I’ve been thinking today about favorite childhood memories of my grandmothers. You see, on New Year’s Day, we made a time capsule. We each wrote about the year that was (2012), our hopes for 2013, and one thing we were thankful for. I was thankful for my grandmothers – that they are both still here, and that they both love me so well.
My Grandma Becca is feisty. She is a fierce, funny, smart little lady. She also has dementia – at Christmas she said to me, “I don’t know who you are, but you’re nice.” This is heartbreaking in particular because I have had the chance to know my grandmother very well. We weren’t a visit-a-few-times-a-year family; we lived in the same town, and eventually in the same house. Becca watched me after school when I was little, drove me to a thousand after school activities, made all of my Sunday dresses, took care of me much of the time when I was sick, and after I had surgery. She took me to the pool in the summer, for ice cream every Thursday, and she taught me how to sew. I loved her house because she had cable and let me eat way too much candy.
But by far my favorite memory of Becca is of her epic battle with the neighborhood squirrels. Becca was a fanatical gardener, and was very serious about maintaining her lawn and garden beds. She was thwarted in this effort by the squirrels, who buried acorns in her yard. Tiny oak trees sprouted everywhere, and they drove Becca nuts (pun intended). She devised a number of schemes to get rid of the squirrels, some of them straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. There were the fake owls that she mounted on her roof, in an attempt to scare the squirrels away. The times she ran clapping and yelling and waving a shovel through the yard, yelling “scram! Get out of my yard!” Her constant threats to acquire either a cat or a gun to resolve the squirrel problem once and for all (mercifully, she did neither, as she doesn’t care for cats and probably shouldn’t be armed). Then she discovered “humane” traps (‘humane’ was at the behest of her granddaughters – Becca announced that she would have preferred the inhumane traps, but she deferred to us). Every few days from then on out, she would discover a live squirrel or two in her traps. “Alright, girls, get in the car!” she would announce as she loaded the trapped squirrels into the trunk. We would then drive across town to the cemetery where my granddad, Pop Pop, was buried. He was the great love of Becca’s life, and died when I was four. We visited him at the cemetery every week, often taking an elaborate wreath or bouquet of silk flowers. Becca put a great deal of time into constructing these. Other times, we brought him squirrels.
Now that I am an adult, I suspect that Becca picked the cemetery both for Pop Pop and for the squirrels because it was sheltered by massive, beautiful oak trees – a lovely place to be laid to eternal rest or to live among the tree tops. I think, too, that she liked to visit Pop Pop at the cemetery every few days, and it was one more excuse to go and see him. But in my childhood, she insisted that we took the squirrels to Pop Pop because “if I have to put up with them, he does too.” That is my Becca – fierce and funny and wry and secretly gentle. I have been losing her – that part of her – to dementia for over a decade now, but I will remember who she is and was long after she has forgotten, and that is the point of life – to love so well that we are remembered long after we go. Pop Pop achieved this, and so has Becca, and when I remember them both, it is with love and gratitude. Becca is still here, and she knows that she loves me even when she isn’t sure who I am. Perhaps more importantly, she knows that I love her. This New Year, she is high atop my list of things for which I am grateful. I only hope that when I am dead and buried, someone who loves me will bring me squirrels.