I loved my Grandmother. Everyone did. You could see it on their faces when she would walk into town. She would greet each everyone, their names rolling off her tongue at will, and they would bask in her attention. And even though my little eight-year-old self had been just one of many devotees of her radiance, she always made me feel special. My parents lives were a constant flurry of frantic and anxious activity. My home had always felt empty even when they were there. Accounted for but not present. My Grandmother and her comforting home were like another world to me.
She had taken me twice a week for many years, having my grandfather pick me up from school and then return me home after dinner each Tuesday and Thursday without fail. Her house was so warm. She was warm.
Arriving, I would drop my bookbag, remove my jacket, and inhale the incredible aroma that constantly permeated her little haven. I absolutely adored her homemade beef stew, and she was kind enough to have it ready for me each time I saw her. I still remember that luscious aroma. That olfactory memory dancing through the deep parts of my mind. And to this day I cannot recreate the complexity of flavor she achieved with those simple ingeredients.
Grandma was never very strict. She generally allowed any activity that would put a smile on my face. She did however have one routine that I was bound to obey while in her care. It sat on the top shelf of the hutch in her dining room. It wasn’t so much a plate, as it was a shallow bowl. But it was hers and hers alone. Grandma’s special plate, gilt in gold and boisterous in its antiquity. Grandpa and I were served on fine china at the table, but Grandma always ate her stew from her special plate.
Ten years ago, when grandpa passed, I knew that she was soon to follow. I wish that I had made more of an effort. I wish that I had called her more often, or even better, taken time away from my sensational life as a part time electrician to actually visit. In fact, I had been busy putting the final touches on destroying anything good that had remained in my life over the past two years. Each night that I chose the bottle. Each day swimming in anger and bile. Each time I chose seclusion over connection. When I received the call that I had lost her, I mourned the opportunity to know her better as an adult, and struggled with the loss deeply. She was the one person who I would have been incapable of pushing away.
When her estate lawyer contact me to let me know that I was the single beneficiary of her small remote estate, hope began to mix and swim with my sadness. I have worked for almost thirty years to get to where I am. The point where, I actually have this month’s rent in hand and I have kept my internet from being disconnected for three consecutive months. Inheriting a home is a game changer for me. And moreso, I was relieved to hear that her remains and service had already been dealt with by the local funeral home, leaving me no further financial responsibility. The last thing I wanted was to fail her in death due to my lack of funds.
Having decided to move in and renovate the house, leaving my entire lack of close friends behind, I arrived with my car overburdened with bags and boxes, familiar memories filling my heart.
The home felt nothing like what I remembered. The gathering snow storm had turned the skies into thick blankets of chilling grey frost. The stones leading to the entrance were black upturned shards threatening injury with each step. The frozen grass creaked and snapped beneath my boots. When I opened the door I was met, not with the mouth watering heat and aroma of her kitchen, but stale dead air.
After turning up the heat and illuminating the house as best I could, I toured each room swimming in memory. Sitting at her table and being taught to play scrabble. Drawing while she watched the activity on the street from her rocking chair. Being held in her arms when my friend Katy Robeson disappeared and I truly began to understand death. I could smell her in the house. I could almost see her in the mirror that she would check herself in before leaving. I uncomfortably sat upon the bed that had cradled her stout form for decades previous. I opened cabinet after cabinet in her kitchen marveling at the uniformity and simplicity their contents.
I was thankful that each item happened to be something I could eat. Crohn’s disease has severely limited my diet throughout my adult life, and I had fully prepared to pass the night without eating. I had brought a bottom shelf bottle of gin for just that reason. The presence of viable sustenance helped return just a bit of that welcoming feeling that I remembered as a child.
I began to fantasize about trying once more, in her home, to cook highly anticipated beef stew. That was when I noticed that Grandma’s plate was missing. It had sat, in its place, on display, and practically demanding the dining room’s full attention since as long as I can remember. I began to choke up seeing that it’s throne now sat empty. Well, almost empty.
In its place was a small beige card, folded in half and sitting like a small pyramid where the plate should be. After brushing the dust from its face, I deciphered the old-world cursive script that adorned its interior. It read:
“I give you my everything, willingly. My body. As I gave you my heart from the moment we met. I give this also. We both know, my darling, my Marguerite, that you will not survive the winter on that twiggy little butcher’s girl. I give you my body to sustain you. Put me in your bowl and live. As the the coming millenia dance past your lovely eyes, I hope that you will at times gaze into your bowl and remember me. Live. Live and continue to love, my sweet. ~ Yours, Herbert.”
My mind settled into understanding like puzzle pieces falling into place. Did my Grandmother have the same condition that I do? Or was it that I have the same condition as she? And where was she? I saw no body. I was never asked to identify her. I was informed of no funeral, no casket, no gravesite. Only that it was dealt with. By the lawyer. The lawyer that always came rushing out of his small storefront when we walked past. And the funeral director, who would take her one hand in both of his exuberantly each time he saw her.
She was loved, my Grandmother, by everyone. Loved, cherished, and more importantly protected in the hearts of all she met.
I am not. Not loved. Not cherished. I am alone, surrounded by strangers. I have nothing but emptiness inside. Failure and hunger.
Maybe I should try to be more like Grandmother. She knew how to live. How to love. How to care for others and be cared for in return.
I think I will make one more attempt at recreating Grandma’s beef stew. But I will have to carefully select my own ingredients. I am hopeful that I will be successful this time, with my newfound knowledge of just what she had put into it.
And I will have to select my very own plate. I am now fairly sure that my Grandmother’s plate is still with her, somewhere.