Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They lived close by and, as a child of a single mother, I visited them all the time. In the summers, we even shared a beach house. In short, my grandmother was a big part of my life, and I had plenty of opportunities to see how she spent her days. She moved busily from one project around the house to another. I don’t recall her ever sitting. She was cooking, cleaning, doing paperwork, talking on the phone or focusing on something quietly, gently and patiently; she did anything but stay still, and she never watched TV. (I don’t know what she would have made of Netflix; probably nothing at all.)
I cherish flashes of my memories, such as how I’d try to get her attention among my siblings and cousins pulling at her apron strings. I would add to the clamor: “Me, too! Me, too!” She would pat me on the cheek, smile and look me straight in the eye as she said, “Of course you, too, my little chickadee” (that attention, of course, was what I really wanted). Aren’t grandmas the best?
These moments bubble up at random, but because of being in a stay-put/lock-down/social-distancing situation, I think about them more often and with a heart that alternates between spirited flight and immovable heaviness. As they come to mind now, they become more meaningful and richer. They are becoming part of me. I see her in my life as I write notes on her old table. It’s like feeling her arms wrapping around me every day now. I have sincere appreciation for the happiness she created for our family, and I have a fuller understanding of how the crises she faced in life diminished her chances at happiness—it was narrowed, but let’s call it refined. She loved deeply. I wish I had understood all of this when she was alive, and I hope that she had found comfort in the security and joy she gave to those around her.
This new world is a chance to learn about simplicity, caution, and the well-earned wisdom of caring for others. Here’s a few ways I’m becoming my grandmother, Helen, ahead of time.
1. I get up before anyone else in the house to clean everything.
2. At the end of day, I wait for the everyone to go to bed to clean again (it’s like producing a play every day).
3. I change hand towels every morning.
4. I am exquisitely attuned to possible threats everywhere (and so I wipe things down quietly in the background, when no one is looking).
5. I cook good food with few ingredients (she was way better than me).
6. I cook extras to be frozen for later.
7. I’m always preparing.
8. I am storing away my fancy clothes for special occasions (I’m also shopping for housecoats that snap up the front, because I need to understand what the advantage is—are they easier to launder?).
9. I have an oversized stack of fresh cleaning towels.
10. I nag my family to wash their hands and leave deposits of sanitizer, soap, sprays and tissues around the house.
11. Soup is in the freezer, but sometimes it’s time for fresh cookies (Scottish shortbread, of course).
12. I have packed away the heels (I wear slippers nonstop).
13. I don’t bother with makeup (take me as I am).
14. I use only moisturizer (she stuck with only one brand—why change what works?).
15. I am organizing everything: arrange, label, stack.
16. I don’t go to the workout studio (I clean the house with vigor and walk outside).
17. I work at a home desk (her antique double drop-leaf table with claw feet).
18. I stashed away a jar of instant coffee…just in case.
19. I don’t wear jewelry anymore (just my wedding ring and promise ring—I insisted he give me a promise-to-ask-you-someday ring, and he did).
20. I always keep a tissue in my pocket and/or tucked up my sleeve (currently researching pretty linen ones).
21. I ordered a second, backup humidifier.
22. I look at family photos in albums.
23. I am comforted by the strength and unworldly stubbornness of my husband.
24. I have stocked a backup pantry with items that have unworldly long shelf lives.
25. I worry about my family (you can tell because I’m always playing with my rings and wringing my hands).
26. I try to smile in front of the children (and when I can’t, I shoo them outside for a moment).
27. I bought Prell (because scent memories last a lifetime, proof).
28. I’m going to start eating chocolate-covered cherries any day now.