Tuesday, August 18, 2009

10 things I remember about my grandmother Ester

1. She made pajamas for my sister and me when we were kids. I didn’t really like the nightshirts she made because when I’d roll over in bed they’d often stay where they were and I’d end up mummified in my sleep. But the pajamas with their matching pants and tops were totally cool. Plus she’d sew a red B in the back of the waistband of the pants so we’d know it was the back.

2. She’d also wrap a quarter in cling wrap and stick it in the pocket of our pajama bottoms. Yes, our homemade pajamas had pockets. And they weren’t those cheap patch pockets; they were suspended pockets. And even when they were crammed full of stuff, they didn’t bulge. Grandma was a master seamstress.

3. She also made spectacular quilts for my sister and me featuring illustrations from children’s coloring books that she’s painstakingly transferred to the quilt fabric and then embroidered. To this day, our Deedle Quilts come out of storage only to be admired and then carefully put away again.

4. If that weren’t enough, she also made life-size dolls for my sister and me so we’d never be lonely. They were given the names that weren’t used for us: Gus and Susie

5. Grandma made paper-thin sugar cookies that she’d decorate with colored frosting for every major holiday. I didn’t know until I was an adult what made them taste so much better than any other sugar cookie in the world: orange zest. Thankfully, her recipe lives on, and my mom and sister to this day continue to churn out paper-thin frosted sugar cookies every time a holiday rolls around. And now so can you.

6. Like most grandmothers’ houses, hers was filled with fascinating stuff: the coffee table made from a slab of pink marble (originally meant for a sarcophagus) that was given to my grandfather when he retired from being a cemetery sexton, the toy dog with the real silk ears that had been my mom’s, the go-fish card game that used books by authors like Longfellow and Tennyson instead of suits and numbers, the antique red metal toy cash register she’d let me decorate with contact paper when I was little, the melted glob of colored glass and metal that had been salvaged from the wreckage of her burned-down church, and her fabulous Blue Willow china featuring an exotic Asian scene on each piece that was delightfully out of character for her practical Midwestern sensibilities.

7. I had bunk beds in my room as a kid. When she’d come to visit and sleep with me in my room, she’d take one bunk and I’d take the other. And when for whatever reason I decided I wanted the bottom bunk, she’d gamely climb the ladder and sleep on the top one.

8. As she got older and sicker, she stayed with us so much that we started calling our guest room the “grandma room.” And when she started having trouble climbing stairs, we just curtained off our family room and made a semi-permanent bedroom for her.

9. I had a morning paper route all through junior and senior high school. On the cold days when I’d rubber-band the papers in our warm living room, she’d get up, wrap herself in her robe, sit on the floor next to me and help me.

10. She paid for my piano lessons from when I was in second grade until she died when I was in high school. 25 years ago today. So when I played Chopin’s somber Prelude in B Minor at her funeral, its simple melody, honest harmonies and controlled emotions were the most I could muster in tribute to a woman who continues to teach me to be frugal, loving, creative, practical, adventuresome and maybe just a little bit fabulous.

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