Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kartoffel Salat

My grandmother died today.

My mother's mother, our last living grandparent. She suffered a stroke over a year ago and never regained her independence. It was a painful year for my mother and aunts, knowing their dignified mother was enduring her worst-case scenario, unable to speak, to move, to do.

But she is at peace, now.

Though she only met her a few times, Big Sis felt connected to her Oma. I had prepared her for the inevitable news when my mother shared last week that Grandma wasn't doing well. We looked at old family photos. My daughters loved seeing pictures of my mom as a young mother and of me with my Grandma and Grandpa one summer when I got to fly up to Washington State all by myself to visit them for a week.

Tonight, we sat on the couch and I told a few stories about Grandma.

Whenever she went to the bank, Grandma would ask for a handful of $2 bills. In every birthday card and during each visit, even as recently as a few years ago, Grandma would slip me some of those "rare" notes. I saved every single one, never daring to spend them. I showed Big Sis my stash and told her I hoped I could pass them on to my own grandchildren.

Grandma's house was always a squirrel's nest of cubbies with papers and forgotten treasures; bowls of odds and ends; shelves of ceramic animals, figurines, and dolls; and books and magazines with photos, letters, and to-do lists slipped between the pages. When we'd visit her house I would search through drawers for cool stuff. As long as I didn't move or throw anything away, she didn't mind. And occasionally she'd part with something I'd shown interest in: a ceramic seal, a little book of jokes or inspiring quotes, a game or puzzle.

Holiday boxes from Grandma were a combination of quirky toys and wonderful finds, dog treats and stuffed animals, and then an assortment of items she was just moving along: old but little-used kitchen utensils or dish towels with the tags still attached.

Grandma's penchant for saving things (including cans and cans of food in the trunk of her Jetta) led to an inevitable inclination to misplace items. Early on, I learned she blamed The Borrowers, a fictitious family of diminutive people living undetected in the homes of "big" humans. I became a fan of The Borrowers series; descriptions of the tiny folks' near escapes from discovery and their furniture fashioned from thimbles, paperclips, and buttons captured my imagination.

Grandma loved to be the hostess and serve meals, under which circumstances we were all pests in the kitchen, shooed away from underfoot. Wherever she was, at home or on a sailboat, she set up camp and became mistress of her domain. Her meals had main courses and side dishes, but she would invariably raid the refrigerator just before serving time to add small plates and dishes of garnishes, condiments, and random leftovers to an already-crowded table: cornichons, black olives, a small serving of yesterday's vegetables and the day before yesterday's potatoes.

She made the best potato salad, and I would beg her to make it for any occasion. It was in the traditional German style, warm, with bacon and vinegar. Kartoffel salat. My favorite term in German. Say it ten times fast. It's soothing to me, like hugging Grandma.

Grandma was short, and soft, and fun to hug, though she was a relatively tough woman. The best times were when you caught her off guard and made her laugh; under those circumstances her eyes truly twinkled.

Summers spent with my grandparents (and their dogs Tinker and Belle) are among my sweetest memories: romping in the backyard with my siblings and cousins and playing in the creek, boating around the San Juan Islands, picking berries, swimming in the lake, walks to Whatcom Falls Park.

Grandma and Grandpa. They were what grandparents should be to their grandchildren, and I was lucky.

I love you, Grandma.


Anonymous said...

<3 <3 <3. Great tribute. You really didn't spend any of the $2 bills?

fer said...

No, I didn't...they somehow survived my many "scrounging for cash" moments. They felt kind of sacred.

kris said...

So sorry, Jenny. My best childhood memories include the grandparents. My grandmas were so much fun!

Thanks for the reminder.

Ms. F said...

So sorry for your loss. Sounds like she was a pretty incredible person.

I love how grandparents' houses are like these archetypal places -- certain parts of your description could easily describe my own grandmother's home. Thanks for the trip back into that special place...

steve jones said...

grandparents are so special. I lost my nanny 9 years ago...she was my last grandparent. Thinking about you and your family...lots of love

Mama Deb said...

Big ol' hug to you. I'm obviously late in offering my condolences. She sounds like she was pure loveliness.