
Image: Chris Myers