My Mamama lived in a brick condo building on Queen Anne Hill. You’d drive down a little driveway, behind the building facing the street and there was a car port. Her condo was upstairs. I feel like if I close my eyes and stay super quiet, find that place in the back of my brain, I can find the smell of her home. The only home I knew her to have before she was dying and moved closer to our house.
Her bed was big, fluffy and cozy. She would always stretch before she left that cozy bed because “that’s what you do when you get old like me” she’d say.
I remember books, stacks of things in her extra bedroom. Nothing perfect, or too organized. Never messy by a kids standards though. I do imagine that’s one reason why she loved having us there. Adult friends probably judge too much, and want things to be “just so”. I look forward to grandkids who will remember me by my not so perfect house. Every little pile was a little bit of a treasure chest. I don’t remember what was intermixed in that stuff. But I do know I’d ask her about this, about that, and she’d answer. I hope it made her feel more special about her piles of things. Nothing sticks out as exciting, but the memory of just seeing it all must mean something.
She had an 8 track player out in her living room, and I’d always put in her Roger Williams cassette and listen to King of the Road. Over and over and over…
There was a huge “picture window” that looked out east from Queen Anne onto Lake Union and the traffic on I-5. We’d sit on her couch at nights when I couldn’t sleep and watch the lights, the traffic…people coming and going from wherever people came from and went to in the 1970’s Seattle.
There was tea in her cupboard and orange marmalade jam for our toast. She would pour tea and we’d sip it together and she would treat me just like a grown up and listen to my endless stories. At Christmas season we’d sit at her dining room table and create beautiful ornaments that hang still on my mothers tree. She pretended mine were as pretty as hers.
We would visit her on Orcas Island, where she spent her summers. She had Nutter Butters, Fresca and energy for unending walks. She let me fall in love with Orcas.
She would lie in my bed and read me books when I was supposed to take a nap. She read me Curious George, and told me I was just like George…curious. She’d tell me that’s why I had so many questions (and she was probably thinking “and why you never sit still”). We’d stare up at the cloud pillow with rainbow ribbons hanging from my ceiling, that I’m pretty sure her sister made for me, and she’d tell me stories. I imagine half the time I’d relax enough to fall asleep, which was amazing for a kid like me, who saw no need for rest.
All of the blankets me, my sisters and brother, had on our beds were made by her. Mine was pastelish colors. I loved it, which is amazing, because I didn’t like pinks, or oranges, or yellows…I liked soccer, football, baseball and anything not girlish. She would probably have loved it to know that I had learned to sew, learned to play the piano, learned to be crafty. But I didn’t learn any of that, and I know she’d also love that too, because she wanted all of her grandkids to just be themselves.
I remember her taking me to Nordstrom for school shoes, but I don’t remember the shoes. I just remember the going. I can also walk into the downtown Seattle Macy’s (then Bon Marche) and feel almost feel a swoosh of air like I’m about ready to go back in time, walking hand in hand with her through that grand main floor (shoes were from Nordstrom, but the day lingered into wandering downtown).
I remembering gardening outside her garden. She held her hands in mine and said “Look at that, you have hands like mine. There is nothing wrong with dirty fingernails. If your hands are too clean, it means you’re not working hard enough”. For a long time, I thought she said our hands were alike, because we both had dirty gardening fingernails. As I get older, and look at my hands, the little age spots, the bluish veins, the increasing lines…I know she was comparing our hands, the long fingers, the shape. I wonder if she was hoping that long after she was gone, I would look at my hands and remember hers. And I do. My mom has them, and my older sister has them. We all love them and we all remember hers.
She taught me to walk along beach logs without touching sand. She taught me to be patient while beach combing to find agates. She taught me to use a typewriter, and those little white strips to correct mistakes.
I learned to be attentive and kind visiting her friends and listening to other people’s stories. That even the lady who fell asleep, right at her kitchen table, while we were visiting is worth being listened to. “She has narcolepsy…it means you can’t help but fall asleep”. A few years ago, I was asking my mom about the lady with narcolepsy who lived down the street from Mamama and would fall asleep. I found out she had a drinking problem. So, even long after you are gone, Mamama, I am still learning from you. Learning, that you still visit people, even with drinking problems. And that telling a little white lie to an 8-year-old about narcolepsy is just fine.
She made me milk toast when I was sick. She was 71 when she died of cancer. Milk toast can’t fix sucky cancer.
Some called her Lilian, some called her Lil. My mom called her mom…but we grandkids had the best name to call her. Mamama. She died before I was able to have long lingering conversations with her about life in-depth. I was 12 when she died, 7th grade. But her life didn’t stay stuck for me in my 12-year-old memories. It has grown up with me, so I can imagine things she’d say, advice she’d give.
Somehow, Mamama, you remind me to not work so hard at trying to live other people’s lives, that I almost miss out on living my own.
Happy 101st Birthday. I love you.