So I’ve noticed that people on Facebook often wish a happy birthday to someone who is no longer alive. I understand thinking about people on their birthdays, but I’m not sure how I feel about the whole social media thing.
Here’s the thing. Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She’s been gone a long time. Since my college-age son was a baby. I miss her.
She was the grandmother who kept me overnight when my parents had a big event or went on a trip. She was the grandmother who taught me to wash windows with vinegar and water and to dry them with newspaper. She was the grandmother who made the best potato salad in the world and let me drink Teem out of the bottle on the porch on hot summer nights. She was the one who walked me to the theater to see Cinderella when I was a little girl and she was the one who took me on the city bus to visit one of her old friends.
Nearly every day, she walked up and down the busy street that her street adjoined, visiting at the dry cleaners, the market, the bank, everywhere. She knew everyone and they knew her. She smiled and she laughed and she liked a good joke. She watched As the World Turns and professional wrestling. She didn’t swim, but on a hot day she liked to put her feet in the pool. She brought me giant Hershey bars when she came to visit, and she told me to keep them in my room and not share them.
Once, when I was ten, my parents went on a trip. My brother stayed with my other grandmother and I stayed with Oma Hilde. It was over Valentine’s Day, so she decided we should make a cake. She had a heart shaped pan we used, and we made a pink cake with chocolate frosting. I think it’s the best cake I’ve ever had.
I had a doll carriage at her house. Who knows where it came from, likely a yard sale, but it was wonderful. I also had a closet full of other toys there, all of mysterious origin, but that’s what made them so appealing. I was her only granddaughter for a long time, and the only one who ever lived in the same city. Those toys were for me, and me alone.
When I was home from college we would get together and run errands, then go to “Hi Ho Silvers” for lunch. She loved the hush puppies, even though she knew she wasn’t supposed to eat food like that.
Right after I graduated she took me on a trip to Germany, sponsored by the city from which she and my grandfather and my mother fled during the Nazi regime. They invited a whole bunch of “their” Jews back, a gesture to make amends I suppose. She was a wonderful travel companion. She was happy to make new acquaintances, and she was delighted to be back in her home country.
We took a side trip to the tiny village of her birth, and I learned so much about her. She rang the doorbell of her childhood home. We were invited in for tea. We stayed overnight with the Mayor’s parents (who lived right next door to the mayor and his family). She took me to the site of the community bakery, where my grandfather proposed to her. We visited family graves. We took a boat ride down the Rhine River, and she sang the Lorelei, a traditional song that Germans sing when they get to a particular point on the river. We drank beer in a beerhall.
This grandmother learned to write checks only after my grandfather died. She bought the high-end washer and dryer in her eighties, because she wanted them to last. She oversaw a bathroom installation project, too, because climbing the stairs got too hard to do every time she needed to use the toilet. She didn’t bat an eye when I destroyed the side view mirror of her car. “It can be fixed,” she said. She called my son a prince. She meant it.
As an adult, it was my grandmother I would call for sympathy. My mother is a fixer, so calling her with a toothache or a rotten neighbor or a work hassle always turns into an investigation. What brought it about? What have you tried? What else are you going to do? You get the idea. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a listener. She would let me talk and then reassure me that whatever I was doing was most probably the exact right thing to do, and that the situation was sure to resolve itself. I always felt better after I talked to her. I didn’t talk to her nearly enough, though. I regret that.
I suppose if my Oma had a Facebook page (although she wouldn’t) I might stop by and visit it today. And I might just leave her a message. It would say, “Happy Birthday, Oma. I miss you, and I love you, and I always will.”