Remembering Grandma

Catholic Schools Week is January 29 – February 5, 2012. My granddaughter, Chandler, a junior at Garces Memorial High School, invited me to attend the Grandparents’ Mass, one of the events planned at Garces for the Catholic Schools Week celebration.I was happy to be invited. The service was lovely and I enjoyed sharing the experience with Chandler. At the conclusion of the service, Michelle Jackman, Dean of Students, thanked grandparents for attending, adding how fortunate kids are to have so many grandparents present. She went on to say she had fond memories of her grandmother. “Somehow,” she said, “the Cokes were never as cold or the bologna sandwiches never as good as they were at my grandma’s.”

I know how she feels. I am fortunate to have fond memories of my grandma, too. My sister, brother, and I spent a lot of time with Grandma making unforgettable memories. She baked oatmeal cookies. And her specialty, spice cookies. Nobody else made spice cookies. If they tried, they were never as good as Grandma’s. Her technique, along with the recipe that she kept in her head, went to the grave with her.

And pasties. Grandma made Cornish pasties filled with meat and potato wrapped in an out of this world flaky crust. She made trays of them and the whole family came for dinner.

Grandma fixed Sunday dinner. Every Sunday morning, she set her dining room table. She never knew who would be there, yet every seat at the table was taken. “Grandma’s Sunday dinners were an act of faith,” Mom said.

Grandma and Unkie (my dad’s oldest brother) gave me a radio for my seventh birthday. It think it was an Arvin radio. It had a red metal case with a cream colored dial. There was an antenna wire that hung from its back. When I held the wire between my fingers the sound and reception was clearer. I put the radio on a table next to my bed. There were lots of radio shows I listened to: Our Miss Brooks, Big John and Sparky, Let’s Pretend, and shows I don’t remember the names of: like the detective who reminded his sidekick, “Keep your eyes peeled.” I didn’t understand what that meant and it sounded silly, if not painful. When I was older—eleven or twelve—I began listening to Lucky Lager Dance Time, a program that played the latest popular music. It aired at 10:00 p.m., so I had to keep the volume low and the radio next to my head so my parents wouldn’t know I had the radio on that late.

For my tenth birthday, Grandma gave me a copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy. The book has beautiful color plates and pen and ink drawings by Reginald Birch.

Grandma died six days before my fourteenth birthday. We went to Auntie Beth’s house after the funeral. Auntie Beth handed me a five dollar bill. “This is for you,” she said. “Before Mom died, she said ‘Give ‘Dennis five dollars for his birthday.'”

Grandma thought boys should know how to sew on a button and how to cook. She always had scraps of fabric, buttons, needles, and thread and would let me sew buttons on pieces of fabric. She taught me how to crochet. And, she taught me how to cook, often letting me have her kitchen to myself. Once, I bought a Butterfinger candy bar and discovered a recipe for Butterfinger cookies on the wrapper. I showed it to Grandma.

“Next time we go up the street,” she said, “we’ll stop at Rata Brothers and pick up the things you need to make those cookies.” “Rata Brothers” was Arata Brothers Market, but to Grandma it was “Rata.” She often left the first syllable off of a name and some times she would drop the last syllable.

Grandma lived in the Oak Park section of Sacramento, and “going up the street” meant walking up 35th Street, Oak Park’s main street. Going up the street was an event because Grandma knew everyone on both sides of the street. All of the shopkeepers knew Grandma, too. At one time or another, she lived on just about every street in Oak Park. For a time, she lived at the Oak Park Hotel. Auntie Vera and she had a room with a bathroom but no kitchen. They ate in the hotel dining room. Usually, Grandma lived in an apartment.

In the 60s, there were race riots in Oak Park. I remember seeing the television news pictures of burning buildings on 35thStreet. “Grandma would be so upset to know that Oak Park is not the friendly place she loved,” Mom said. Today, apartments line both sides of the 2900 block of 35th Street. There are no shops.

Grandma didn’t have a lot, but she gave me a lot: the gifts of her time, her attention, and, most of all, her love, gifts that created the unforgettable and “nonesuch” memories of childhood.

I think Michelle Jackman is right: Somehow nothing is ever as good as when Grandma did it.

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