I never thought I would live to become a grandma. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because my mother died at fifty just in the nick of time to see her first grandchild born. Or perhaps it was because I was such a stupid and hardheaded teenager who by all rights never should have survived the wild 1970’s. Either way, my Mom loved my son wholly and completely just like the “perfect” grandmother is suppose to do. She walked him when he cried, she cuddled him in her arms to remember the shape of his head in hands and she smiled whenever he was close to her. She read to him, begged to bathe him and sang lullabies in her soft and gentle lilt. Mom was enamored with everything about her grandson. Unfortunately, West was less than two years old when she died. They both missed out on so much that they could have gained from one another.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that Mom bought West his first Christmas present. Later, I found out she had bought it in April when she was first diagnosed. It was a hand-carved wooden car crafted of maple, with four over-sized wheels and a honest to goodness running board. It was hefty, polished to a golden luster, and was the kind of car that every male from the age of one to the age of seventy dreamed of owning someday. Yep, it was built to handle some major-league drooling.
My mother had painstakingly wrapped that Christmas present in a metallic blue and silver paper topped by a massive blue bow. Underneath was a homemade tag with West’s name taped to the side somewhat lopsided and in my mother’s script. It was simple and beautiful and just so her. Not surprisingly, it was the lone present sitting under her Christmas tree when she died. Of all the people she could have bought for that year; she thought of him and made the effort. Lung cancer doesn’t give you much time for shopping.
I remember several days after burying my mother, sitting under that brilliantly decorated Christmas tree, tears running down my face, debating whether to open the present or hold on to it until West was older and could appreciate it. Finally, I decided to unwrap the gift and as I carefully slid off the wrapping a note fluttered down to the floor. It read “Do your best but if you can’t then at least be happy and smile.”
When the most important people in your life die young it gives you an opportunity to envision all the things they would have done had they still been there and it lets you plan your own life accordingly. I have no idea if my Mom would have taken all eight of her grandchildren to the zoo, church, or out to a musical; but I know she took my son and in doing so she showed me what was important to her and the things she valued. Now it’s my turn to pass on the love, the fun and the memories that life brings to my own grandkids. In my mind I have envisioned trips to the theater, baking cookies on cold days and hikes along the windy cliffs. I just hope I do as good a job as I have imagined my mother doing for the past thirty years. But even if I don’t, I do know that I have followed her advice… I wear a smile on my face and find happiness in my heart whenever I am fortunate enough to be near my grand babies. I think my mother would approve.