Vase of Irises, c.1890 By Vincent van Gogh
Recently, for personal reasons, I have been digging through the memory archives in search of some understanding of my formative experiences, and the search brought me upon a written recollection of my experiences of my maternal grandmother. Many of my memories of visits with her are shared by my siblings, but in this instance, I was describing them to someone who did not share those memories. In many families, the figure of the grandparent is not viewed as particularly important or relevant, for a number of reasons, but growing up in my family, our grandparents were revered and cherished.
As I look back over the years, and consider the many times we visited in my early childhood, I recall many moments of simple pleasures at her side, and remember well the feeling of wonder and awe I felt as one of a handful of grandchildren sharing those visits on many lazy summer afternoons. In those days, our lives were relatively carefree, and life seemed joyful whenever we arrived at her doorstep. Many such afternoons were spent in her yard, playing ball or a game of hide and seek, and as the day approached night, one of us would periodically go inside, travel down the long hallway with the rubber mats, and stand outside of the kitchen, in order to find out which heavenly aroma was detected for the evening meal. No matter how hard we played, or how involved we were in our games, the sound of her call to dinner was always the stronger.
Artist: Hugues Merle
While my parents would go visiting other relatives in the evening, we would sit on the floor around her favorite chair, while she held us in rapt attention, telling stories of my grandfather who, in his youth and through the years he lived, worked as a railroad laborer, coupling and uncoupling the cars, repairing this or that broken piece, somehow saving the day or keeping the train on time. We never seemed to tire of her recollections from those days, and she was always patient with our child-like questions, which would cross over into stories of her own youth at times.
The image above was taken when my grandparents were engaged to be married in the early 1900’s, looking impossibly young, and existing in an era I could not even imagine when I knew her. She was always an elderly woman in my memory, and discovering the photo years after she was gone was startling. I never imagined her so young or so distant in the past.
How many mornings I remember waking to her gentle nudge, sipping on orange juice which each of us would always receive in our favorite glass. How often we would play out on her “sun porch” on the side of the house, next to the old fashioned sewing machine that was powered by a large metal foot rest which turned the spindle when you rocked it back and forth. If we were visiting on a Sunday, we all would be gathered up and brought to church where she played the pipe organ for more than fifty years. She would often sing the hymns alone, if there was no one else available. At home, we would sit around her grand piano while she played for us the songs we came to love so well.
Jacobus Vrel’s Woman at a Window
How clear in my mind, the tearful goodbye’s that she somehow made alright, and the memory we all have of her solitary hand, waving from the kitchen window as we sped away, waving until we were far out of sight.
In her final days, as I sat by her bedside, she was still completely with us, and I was able to tell her all these things as a grown man. The very last time we spoke, I held her face in my hands and told her I loved her.