Things My Mother Sent Me: The Last Letter from My Grandma

40 Days of Writing/Spring 2017/Day 4

Dear Mandy.

My Grandma Janik called me Mandy. In fact everyone called me Mandy when I was a little girl, until I announced that I wanted to go by Amanda from that point forward. I was still in single digits age-wise, but Grandma never got the memo, and that was okay with me.

Grandma and grandpa lived just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, where my dad was raised. He would occasionally take me to visit them, where I would revel in the amount of cousins I had, the easy access to cable, the snacks, the above-ground pool. Life in Cleveland felt so lush and exotic to me; every time I returned to my dusty home in Michigan I spent days longing to return.

When my older brother and I were ages 9 and 12, we were sent to Grandma and Grandpa Janik’s house during summer vacation. I don’t remember how long we were meant to stay, but we only lasted two weeks before I got homesick. I can’t imagine how that possibly happened now, looking back, because all I see are snapshots of sheer fun and wonder.

  • No bedtime + cable = staying up late to watch The Monkees and old episodes of Saturday Night Live on Nick at Nite.
  • Enlisting the help of cousins and neighbors to walk as quickly as possible around the inside edges of the pool, in hopes of making a proper whirlpool.
  • Grocery shopping with my grandparents and being awestruck by the fact that they each got a cart, which they each filled to overflowing, having gone their separate ways to do so.
  • Perfecting my Billy Idol guitar-solo jump from the pool’s deck into the over-chlorinated water.
  • Listening to my youngest cousins babble in the secret language only they understood.
  • Gathering as many neighbor kids as possible to stand together in the Taco Bell drive-thru in hopes of being as heavy as a car, which we imagined was the trick to getting the speaker to crackle out: “can I take your order?”
  • Performing the song “Rubber Ducky” in my best sultry Marilyn Monroe voice, again in the pool, with a small floating duck. This is captured on video somewhere.
  • The daily ritual of riding bikes with my brother to the local market for free samples of cheese, followed by ice cream cones at Dairy Queen
  • Listening to my grandma tell me stories while we folded laundry, like the one about the time my dad got glasses for the first time as a kid, and how as they were walking home he pointed at the trees in absolute delight at the amount of leaves. “He never knew there were individual leaves,” she said. This memory made her slightly misty-eyed.

I’d confessed to my grandma that I wanted to be a writer, and she thought that was a lovely idea. After I’d returned home, she sent me a story she’d written, and asked me for my opinion on it. As if I was…a person who had actual thoughts and opinions. This made the paper bag inside my chest crumple up and then expand. I’d never been treated like an individually respected person before. I liked that feeling.

This was a new experience for me, this closeness with my grandma. My maternal grandparents lived only thirty minutes away and we saw each other regularly, but I never felt any sort of real connection with them. They were friendly and kind and sometimes asked the ‘how is school’-type questions, but I never felt entirely embraced by them. There was no cookie baking on the weekends, there were no sleepovers, no real talks or moments that stood out as special or beyond the range of obligatory or baseline interest level.

I mean my maternal grandparents no disrespect whatsoever. I loved them, because they were my grandparents, and a constant in my life. I can still be caught off-guard by a memory of the particular way my maternal grandma said a word that makes me laugh. I just don’t feel like I ever really knew them. Or that they ever really knew me. And I probably would have been content with that. I wouldn’t have known that there was any other way to feel about grandparents if it hadn’t been for Grandma Janik.

The last letter from my grandma was stuck in my scrapbook along with the other random bits from my young past: newspaper clippings, Nirvana and Lenny Kravitz concert ticket stubs, drawings from ex-boyfriends. The first page of my scrapbook is covered in torn saran wrap, underneath are a smashed rose, an even more smashed carnation, and a prayer printed on light purple card stock, all from my grandma’s funeral.

I was in sixth grade science class when our school secretary buzzed through the intercom that I should gather my things and come to the office. By the time I got out of my classroom, my brother was already halfway down the hall, heading toward me to tell me the news.

I still miss her.

2 thoughts on “Things My Mother Sent Me: The Last Letter from My Grandma

  1. Oh how I wish your grandma could read this! It would mean so much to her to know that you remembered her, and your visits, so fondly, and that you had kept, and now shared, this letter. She would be so proud of you and would be so happy to have another writer in the family, and to see how you’ve grown to look so much like she did at your age. And how she would love to know your children! It’s hard for me to imagine that there are so many great-grandchildren who she never had the pleasure of knowing, and who never had the chance to meet her. I sometimes dream of her, still with us, and we are at a family gathering, with all of us there. They are happy reunions, but sad awakenings. Still I’m thankful for those dreams, though the waking up is hard.

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    1. I was so happy to find that letter, and to get a slice of life from her then – I love that she mentions that the two of you found those earrings together and thought to send them to me. And that the earrings were still there! I can’t decide if I should keep them there, or start wearing them now ❤

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