common ground

When I was little, and I wanted to crawl into a grown up’s bed in the middle of the night like little kids do, the grown up I picked was my grandma. I remember that she used to tease me about kicking her in my sleep. I’d wake up in the night and climb into bed between my grandparents and fall right to sleep. My earliest memories are living at their house — the first home I ever knew.

When my grandma cooked, I would drag a chair from the kitchen table over to the stove and stand up on it so that I could see into the pots and pans and watch how she cooked. The rest, of course, is history.

I never had a home. Home has always been my grandparents’ house. The place I could always go back to. They never locked their doors. You could stop by anytime and if no one was home, you could just hang out until someone got back. More often though, someone was there — a cousin, and aunt. You always knew you had a place to stay, no matter what. So many of my friends have stayed there. My grandparents welcomed everyone in.

I was just talking on the phone with my sister and she was telling me about the latest set of crazy behaviors from my mom that I guess I knew would come, but I was hoping maybe we wouldn’t have to deal with them so soon. “I just keep wishing she would act like… a mom. But I guess I can’t change who she is.” And my sister said that since we never really had a dad either, that the people who really most like parents to us have always been our grandparents. And it’s just hard to lose them.

My grandma had seven kids and she didn’t drive. Once her kids had grown up, she got a job at k-Mart in the cafeteria and she walked the two miles to work and back every day. She met my grandpa during World War II. He was at an army base in Ohio before going overseas and they met at a dance. he used to hitchike on his days off to go see her. when he got moved to a base in Atlanta, she took the train from Sandusky down to see him, with her mom as chaperone.

She loved crossword puzzles and my grandpa and the Virgin Mary. She went to mass every week until she and my grandpa got too sick and then my uncle would come to their house on Sundays to bring mass to them.

I have lost touch with my family over the years. I’ve been busy and I’ve needed some distance from my mom. I’ve stayed close with my grandparents, but haven’t seen most of my cousins for a really long time. It’s amazing to see my cousins now. We have all had the same shared experience with our grandparents, with their house, even though we didn’t have that experience together.

I stayed up late one night after the funeral, drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes with my aunt and uncle out on the back patio at my grandparent’s house. My uncle said he’s been thinking a lot about the one stable thing for all of us has always been that house. And once both of my grandparents are gone, what will happen to that house? And will there be another place that will bring us together or will we just fade away. No longer a family, just a collection of people with no common ground?

My grandma started getting sick a few months ago and it was everything I had dreaded my entire life coming true. It’s difficult to think of the one constant of your entire life going away and never coming back. I spent the night with her in the hospital two nights before she died. I can regret that I didn’t spend more time talking to her or that I didn’t do enough or think that I should have visited more or longer and I don’t know. You can’t look back on life like that, I suppose.

It’s still too difficult for me to think about it all too much. There’s so much going on that I can mostly stay distracted. Family is tricky. And when you mostly feel as though you don’t have one, you want to keep what you feel you do have. And sometimes there’s nothing you can do about that slipping away.

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