Memories of my grandma

Today when I talked on the phone to my mum she told me that she had had a nightmare. I know my mum as a tough independent woman and I know that she usually never remembers her dreams. In fact, she is generally astonished that I can tell most of my dreams even days afterwards. So, I was really curious what this dream had been about.

It was about my grandma. She was alive again (she died last February, may she rest in peace), still lived in her own flat but was as ill as in her last months. My granny suffered from dementia, which is a very cruel illness which affects your memory. Gradually my grandma forgot all about her children and family (names, birthdays, even their faces), places (like her way home) and about such essential things as how to put on clothes and how to talk. It was very sad and I wish that someday they will find a remedy for it.

When grandma died we knew it was better that way for her, she did not have to suffer anymore and although it sounds hard, we did not have to suffer anymore, too. It is a very demanding and mentally exhausting job to care for someone whose whole personality is falling into pieces.

In her dream my mum was going through all the miserable feelings again. I really felt for my mum at this moment she told me about it. Because, I do not know how I did it, but when I think of my grandma, I do not associate her directly with the frail and confused women she had become but with the grandma I stayed at during summer vacations, who was the best cook of the family (apart from my dad, of course) and who used to wear her apron all day long. My mum should not be haunted by those other images.

I have a lot of great memories of my granny and this is what I would like to share with you today. My memories. When I was in elementary school I sometimes envied some of my friends for their grandmothers. One was still very young and had a beautiful haircut instead of the typical helmet of permed hair. Another had a house in a village across our lake and would do lots of camping and stuff. Yet another would present her grandchildren with sweets and their favourite dishes when they visited her. My granny did nothing of the sort. She was much older (she was 60 when I was born) and believed in some strange things she had been told as a child.

For example she never went farther into our lake than to the water reaching up to her knees because as a child a doctor had forbidden her to do so. When she took us to the lake in the summer and I went swimming with open hair she got angry and said I looked like a gypsy and that would not do. And (what really annoyed me) she was of the strong belief that it was improper to wear a bra before you were 16 or 17 years old. Okay, this might have been the case in the 40s, but it was surely not so in the 1990s.

So, she could be a little bit weird and strict sometimes but my granny was all in all a very warm and loving person. She was not skinny but nicely soft and round. She always was nicely dressed, was very popular among her old lady friends and loved dancing more than anything else. At Christmas she used to sing with us, when mum did not (because she was talking to Santa Claus whether we had been good or not when in fact she was placing the presents ;). She played dice, card and board games with us and there was always some kind of selfmade cake or bought cookies in her kitchen.

She loved doing crosswords and reading dime novels. She smelled of ladylike perfume (nothing like the modern perfumes, really). Her bed – oh her bed! – was fantastic! We called it the Sleeping Beauty Bed. It was old and made of dark polished wood and she had 2 or 3 matresses and lots of pillows and a duvet that was just like a huge pillow itself filled with down. When I lay in that bed I was invisible, the duvet bulging and warm, everything around me was soft and smelled of my grandma.

She had a chest of drawers, on which stood a huge mirror and in front of that were a thousand little trinket boxes filled to the brim with rings, necklaces and (false) pearls. And everywhere were plants. My granny had a green thumb and however miserable the plant looked when my mum brought it over (my mum once had a phase in which she nearly killed all out potted plants, she was already known for her “not-green” thumb) granny got it growing again. She taught me how to knit (along with my mum) and how to crochet and encouraged me to sew and stitch. Every semester when we children got our school reports it was a tradition to show them to her and she would tell us how proud she was. We did not get any money, no, just to hear her praise was enough.

During summer vacations I always begged to be allowed to stay one or two weeks at my grandma’s place. She only lived two streets away from us and I saw her almost daily but staying there was something special. Together with a cousin and sometimes (even my brother) granny would take long walks with us along the lakeside, we would collect elderberries (later she would cook a desert from them) and she would show us all the good places where to find them. She would take us to feed the swans and ducks and in the evening my cousin and I would sit in her armchair (we were both so small that we could share it), watch a soap opera and eat chocolate blancmange with whipped cream on top.

My grandma was a great woman and I never really quite understood what she had went through. She raised 6 children on her own after she divorced my alcoholic grandfather (whom I never met, he died a year before my birth but the only positive things I ever heard about him is that he was intelligent and handsome) and she worked as a cook in a kindergarten and later as a cleaner in our museum to feed them all. She had 12 grandchildren and was a loving grandmother to them all, although my brother and I had it best since we lived nearest. The was the matriarch of the family, the centerpiece which held it all together, the place where all the family gathered when we had something to celebrate.

From time to time I realise how much of her lives on in me. In a lot of ways I share her hobbies like baking and crocheting and doing crosswords. Because of her I got to know our museum from a very early age on, the people there know me since I could sit in a pushchair and maybe my love for history already began at that time… I really do have a lot of very fond memories of her and I am very thankful indeed that they are much more numerous than the later ones. I can only hope that one day I can be such a loving grandma, too, and that I will go my way through life with the same strength to overcome obstacles as she did.

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