I was so blessed to have all four of my grandparents when I was growing up. I also had the good fortune to know two of my great grandmothers, both known as Grammy. My grandparents were an anchor when the rest of life spun out of control. They affirmed me and loved me unconditionally and encouraged my creativity. But my one Grammy, she was magic.
I am the oldest of the great-grandchildren and my memories of Grammy are markedly different from the generation before me. By the time I came along, Grammy was a widow and no longer lived in the farmhouse that was the family homestead. It had become too much for her to tend to and so she sold the land to her church, which wanted to erect a new building. My grandparents converted their second floor into an apartment for her and the farmhouse was razed to make way for the church. The older generations all have fond memories of the farmhouse. I have only seen pictures.
My memories of her dwellings are of the tiny second floor apartment. I grew up only a mile away from my grandparents and spent a lot of time visiting them at their house. A visit to Nana and Grampop’s was never complete without a trip upstairs. After card games with Nana or a number of songs on Grampop’s guitar I’d start to get the itch. The magic would pull me. Nana could see it in my eyes before I ever said a word, ‘Go on, climb the wooden hill to Grammy’s.’
I’d wander out to the hallway and stare up the steep flight and run my hand along the old banister as my little legs climbed each step, my expectation rising as I ascended. Many times a delicious smell or the sounds of some old music I didn’t recognize would draw me along. The magic started to swirl.
I’d reach the top and see her bathroom with all sorts of fancy atomizers and powder puffs and frilly things to hide what she deemed unmentionable. To the right I’d see her open door, the portal to a wonderland. Since the apartment had been designed for her it was built to accommodate her short stature. When she welcomed me in I’d marvel at how I could reach everything! It was magic! She’d draw me into the kind of hug only a ‘pleasingly plump’ (one of her favorite phrases) farmwoman can give. My little arms would stretch around her sides and my fingers would trail up the stays in her corset. No one else I knew wore them. Surely this was more magic.
She’d settle me in at her kitchen table and give me some snack. I got milk out of a jelly jar or on occasion she’d give me some delicate china cup…more magic. The treats were always something home-baked. They were delectables no one else in the family could duplicate, because she was magic.
Once my little belly was sated the stories began. With a magic twinkle in her eyes she’d tell me of one-room schoolhouses, arsonist farmhands, horses and buggies, the great-grandfather I never knew, my grandfather’s misbehavior as a child. She could recite her school lessons from her earliest years. I had my favorite stories and poems and asked for them over and over. She could hold me spellbound all afternoon with her stories. Sometimes she’d bring out some enchanting prop to go with a story. There might be a fancy Victorian beaded purse or feather fan, crackled sepia photos with faintly recognizable faces, or a baby doll older than my grandparents. Every bit held its own magic and the magic grew when she trusted my clumsy little fingers with the treasures.
The day came when she could no longer climb the stairs to her apartment so she moved in with my aunt. She had lost most of her eyesight and her pleasingly plump frame had withered. She still managed to turn out delicious baked goods and her mind remained sharp as ever. Surely the magic was still there. Then she had a stroke from which she never recovered. During her last weeks in the hospital she drifted in and out of consciousness and was only able to make unintelligible utterances. My mother told me when I was grown, however, during what she knew would be her last visit to the hospital she had spent time at Grammy’s bedside, told her, ‘I love you’ and lingered a few moments before leaving. As my mother reached the door, the surprise of a faint reply came, ‘Love…you…too.’ One last bit of magic.