When you leave your childhood home, no matter how far and wide you roam, you leave many things behind, but some you carry with you forever.
For me, Grandma-Next-Door is one of those things.
Grandma-Next-Door lived beside my family and me ever since I could remember. She lived in what I thought was the coziest house with the loveliest garden in the world. And ever since I could remember, she was my Grandma. And even though I already had two grandmothers, my childhood brain never stopped to do the math and my childhood heart never knew why it should.
How many days, too many to count, did I ring her bell to find her in her lounge chair, cigarette in hand and a stack of saltine crackers by her side?
“Can we go visit your garden?” I would ask. And she would always respond, “Sure,” stub out her cigarette, lift herself from the chair and tell me to fetch her shoes.
I would hold her arm as we descended the five wooden stairs to the backyard and did not let it go during the thirty some steps more to that magical place tucked under the pines.
In spring when the daffodils rose from their frost beddings, I helped Grandma-Next-Door unveil her ceramic frogs, dwarfs and Snow White. Together we would rouse them from their winter slumber in the cellar, carry them outside, clean them and place them– stepping oh so carefully amongst the plants – back into their summer dwellings.
“But I think last year, we placed Dopey over here,” I would say.
“Well, then, that’s where Dopey needs to go,” Grandma-Next-Door would respond.
In summer we went fern hunting in the Shades. And the annual outing was particularly successful if we sighted a Jack in the Pulpit. I don’t know why. I just loved those plants.
And when the trillium blanketed the woods, we’d take a trip to pick those too — a bouquet for Grandma-Next-Door and another for my mom. And as the years passed, and Grandma-Next-Door’s legs could no longer carry her to the Shades, I gathered the trillium alone. I’d return from my outing to find Grandma-Next-Door waiting for me with some freshly cooked Louisiana Put-Together, my favorite, and together we would dine on her front porch, her on the chair and I on the swing, and there we would chat until my parents returned from work and it was time to head home.
When I returned home at age 17, after being abroad for a year, Grandma-Next-Door had an American flag extended from her porch in my honor. And though my life path then led me far away from our neighborhood in PA, anytime I returned back home, as soon as my father stopped the car and before I removed the suitcase from the trunk, I always went straight over to see her.
When Grandma-Next-Door passed, I was no longer living at home. I had been gone many years and my parents called me with the news. I was surprised to learn she had a nephew. But he didn’t seem too interested in coming for her funeral. Grandma-Next-Door had her house and garden but not too much else. Or so he thought. But I found many treasures – her marriage certificate, her rosary, photos of her and her husband, and neatly tucked away in her bedroom dresser, all the photos, postcards, and letters I had sent her throughout the years.
And in her night stand drawer I found a journal. Filled with pages of poems written by a woman that I obviously never completely knew. I thought of her husband, who had passed long before I was born. I thought of her living alone so many years in her cozy house with the magical garden and I missed her.
A Poem from Grandma Next Door’s Journal:
My Dream was Real
Come, kill my love, but
let illusion live.
Do not destroy yourself as I
For if I dreamed too deep, if I
Sum of all things the heart can
ask or give,
If I declared you constant,
though you roved,
Kind, though you hurt me,
Certain, though you faltered
Say not that I was wrong, but
that you altered.
Do not deny that image I so
While I could trust, I
mirrored each for each
A truer lie than ever truth could be
My faith made real each unreality
My heart found heights no
grounded feet could reach
Then do not judge me
blinded or deceived,
But swear my dream was real,
while I believed.