Growing up my I thought of my grandmother as grouchy and unpleasant. I never looked forward to visiting her and she, in turn, seemed annoyed at having grandchildren around. Her house was full of lovely, breakable things she had collected on her travels around the world - things we were not allowed to touch. We were instructed to sit still and quietly on her sofa while the Lawrence Welk show played on her television. I was bored and miserable.
It wasn’t until I was a freshman in college that I began to get to know her as a person. I was driving up to Kansas City for my cousin’s graduation and I was told I had to give Grandmother a ride up there. I drove a convertible, and I had been looking forward to putting the top down and enjoying the sun, wind, and loud music during the eight hour drive. I was sure my grumpy Grandmother would ruin my fun and complain the entire time. I was dreading the trip.
I went to pick her up and she shocked me by happily agreeing to have the top down as we drove. She continued to amaze me by regaling me with both beautiful and heart-wrenching tales of her travels and her life, sharing her sorrows and her joys. It is the first time I remember my grandmother laughing or even smiling, though she must have smiled sometimes during my childhood. She wept as she recounted the tragedies that she had endured, and she opened her heart. It was such a strange and sudden transformation to me, since I barely remember her even speaking to me before this car trip. I suppose she was just not a "kid person," but now that I was entering adulthood, it was like seeing the real her for the first time. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
My grandmother had grown up with German immigrant parents, married my grandfather, who was in the service, and they lived for a time in Germany on a U.S. base. They had five children, the middle of whom was my mischievous father. My grandmother traveled widely, studied fashion design in India, and taught home economics at Baylor University and at Texas Christian University. She took her classes on field trips to visit fashion houses and chefs around Europe. She worked industriously at many interesting and uninteresting jobs to realize her desire to travel, from selling blenders to writing sewing patterns for Butterick to helping with the census. She sailed over the Atlantic numerous times, sometimes first class on fancy ships, sometimes in tiny barebones cabins on freighters.
Over the next several years I was blessed to get to know my grandmother as a person. She gave me cooking lessons and taught me how to pack a suitcase properly. She came to visit me when I was studying in Rome and charmed my fellow students. We drove up to Milan together for our second road trip, enjoying Tuscany along the way. When I was living in Russia she took a river cruise through Russia and met me in St. Petersburg. I went to collect her from her ship and the purser took me aside to tell me what a delight Grandmother had been to all of the passengers and how positive she remained in the face of her health issues. She had horrible knee problems, which greatly frustrated her plans, but she did not let them stop her. She struggled with her body aging, and she once said to me through her tears, “Inside, I am still young and ready to see the world, but this body just keeps getting in the way.” But she persevered until her body did finally give out.
I am sad that she never got to meet my husband - whom she would have loved. I miss her and think of her often. I love that I now have some of the beautiful things she collected, and I still wear some of the opulent silk saris she wore in India and the gorgeous dresses she made. Somehow, some of them even retain her scent.
She loved exploring all cultures, as I do, and I am so thankful we got to walk down Nevsky Prospect and take in the Italian countryside together before she died. She would have loved my study of the traditional arts, and she probably would have joined me for a class at the Prince’s school in London.
I inherited her irritability, impatience, and anxiety, but I also inherited her love of beauty, passion for adventure, and determination to achieve my goals. We really connected, not only because of our similarities, but because she bared her soul in that vulnerable way that paves the way for connectedness. She had a wonderful influence on my life, and I am so blessed to have benefited from her wisdom and her wonder. I hope that I will be such a blessing and an inspiration to someone in my turn.
“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom. Think of love as a state of grace, not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself.” ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez , Love in the Time of Cholera