My grandmother was always old. So, okay, I know that isn’t true. I am sure she was young once; I have heard the stories. (And some hair-raising stories they are – for the 30s and 40s!) Yet, from the day I first knew her, was aware of her, she was old.
Oddly, though my grandmother was the center of my life for many years, my first awareness is of my grandfather. I think that memory comes even before any of my mother and certainly before any of my father. The odd part of the memory – it being my earliest, is that I was just 29 months old when my grandfather died. Before two-and-a-half, I have a clear memory of sitting next to him on the big bench seat of that old Chevy Impala (it was new then), the smell of cigarette smoke permeating the air. It is early morning (is that my memory or the result of being told the stories?) and we are on our way to Dawn doughnuts. I can see the sign even now in my mind – although that could be due to the years of travels to the same place after Papa’s death. We brought home plain cake doughnuts, chocolate covered french crullers and cream-filled long johns with chocolate or maple icing.
In later years, I would learn from my grandmother the fine art of slicing those cake doughnuts horizontally and coating them with cherry preserves, waiting just long enough to let the juice soak into the bread and eating them just before they became too soggy to pick up. mmmmm….the scent of fresh cake doughnuts or sight of cherry preserves still triggers that memory.
As I write this tale, I wonder where and why that memory surfaced. Is it illuminating that my first memory is of food? Of doughnuts? Of being with a man who would so soon leave me?
Apparently, my grandmother was once young. I have no memory of her young, although I have heard the stories and seen the photos. Then Papa died. And she was old. In my mind – in my child’s mind, she was always old. For years, she was my best friend. I was, after all, her namesake. Her incarnation 56 years her junior.
Then my mother did something she didn’t like and Grama left, too. And I was old. I feel as if I have always been old. So, okay, I haven’t always been old. I’ve heard the stories, seen the photos, even have some of the memories. But inside, I have always been old.
I think I am looking for a path away from my first connections of food and loss. I want to take a journey – walk a path – to the young place where I have never dwelled.