We got the call this morning that Grandma Jo left this world. I can just see her, sitting at the breakfast table, looking at another breakfast of rubbery pancakes and limp bacon or lumpy, lukewarm oatmeal ~ remembering the wonderful meals she used to cook for her family and loved ones ~ and deciding that enough was enough. I am told she laid her head down on the table and just.... died.
Grandma Jo was the mother of two of my Dad's best friends and hunting buddies. Even though no blood bound us, she really loved Bro and I. Not the fake kind of affection some folks have for kids. She loved us from way down deep, and her eyes lit up with it when we came tumbling into her house full of hugs and stories and excitement over seeing her. She was always interested in what we had to say, and proud of our accomplishments. I don't ever remember her being impatient or angry, though I'm sure she sometimes was. I just remember great big hugs, the kind that envelope you and surround you with love and a feeling of safe. I remember big smiles, and laughter, and walks by the lake.
Grandma Jo taught me that different birds liked different foods, and different types of feeders. She taught me that good food was an art that came from the heart. She taught me that family wasn't always about blood relationship, but about love.
She was short, and plump, with long dark hair that was always bound up in a bun or braid. I remember seeing her with her hair down one time. I averted my eyes, feeling as if I had somehow seen her naked.
The driveway to their little house on the lake wound down a hill, through trees that seemed a vast forest to me. I remember feeling as if I was entering a magical land when we turned down that drive. Beyond the trees was a shining place, where Bro and I could fish off the pontoon or dock, or watch birds by the hour out the window, or sit at the kitchen table and watch as Jo stirred thickly bubbling pasta sauce and talk about all the important things in a child's life. The little house was it's own little world, where doilies rested on arms and backs of chairs, and stuffed fish lived on the walls. The patio doors looked out to the lake, and we could watch the day go by in a bubble of peace.
She wore bright, muumuu~like tops, and I had never seen anyone wear anything like them. I was sure they were made only for special women like her (maybe hand-made by magical elven folks in that far off land of Italy), and loved the bold flowers and birds that danced on the flowing fabric. I was a fanciful child, what can I say?
I remember staring in awe (and truthfully, a little fear) when she would scold my Uncle Wire or Uncle Arn, using their full name, and actually make them hang their heads and apologize. That such a small woman could hold such power was astonishing! My Uncles are/were tough guys, and Grandma Jo was so.... sweet... and cuddly. And the time when an unfortunate word choice made by Uncle Wire and then repeated by me actually caused her to hit him, and he took it... well, Grandma Jo's reputation reached epic proportions with that.
I can't talk about Grandma Jo without talking about the food. The glorious, amazing food. Oh, could Grandma Jo cook! Pheasant, and goose, and grouse, and duck.... and the pasta! Grandma Jo specialised in Italian cooking (being Italian might have had something to do with that). I remember her letting me "help" her in the kitchen. She patiently explained that 'Mostaccioli' meant 'little moustache', and held the dry little noodle up to her face, making me laugh at the sight of her with her own moustache. I remember the scents of her cooking, and the thickly bubbling pot of sauce she had been working on all day. I remember trips to the grocer to get the "special" olive oil that she used. I remember helping with the stuffing of shells and other pastas with rich, cheesy filling. I remember Pumpernickel bread sopping up the sauce on my plate. I remember eating myself sick too many times to count, and then laying on her couch and crying because my little tummy was distended and hurt. But it never hurt enough for me to resist gorging again the next time I visited!
The down side of loving folks is that they all leave. Some how, some way, some time, they all have to move out of your life and on to whatever comes next. But the up side... the up side is the love. The experience. And the memories. My memories of Grandma Jo and Grandpa Dale are shining golden jewels from my childhood, tucked away in my mind and heart forever.
So goodbye, Grandma Jo. I love you. Say hello to Grandpa Dale and Uncle Arn for me. Tell them I miss them, as much as I will miss you.....