When was the last time someone spontaneously clapped when you walked in the room?
I honestly can't think of a time it's ever happened to me (except when introduced at a show I was playing.)
That is, until recently.
The last few times I've gone to Mandy's house my oldest granddaughter claps when she sees me. A big, wondrous smile spreads across her face and she bangs her hands together as she's walking toward me. I guess you already suspect that I'm going to say that there are no words to express the joy that brings, and you're right. Trite as it may seem, I can't wrap language around the sheer delight I feel when that little termite is happy to see me!. And I got to thinking today: isn't that what we all long for - someone who lights up at the very sight of us? Don't we all want to be that "special someone" - whether it be a romantic relationship, a cherished friendship, or - in this case - the love between a granddaughter and her grandmother?
My maternal grandmother would've been 100 last year. She died in 1995 and I always feared that when she left she'd take a part of me with her. And she did. Mimi was someone that I knew ALWAYS loved me, ALWAYS believed in me, and I am sure, if it had come down to it, she would've given her life for me. She offered a depth of unconditional love I have never since known, even though I know I am deeply loved. I remember going over to her house and playing dress up with all of her costume jewelry and hats, and of course that old mink stole. She lived in an apartment complex on North Loop, and the great majority of them housed retired folks or senior citizens. Usually when I'd visit we'd go swimming in the pool - she in her white bathing cap covered in floppity flowers, and me, a waterlogged prune who dragged her feet when it was time to get out. But I always knew that getting out around dinnertime meant that we were going to walk over to Luby's, and she always let me get Jello even though I rarely finished it. She'd chastise me for wasting perfectly good food and would also remind me she paid good money for it. But the next time I'd promise to eat it all and then inevitably left some of it on my tray. We did this dance for years. Bright yellow cubes of Jello just looked so enticing, so HAPPY, so full of promise; but they never quite delivered what I was longing for. I've discovered that there are a lot of things in life like that.
But Mimi delivered - even when she probably shouldn't have. She brought things to school that I had forgotten, she drove me to piano lessons, she took me shopping (which I'm certain was a nightmare for her) and she made me open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches on really thin bread. She'd slather mayonnaise all over the melted cheese (could that have been a factor in my chubbiness?) and and then put a big slice of tomato on top, peeled tomato, mind you. Then she'd put it on a white Corelle plate with a radish, a few celery sticks, a pickle or two, and a little bag of Fritos. She'd pop the top off of one of those little glass bottles of ice cold coke and my meal was complete. MORE than complete. I absolutely loved that lunchtime combination, and to this day I sometimes recreate it just to remember her.
I have so many fond memories of my grandmother, though there are a few bad ones. When I was about eight years old I thought it would be funny to sneak into her car and turn everything on so that when she started the car the radio would blare, the blinker would click, and the A/C would blast her. I hid and watched as she got into her car and it startled her so badly she just laid her head down on the steering wheel and cried. A chasm opened up and swallowed me - I was in anguish that I had caused her to cry. And to this day I'm not sure I've fully forgiven myself for it, even though I had no idea that it would harm her in any way. Of course today I understand how stressful life can be and how little kids have no idea how hard the grown-ups are working to keep things afloat.
And keep things afloat, she did. I am still stunned to know that when she gave birth to her first child at 18, she was alone. And the baby died. How does one recover from that? She endured being married to a violent alcoholic (two times to the same man!) and went on to give birth to two beautiful, strong women, one of which is my mother. Mimi's indomitable spirit has been passed down to her, and my mom has passed it on to me. Sometimes I look at my daughters and see the faces of the incredible women who came before us, and I am so incredibly grateful to be in the mix.
I like to imagine that someday when I leave this earth I'll walk through a door in the distance, and there will be Mimi, clapping.