Remembering with Ease

By Tom Attig

In the spring of 1996, my mother visited my new home in Vancouver for the first time. Then eighty-one, she came with her sister, Gertie, who was seventy-seven. They and three other siblings survived of the original nine who reached adulthood. Their extended family remained close emotionally and geographically to my grandmother in the Chicago area. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of holiday and family celebrations with as many as thirty-five aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered around Grandma. There was always lively conversation and much laughter, and occasionally there was group singing.

My grandmother was a wonderful, old-fashioned woman who came with her first four children from "the old country," Germany, to join her husband just before World War I. Mom was the first to be born in America. My grandfather was a stern presence while the children were young. He died in the mid-1940s. Grandma devoted her life to her children and grandchildren. Her cooking, laughter, and broken English are unforgettable. She set a world standard for worry about things great and small (one of her legacies to my mother). Grandma died in the mid-1970s at age eighty-nine, still the center of her family's love and affection.

The week that my mother and Gertie were here was thoroughly delightful. Betty and I were struck by how often my grandmother entered the conversation as if she were a third guest. Mom and Gertie referred to her often. Memories were a dominant theme. They easily and comfortably recalled how "Ma" saw them through the hard times when they were growing up and how she gave them so much when the family had so little. At times it was as if the two of them became schoolgirls again or reverted to dinner table patterns from years before. They teased one another, giggled, and relived how it was when so many gathered around their mother's table.

Grandma's perspective on the world was second nature to Mom and Gertie. They often wondered aloud, "What would Ma think of this?" as they saw things in our home and the surrounding area or watched the film "Grumpy Old Men" one night in our family room. More often than not they went on to answer their own question. Sometimes they agreed with "Ma," sometimes not. Sometimes "Ma's" views and ways amused and delighted them. Sometimes she instructed them. Sometimes they felt sad for her, the hardship in her life, what she had missed, and what she was missing now. Clearly, Grandma will be with them as long as they live. What a delightful presence she is! And how lovely they are when they are with her.