I come from a long line of women who won’t take no for an answer – even from God. When people told my grandmother she didn’t have the constitution to eat whatever she wanted and continue breathing, she ignored them for thirty years, until thirty feet of her intestines had to be removed. When my father told my mother he would never marry her, she simply changed her last name to his and waited years – for nothing. When the doctors told my aunt that an epileptic with sickle cell could not carry a child to term, she miscarried five times before menopause permanently decided the issue.
So begins a compilation of autobiographical short stories I wrote a while back. That opening paragraph has been popping into my head for almost two weeks now, when the last of the three women mentioned in it died less than seventeen days after her ninety-sixth birthday. That long female line of mine is down to me and my daughter. I knew that was coming, of course, but I still wasn’t ready.
I thought my grandmother would make it to triple digits. Her older sister made it to 101. But perhaps becoming the last living member of her birth family made her more ready to join her husband and half of her kids. The longevity of the generation once removed from my own was a source of hope when the early deaths of my mother and three of her siblings made me anxious about my own mortality. That sporadic anxiety is back.
It is now Good Friday, about a week after I first started this post. I would love to claim that phenomenal success of the shop has occupied too much of my time to finish writing. But mama drama is the better explanation.
My son has regressed to his 14-year-old self. That was the year he acquired new friends and the first real girlfriend and became so out of control that I was ready to ship him to his grandparents in Texas. Now, a lack of consideration and respect, on multiple levels about multiple big-ticket items, need not lead to a plane ticket purchase. After all, he is legally – and financially – able to sign a lease. While my love for him is unconditional, his ability to live in my house is not. But that fact doesn’t keep the mama bear in me from wanting to keep him safe – especially from himself.
Loss is a natural part of life, occurring in unexpected ways, like sudden illness and teenager confusion, and expected ones, like old age or the end of childhood. I state the obvious simply so that I can better accept a fact that sucks so profoundly.
Easter weekend was the most important three days of any year to my very religious late grandmother, the woman whose apartment was my second home when my mother was at her second job, the woman who taught me the most about baking and let her daughter provide the finishing touches. As I receive a host of orders for end-of-Lent goodies, the absence of my baking teacher, who dealt with more loss (four children alone was enough!) with as much grace as possible, leaves me with pain both piercing and acute.
Nellie Mae made chocolate pie once a year for her youngest daughter, my aunt who couldn’t have children. She taught me to make the ninety-something year old recipe she’d acquired as a child herself on a summer visit my family made to her house, not long after the death of my aunt. That recipe is my most popular pie and a component of my most popular cupcake. As long as my shop is here, my grandmother will be with me every day, even more than my mother, whether I like it or not – as will her example of how to handle child-related wounds with grace.