They say I'm like you. I hope they're right. They've been saying it for a long time.
My parents always wonder how they ended up with such a polite, demure, sweet, pure little thing. Though of course you and everyone else know what a hellion I can be. But I certainly didn't get any of those aforementioned positive qualities from them. I have you to thank for those.
You raised the entire family and handfuls of our friends. You are Grama to the entire town. But you're my Grama, (even if you're really my great-grandmother), and I was the lucky one out of all of us who seems to have taken after you.
They tell me I'm positive. I'm strong. I'm resilient. I'm not sure I see it. But they said the same about you, and I certainly saw that. They say I'm taking news of your death positively, because I'm glad that even though I was not present, my friends were, your other grandchildren, yours because they were mine. Or perhaps the other way around. I'm sure your cooking earned me more than my share of friends. I don't know that I'm taking it positively. I'm taking it the only way I can - I'm taking comfort in anything I can.
I realize now that my ability to love so strong and fiercely that it's frightening sometimes does not come wholly from you. I get that from my mother, who likely gained it from you. I have an overflowing heart, even when it feels hollow and broken. I love so deeply, I feel things so fully it is overwhelming at times. I don't know why I only just realized that I get that from my mother. But I do. It makes me go a little easier on her for that whole not letting me cross the highway by myself ever thing. I know what it's like to love someone so much that I am literally paralyzed with fear for their safety. I think she knows I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want to be any other way, and she wouldn't want me to either.
I know my gentle nature and tenderheartedness come from my father. My father, who stops the car to pick up abandoned stuffed animals by the side of the road because he can't stand how sad they look. That's me. It makes me feel fragile sometimes. But I would never want to lose this trait. My father once told me that if I set a book page-down open on the table, the book would cry because its spine hurt. I can almost feel the pain in my own spine when I see this done to books now. I have to rescue sad stuffed animals from dollar stores, just like he does. I can't stand the thought of any creature suffering. I treat my animals like human companions, just as he does.
I'm not sure why I'm telling you that, Grama. Maybe because I just assumed I took mostly after you, and didn't completely get how much my parents influenced me until after you died. I still don't know why I realized it then and not before. I think I'm coming to realize that you nurtured these traits in me, consciously or unconsciously, and threaded them into a cohesive personality. Perhaps that's why I've had such a strong sense of self for as long as I can remember. I always wondered why that was the case, when most teenagers and even people my age rage and moan over "who they are" when I've always known. That's you, I'm sure. You always let me know who I was.
That hasn't changed. I still know who I am. By and large I still feel like who I am, at least most of the time. What I worry about is forgetting who you are. I find myself trying not to think of you, because it hurts. But that's ridiculous. People who are loved, people who are missed - we owe them the pain we feel to think about them. I owe you this pain. We all do. And to forget would be an unforgivable crime.
So I remember you.
I remember how you would wake me up in the morning at least twice, because you knew I liked the extra time to dream.
I remember how you'd braid my hair every morning before school, two braids, until I entered fourth grade.
I remember how you'd bring me a huge orange towel, warmed in the dryer, to wrap me in after my morning shower. You let me stand wrapped in it next to the heater much longer than I should have, when I was supposed to be getting ready for school.
I remember how you'd feed me soup for breakfast in the winter, Chicken and Stars, with wheat toast topped with melted Kraft cheese.
I remember how you called it Kraft dinner, not macaroni and cheese. You made it better than anyone.
I remember how we'd walk to the grocery store together and you'd look for the items that were "on special", not on sale. I liked the way you said it better.
I remember how you never gave me cups that held more than eight ounces. I really don't know why, but I never order a drink when I go out to eat, because I can never finish it all.
I remember how you wouldn't make grape jello because the color was too dark and it wasn't "pretty" like orange and lemon.
I remember how you would walk around town with me and point out all the old houses and tell me who had lived there, who their parents were, their children.
I remember how you would become frustrated if we couldn't always recall these histories when you mentioned them in passing.
I remember how your hands would move animatedly whenever you spoke, especially during a story.
I remember how you told me that television and radio waves were proof of God or magic (or maybe both) because they were so astounding a concept. I found this a beautiful sentiment, even if, unlike you, I wasn't born in 1911, and didn't grow up in a tiny coal mining town with no electricity and one communal phone. I understand why you found waves so awe-inspiring, because I saw their awe through you.
I remember how you feared fire, and water, and heights. You hated swimming, and couldn't understand why I liked it. You also hated it when I tried to light candles.
Of course, you never really understood why I wanted to use candles, when we had perfectly good lamps and overhead lights. You didn't like anything too old-fashioned. You fully embraced modernity, at least as far as style was concerned. You wore jeans, blouses (but you always covered your arms and I never truly understood why), and sneakers. You got a perm every month. I obsessed over the Middle Ages and Victorian Era, imagining how I'd decorate my eventual mansion with wrought iron and carved wood and huge bay windows. You were happy to have a microwave and air conditioning. I wanted the Grecian-looking tile for your kitchen floor, but you went with modern diamond-pattern.
I remember how when you and Grandpa built the house, you put all of the taps backwards, so that I still turn on hot for cold, and cold for hot, when I'm anywhere else.
I remember how sometimes I'd wake up at midnight and you'd take me to the kitchen for a midnight stack: graham crackers topped with frosting.
I remember how you'd wake my friends and me in the morning after sleepovers with chocolate chip pancakes, in whatever shapes we desired. You said animals were much easier to make than princesses, but you still tried for me.
I remember how, after school, when friends flocked after me to your house, you'd feed us nutty bars and ice cream cones with names printed on them. They never had "Julia", but it was fun having a new name for the duration of my snack.
I remember how you'd complain when my friends and I would giggle in the kitchen. You'd try to imitate our laughter and we'd just laugh harder. (But after all, we were rather sugared up.)
I remember how I'd wake up early (very rarely) and find you reading the paper in your robe. You liked having that time to yourself, I know. I'd peek around the stairs and watch you feed buttered toast to Smoky, who you let lay on the table, as long as she kept her long fluffy tail out of your food.
I remember how you'd bring out the tiny plastic Christmas Tree and let me decorate it with fifty year old ornaments. You didn't even yell if I broke one. I did try to be careful.
I should have told you all this when you were still here. But I never imagined you wouldn't be.
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