Tomorrow is my grandmother's birthday. She has been gone from my life for twenty-three years now, but each year when December 15 is upon us I look back. I grew up in simpler times, in a family with very few material riches, but surrounded by love and security. My grandparents lived with us, so I never lacked for loving arms and attention. I look at a photo of my grandmother when she was the age I am now -- she was sitting beside me at the picnic table with her silver hair, housedress, apron, and sturdy shoes, looking so much more grandmotherly than women do today.
She loved me unequivocably. She taught me the cardinal rules for girls of the fifties -- be ladylike at all times, don't eat with your mouth open, keep your legs together when you sit down, speak like a lady. She also guarded me carefully with her superstitions -- I still cannot walk under a ladder or rock an empty rocking chair without thinking of the dire consequences, and Lord help me if I break a mirror. She taught me silly nursery rhymes, how to cook, and how to do laundry on an old wringer washing machine.
She also passed down to me some of her very annoying characteristics -- skin that is irritated by any clothing that isn't soft and natural and a tendency to be too cold if it is below 70 and too hot when it is above 75.
Our birthdays both fell within the month before Christmas, and we shared a love for white cake with whipped cream as our birthday cake of choice. Money was always tight at our house, but I remember so well the scent of Chantilly cologne & dusting powder my grandfather gave her each year on her birthday -- it seemed so elegant to me in its pink container. The scent lingers in my memory.
Her life was not easy -- she wasn't a particularly happy woman -- but she loved me intensely and showered me with care and affection. Tomorrow I will think of her on her special day and miss her and be thankful for the gift of her love. Who knows, maybe I will even make our special cake.