She sits in her bright purple recliner surrounded by framed pictures of my great grandfather, my grandpa, my mother as a little girl, and recent school pictures of my brothers and I. With white curly hair, purple nails, red lipstick, big clip-on earrings, and a friendly smile, my great grandma, Lois, will always ask me how school is going. I reply with my usual response that things were going well. She always smiles and hangs on every word of mine for details about the lives of her family that she doesn’t see often.
I sometimes feel sorry for my great grandmother. She lives in a small apartment at a nursing home in Burlington. She has met friendly acquaintances in her new home and talks to my grandpa every night, but I can’t help but feel like she is alone. She has suffered a great loss in her life and her blank eyes and silence seem to voice her hurt. Four years ago, my great grandfather passed away on their sixty-third wedding anniversary. He was sick for a long time and she nursed and loved him to the end.
Last year, she lost her home to the devastating storm, Irene. When my mother and I helped her sift through her possessions and old pictures, stories of her life poured forth. She had spent sixty years living on the same street in Waterbury, Vermont. As she relived the wonderful life she had there, she had to also prepare herself to take a lifetime of memories and possessions and somehow compact them into a one room apartment thirty miles away. I admire her for her strength. That day could have been crushing to her soul, and yet she kept going back to telling us how blessed and fortunate she is to have lived such a wonderful life.
Every time I visit my great grandmother in her new apartment she tells me the story of how she and my great grandfather met. Although I know the story by heart, I allow her to tell it over and over again because it is a story that has such a strong effect. She says, “He was a senior and I was a freshman. Kenneth played baseball and he was a very handsome pitcher. He was very quiet and didn’t date much, but all of the girls had a crush on him. One day, I went to one of the ball games with some of my girlfriends and he suddenly stopped pitching during his warm up. He walked over to the bleachers, took the yellow bow that I had in my hair, smiled, and then put it into his pocket. He certainly got my attention.” I could tell that this story took her back because she would say it with a smile that seemed much younger than her eighty-seven years.
When she talks of these memories, her eyes brighten up and her smile doesn’t leave her face. I envy her happiness and deep love that she still has for my great grandfather. I feel very blessed to have my great grandmother and have her tell me, in her own words, the story of my family’s beginning. It is very comforting to know that my grandmother is happy because she is content with that way that her life has turned out and that she is not alone. In the end, I wonder if it is possible for me to ever be as fortunate as her.