She Lived Quietly This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 10, 2012
She was never young to me, always a frail, old woman whom I was expected to love. I respected her; she had a rich history, a full life, having lived from 90 years. She was always there in the background of my life, and here she is as I have known her: Grandmother.

Visiting Grandmother and Aunt Beth was a big event. We had to dress nicely. The long drive was boring until we hit the city. After a struggle through college traffic, we found the small, grassy triangle in front of the apartment.

The elegant brick apartment was clothed in climbing, green ivy; and the small blocks of ground with trees that sprung out of the broken pavement gave the courtyard the appearance of an over-run jungle. Four stone steps, flanked by wide handrails, brought me to a heavy outer door opening into a foyer with a mosaic floor, mailboxes and doorbells. One deep breath, a push of the bell, and Aunt Beth came hobbling toward us, smiling, key in hand. My best behavior fell over me like a protective shield as I kissed her.

I followed my brothers down the short, yellow-tinted hall through two doors (“Close them quickly, can’t let the cats out!”) into a world of purple lights, pasted-on smiles, snobby Siamese cats and stuffy rooms.

After I kissed Grandmother, my brothers and I headed for the closet. Funny, dark and gloomy as that closet was, it never scared us. We brought out the toys: a trolley with funny, orange, peg-shaped men; a seesaw and other old playthings. I might be able to coax a cat out of hiding but the poor Siamese weren’t used to rowdy kids. By now, Mom was done talking to Grandmother and had gone to help Aunt Beth in the kitchen; it was my turn to see Grandmother.

I would sit down and show her my latest stitchery project. It was she who taught me to knit, who gave me her favorite yarn – multi-colored, changing stuff – and whalebone needles. I would talk about school, the boys, Grammy Chapin and Grandmother’s life. Sometimes I would take a book from the shelf, or flip through one of her old textbooks. I always had to enunciate carefully and speak loudly. Soon after lunch, we would leave, or maybe go somewhere with Aunt Beth. It was always a relief to leave the cluttered apartment filled with the high-strung tensions between Aunt Beth and Grandmother.

Then Anna appeared in the apartment. She lived in the same building. A white-haired, slow-moving old woman with an accent and a wonderful obliviousness to the tension in the small apartment. It was Anna who took Grandmother out for her walks, and Anna who would convince Grandmother to eat when she wasn’t hungry. It was Anna who made Grandmother’s last years happier, for these were her last years.

Mom relayed the news to us: Grandmother had fallen outside the apartment and struck her head. She was in a coma and not doing well. We didn’t go see her. I didn’t want memories of her wrapped by monitors into a maze of wires, that wasn’t what Grandmother was to me. So the days ticked past. When the news came, we were expecting it. Grandmother had died in a coma, 90 years and 79 days old.

The funeral was a week later. We dressed in our best and drove to the fancy and oppressive church. I endured the obligatory kisses, then quickly followed Grammy down the aisle to a pew. Even though the church was half-empty, we all ended up sitting with Grammy and Grampy. The program read, “… in celebration of her life,” but the service was long, boring and not at all celebrational. I thought of Grandmother’s 90th birthday party that past spring. Now that had celebrated Grandmother’s life: Uncle Bill telling stories with Grandmother cutting in; Grandmother leaning over the cake and becoming young for a moment before she blew out the candles and disappeared into the smoke. I realized that was the last time I ever saw Grandmother.

My reverie ended when I rose to leave. My brothers cleaned out the refreshment tables; we said good-bye and left. I rode home, changed into jeans, washed my dress, and washed away Grandmother. She is gone; all that remains is my sewing machine, my fast-fading memories, a half-empty apartment and this memoir. Grandmother was always there; she lived quietly, she left my life quietly and completely.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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