Grandma Doss, as usual, said she didn’t need any gifts for her birthday. But this was her 80th and we wanted to do something special for her. I knew she didn’t need any more “stuff”, but wanted to some way thank her for all she meant to us growing up.
As I reminisced about growing up with Grandma living right in our house, I started thinking about all the things we went over to “Grandma’s Place” for. My father had built our house when I was five years old and when we moved in, so did Grandma. She lived in the apartment over the garage. To get to her house from ours, we simply went through a door across from the first floor bathroom—and that door was never locked. Behind that door, we could have whatever we wanted. We rarely knocked. We walked in quietly, asked her politely, and she told us where to get whatever it was we needed—unless we weren’t tall enough to reach it, in which case she got up from her well-worn spot on the end of her couch to fetch it for us.
Permission was always granted easily, but we knew to ask for it anyway. Grandma’s voice, made gravelly by years of cigarette smoking, was still soft and sweet as she always responded to our requests with, “Of course you can. You know you don’t have to ask.” But we knew we did.
If I needed loose leaf paper upon which to do my homework, I knew exactly where to get it. In her dark, carpeted bedroom I opened the left side door of the secretary and reached up to take my sheets off the first shelf. If Mom was out of Q-tips, or band-aids, Grandma always had a ready supply in her hall closet. If our family stapler was MIA, we could always borrow Grandma’s, but only after assuring her we’d return it. We knew if we didn’t, she would come hunt us down for it within the next hour.
I decided to make a list of all the items I wanted to thank Grandma for giving to me and letting me borrow in my times of need over the years. I then e-mailed my four siblings and asked them to send me a list of all the things they wanted to thank Grandma for. I was delighted to read the responses and learned of the individual things Grandma did for each of us. She was my sister Meg’s alarm clock. Every morning, at that agreed upon time, Grandma would walk over to our side of the house and in a loud whisper call up the stairs to see if Margaret was awake. Meg was also was the recipient of homemade school lunches that were the envy of all her friends. Each school night Grandma would ask Meg what she wanted for lunch. The next morning, by the time Meg came down the stairs, her lunch was sitting in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter. If it was peanut butter and jelly, Grandma put peanut butter on both slices of bread so the jelly wouldn’t seep through by lunch time. Grandma’s sandwiches were so picture perfect that Margaret always had offers from her classmates to buy them, but she never sold them—they were priceless.
I compiled the list, typed it up, and printed it out on a purple bordered sheet of paper. I titled it “Thank you for…” and then listed all the things my siblings and I had remembered from the course of our childhoods. I then framed it and wrapped it. Grandma loved it and it was passed around to everyone at her party. After that, it took up a place of honor on the window sill of her large bay window in front of all her plants.
When Grandma died a few years later, Dad took the list and had a bronze replica made of it, which now graces the back of Grandma’s tombstone.
My brother eventually moved into the apartment over the garage, turning it into his bachelor pad but still keeping that framed list on the sill of the bay window.
After my brother bought a house and moved out, Meg moved into the apartment. When I go home to visit and find, when cooking, that Mom is out of a certain spice, I head over to Meg’s Place. The tradition is carried on.
Meg now shares the apartment with her fiancé , who, next Saturday, will become her husband:)