My grandmother passed away last week. She was 103 year old, and in the last few years of her life, the very things she feared most came to pass as her body and mind failed her. While I am sad at her passing, I am glad that the terrible last phase of her life is finally over. I would rather remember her when she was younger, the youngest looking nonagenarian many people said.
Gran was my second roommate and I can’t say we got along famously. A teenage girl and an old lady are not the best combination, though Gran did tolerate (or enjoyed) our Tom Cruise posters. Once when she was away I got the walls of the room painted blue and orange and she was not thrilled. When I went away to uni she got them painted them cream again. When I got married and moved out, her parting shot was ‘good you’re going… and can I have your drawers?” But I knew she loved me because she sent me off with one of her previous serrated knives from Dubai.
Distance and age made me appreciate Gran’s finer qualities. Her sense of style and the pleasure she took in her appearance. When the teachers in our school frowned upon us pulling our pinafores higher over our sashes to make them shorter and rolling our socks down, Gran said: ” Why? But it looks smarter that way.” She had no problems with short skirts but recommended stocking for church more for aesthetic than moral reasons. As she neared her 90s, she became insistent on getting her nails painted, preferably red. She reveled in compliments about how young she looked.
Gran was far more liberal than many people younger than her and was always up for an argument with me on all manner of scandalous things. She may not have been thrilled that I acquired a boyfriend but since I did, he might as well come tune to the TV so she could catch the cricket. When V’s parents visited for the first time, she diffused a tense moment by asking whether she could bring her boyfriend to my wedding, and earned their admiration thereafter.
She insisted on being active and had knee replacement surgery in her 90s becoming the poster child for her orthopedic surgeon. She continued to travel and blithely told me that extra baggage was not a problem when you’re her age and in a wheelchair. She also continued to balance her passbook with an eagle eye.
I regret not talking to Gran more, learning more about her history. I only have glimpses – new dresses or hats every other Sunday, the rice pudding at her boarding school in Panchgani, where she was considered dumb for not being able to speak English, her hard days as a young wife. We were surprised to suddenly learn she played the piano.
I inherited from Gran my appreciation for beautiful things, possibly my nose and a tendency to hoard stuff. I hope I’ll have her grit and flair, but I have my doubts. There will only be one like her.
Goodnight Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.