July 1923 . . . June 2012
She lay in bed. Still. Quiet.
Swaddled like a baby in her favorite brown blanket, her 85 pound body seemed to be protected from the room’s chill. The morning sun had not yet favored her bedroom with its warming rays.
She is at peace. Of that I am sure. In the fifty years of our acquaintance I’d only known peace from my mother-in-law. This was a different brand of peace – one I’d hoped was further off in our future. But death comes in its own time. And we, its witnesses, are slave to its inevitability.
Mama’d been sick, of course. No one gets to age 88 without some kind of ailment. Over the years she developed diabetes, arthritis, breast cancer, a weakening heart.
Her slight weight? As long as I’d known her she weighed less than 100 pounds. Food held little interest for Mama, though baking was her sport. She loved to bake, a skill she learned to perfection from her mother and aunts. Family favorites included melt in your mouth peanut butter cookies, sumptuous apple pie, buttery pound cake. She always had a yummy home-made treat tucked away.
The first time she and I met, the family lived in a two bedroom apartment. She was standing at the kitchen table mixing oatmeal cookie dough. Even at the age of 15 I was impressed by how efficiently she used the minuscule space to work her magic.
She liked me. I liked her.
The next time we met she lived in a 1,500 square foot house.
The kitchen was her domain. Though never much of an eater, she spent the majority of her time at her butcher-board kitchen table paying bills, reading romance novels (usually by Nora Roberts), searching women’s magazines for new recipes, and in later years, watching soap operas on a 12″ television set.
The high school I attended was a few blocks from their house. After school I’d go there to meet my boyfriend to catch a ride home.
She’d welcome me at the back door. I’d spread out my books to start homework while she puttered around the kitchen. Or we’d watch Dark Shadows, a popular vampire-themed soap opera of the day. Back then I was just a visitor yet she always made me feel like family.
After high school graduation, her son and I got married. We had a place of our own. In the arrogance of youth, I seldom visited – too busy shopping or lunching with friends.
A few years passed. Our first baby, her first grandchild, was born.
Like a crazed woman I frantically searched for a baby sitter before I returned to work. In the midst of my madness my husband picked up our baby girl, delivered her to his mother and announced she would be taking care of the baby. While I felt the act was an imposition to her, when I stopped by to pick up the baby . . . all clean and beautiful, in the arms of her grandmother sitting at that familiar kitchen table, I knew he was right and nothing more was ever said.
A few years later baby number two came along. I quit work to raise the girls, but, over the years they spent a significant amount of time at grandma’s table reading stories and watching grandma bake.
Although we never celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving or Christmas in her house – she didn’t enjoy cooking large meals – we always felt the love, especially in grandma’s kitchen.
Mama passed away a week ago.
Today I stood at her table helping to organize her mail. A flood of memories assailed me. I was again that teenager meeting my future mother-in-law for the first time. I was the young mother waiting for my girls to finish eating their graham crackers at grandma’s table. I envisioned her talking on the kitchen phone to her sisters endlessly discussing the plot to All My Children. I remembered her hands too arthritic to bake anymore. Recalled the accumulation of pill bottles whose circular mass seemed to dominate more space on the kitchen table with every passing year. Finally last week, I was sitting at her table arranging for her body to be moved from her bedroom to the mortuary.
Steve Nash once said, “The measure of a person’s life is the affect they have on others.” In her quiet way Mama left her family with an abundance of love, she inspired us to put family first, and modeled for us the importance of bringing peacefulness into our lives everyday.
We’ll miss you, Mama, but we know you’ve been reunited with Papa and only with him are you complete and at total peace once again.