I got the call last Saturday morning that my 97 year old gramma Betty had a heart attack. On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, Gramma decided that it was time to leave this world. Blessedly, my mom and her siblings all got to say goodbye in person. My daughters and I said “We love you” in a Marco Polo video that my aunt played for my gramma just before she closed her eyes forever.
Last week, grief washed over me in waves. On Wednesday, I read my two little girls Miss Rumphius, and I could barely squeak out the words as I was overcome with heartache. As a little girl, I remember sitting in the middle of the couch in Gramma’s family room with three books, Miss Rumphius, Goodnight Moon, and Blueberries for Sal in my lap, and Banjo, their black lab, at my feet. Poppy would be sitting to the left of me, closest to the bay window where the sun streamed inside, reading the newspaper with his long legs crossed, and Gramma would be buzzing around the kitchen preparing dinner. Gramma always made sure that books I could read were visible on the sewing table in front of the bay window, and she knew those books were my favorite. Miss Rumphius, Goodnight Moon, and Blueberries for Sal were the first books I bought when I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, Noelle. As I read Miss Rumphius to my little girls, I imagined Gramma encouraging me to make the world more beautiful, just as little Alice Rumphius’ grandfather had told her to do, and to pass that guideline on to my girls.
For the past several years, Noelle and Gramma had corresponded through hand-written, “snail-mail” letters. I would tuck my own note inside the envelope, along with Noelle’s letter, which was essentially a pretty card on which she had practiced writing random letters, and Gramma would respond to my letter starting with “Dear Noelle.” My hand-written notes to Gramma were all written from Noelle’s perspective so that Gramma could get to know her great-grandchild, despite seeing her just once or twice a year. I looked forward to sharing with Gramma how well Noelle was doing in preschool and that her baby sister, Autumn, had taken her first steps. Then as time went on, I wrote that Noelle and Autumn were learning to swim, to which Gramma replied that she was happy they were learning so young, since she herself had only just learned in her late-eighties. I wrote to her that Noelle had started gymnastics and that she loved it, and is incredibly strong. Gramma wrote back that she used to be a gymnast too, and that she had a picture of herself (probably among other boxes of photos too high for her to reach) when she was about 10 years old, balancing on her arms, with her feet touching her head. Noelle and I read that and laughed together, trying to imagine that scene. As my aunts and uncles were cleaning out Gramma’s home, that very picture was discovered. I immediately showed it to Noelle, who broke out into a grin, and then she tried contorting herself in the same way. She can get her feet to her head, but by laying on her belly, not her forearms. “Maybe when I’m ten, I can do that too!” Noelle told me. Yesterday I received an invitation for Noelle to join the year-round pre-team program since she is showing such promise in her regular gymnastics class. I grabbed my computer and was about to proudly announce the news to Gramma, only crumpling with the realization that she wouldn’t be on the other end of that email.
I’m heavy-hearted that Autumn, my youngest, will not have the opportunity to write letters to Gramma, or really remember her in person. I’m so sorry that I won’t be able to update Gramma on Noelle’s progress with this new and exciting gymnastics adventure. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been homeschooling my girls. Since my Gramma specialized in teaching children to read, I asked her to share with me all she knew so that I could teach my girls to read. She sent me a bookmark with helpful tips and a list of the most common words children should know. I’ve started making flashcards and, incredibly, my girls are absorbing what I’m teaching them! I want to teach my girls to read and love books, just like how Gramma taught me. Most of all, I hope they somehow make the world more beautiful, like Miss Rumphius and my gramma both did, and that my girls figure out what that means for each of them.