My grandmother died three years ago this past summer. There are days where it feels like it happened just yesterday, and today is one of those days. It’s cloudy and cool with a breeze, and it’s exactly the kind of day we would go out to the Peninsula to search for treasures.
My mom’s parents lived in Erie, Pennsylvania and my brother and I would spend a week with them every summer growing up as well as alternating Thanksgivings. The 10th street house was a three-story brick house and some of my best memories are of the rooms in that house: The front hall with the doll cupboard full of dolls that I’d beg to play with. The living room with Grandma and Grandpa’s recliners each smelling like their occupants, the hard red couch which was Bratty the cat’s domain, and the thick carpet that would keep the patterns drawn by little fingers. The dining room where elbows were forbidden from the tabletop and all dinners were eaten. The tiny kitchen where breakfast was a revolving door schedule and no more than two people could fit at the table at one time. The sunroom for Grandma’s plants and solar powered windchime, and where sun-seeking lazy cat Cassie lived. The back yard with the fish pond, Grandpa’s gardens, the “Grandma Roses” that climbed the back fence, and the beagle puppies raised by the neighbors who would poke their noses through the chain link and lick my hands in greeting. The linoleum stairs down to the small bathroom that crackled when stepped on, “Alexa stop playing musical stairs and pick a direction.” The basement where battleship building central and Grandpa’s model train platform lived – as well as Tabby the tubby terrified tabby-cat who would only come to Grandma. The carpeted dual connecting staircases that led to the second floor where we’d play slinkies for hours. The sliding wooden door at the top of those stairs whose loud rattle made it impossible to sneak down at night to play with the dolls in the cabinet or the trains unsupervised. The teddy bear room with the really bouncy bed and the best positioning for hearing the trains go by at night. The ancestor room where Nana died and all the photos of family members decorated the walls. Grandma and Grandpa’s room with the waterbed, mirrored closet doors, and Grandpa’s desk. Grandma’s sewing room where the toys lived. The one upstairs bathroom for 5 bedrooms with the flowered wallpaper that was also educational (Cypripedium acaule). The too-narrow-to-play-slinkies red carpeted stairs that led to the attic, and the two attic bedrooms with three beds and all of my favorite (now out of print) children’s books where we stayed when the house was full for Thanksgiving.
On days like today when we’d visit, even in November for Thanksgiving, we would get breakfast from McDonalds and go to the peninsula for a picnic and treasure hunting: Hotcakes and sausage with orange juice and a hashbrown followed by hours of searching the shoreline for treasures. Each family member had their specific treasure. Mine was beachglass, all colors, sizes, shapes, but each piece had to be perfectly ready with no sharp edges, etched, smooth to the touch, and slippery clear when washed in the water. My brother’s were perfect skipping stones: round and flat for maximum distance. My mom favored perfectly smooth pebbles of all colors but especially white, and large hunks of beach glass. My grandmother loved all of these things and would exclaim in delight when we’d run to show her our newest discovery. It was her reaction that kept me hunting for more, always wanting to show her my newest find, whether it was my rare color beach glass, or to tell her about Sam’s perfect stone that skipped 13 times. Her reaction always made me feel as though I was giving her the best news in the world.
The last time I visited the Peninsula was when the whole family had gathered for Grandpa’s memorial. This was the first time we’d all been together in the same place for years, and it was also when we decided to finally spread Grandma’s ashes. It was a day like today; cold, windy, cloudy, but clear. We piled into cars, my parents, brother, aunts, uncle, cousins, and my husband, and set off down the familiar roads stopping at all the important places. I don’t think I have words to tell you about the emotions and meaning behind each person’s goodbye, but I know that she would have understood the reasoning behind all of them perfectly.
I really miss her today, and I wish I could tell her. I’d like to tell her about everything and I can’t. Instead I’ll re-read the letters she sent me, wear the friendship bracelet I made her when I was little that she kept until the end, remember the 10th Street House, drink coffee from my Campbell Pottery mug that we bought together, and walk the neighborhood looking for inland treasures like leaves and interesting bugs. And always, this will be my favorite kind of weather.