A few weeks ago I took another step towards saying good-bye to my grandmother. My grandmother died last June, at the wonderfully old age of 97. She died while living alone, in the house she had lived in for over 50 years. The only house I had ever known her to live in, and the place where , when I was a young girl, I would spend any weekend I could. Every Friday afternoon I’d call my cousin on the phone and ask her to meet my sister and I at Grandma’s. It was a ritual weekend for us. A weekend that began with packing our matching overnight suitcases that Grandma bought us, loading them with clothes and Barbies, and heading to Grandma’s. Saturdays we spent the day in a Barbie marathon, followed by lunch served outdoors in the patio, and maybe a trip to the grocery store, where Grandma could be easily persuaded to buying us something special. Saturday nights were spent staying up late, playing cards or Chinese checkers, watching The Carol Burnett Show”, and finally falling asleep in her spare bedroom. The house was small, but the heart of the house was huge.
This same house where my large extended family spent every holiday. Never mind that the tiny kitchen did not have a dishwasher, or that the dining room could only seat 8 comfortably, or even that there was just one bathroom, my grandmother’s house expanded to fit anyone who stopped by for a Christmas tamale, a bite of Easter ham, or her ambrosia salad at Thanksgiving. It was also the house with the bountiful apricot tree which shaded our small wooden playhouse with the dutch door, and the flower filled backyard which my grandmother cared for.
I have countless memories that were made in the house that was nearly unchanged throughout my life. Since she died, the house remained vacant, but my mother made weekly trips to begin thinning out my grandmother’s belongings. In January, we had a huge garage sale. I thought to myself, how my grandmother would have hated it. Little by little, the house emptied, until it was finally ready for the market. When it was listed by a family friend and realtor, the house sold in less than two weeks. It was a cash offer. As is. My mother, who had grown weary of the process of settling my grandmother’s estate, was relieved. And sad.
Escrow closed quickly. Suddenly, I had only one weekend to move out a couple of things that I wanted to keep. On a warm Saturday afternoon Juan and I took our van and drove to my grandmother’s house for the last time. I found the spare key in its usual hiding place. I walked inside and noticed the carpets had been cleaned, but the house emptied of furniture, and its walls stripped of photos and decor, showed years of wear. As I walked through the house looking around I felt sad yet strangely comforted. Even though the house held all sorts of memories for me, it was no longer the home I knew. With my grandmother’s passing, the heart of the house ceased to exist. Juan followed me around taking pictures of the rooms with his iPhone. I told him I didn’t need photos, but he insisted that I would want them later. He continued taking pictures, the music from Pandora radio on his phone playing. As we moved into the kitchen I began looking at it for the last time. So many meals prepared here, so many visits spent at the kitchen table, chatting and reminiscing. The last time I saw her alive, one week before she died, I said good-bye to her as she sat at her usual spot at the kitchen table, with the TV on and a stack of newspapers close by.
I opened the kitchen cabinets looking for anything left behind. Nothing. Not even any of her handwritten notes, or newpaper clippings she kept taped to the inside of the cabinet doors. As I looked inside the last cabinet I noticed a lone news clipping taped to the door. The words from a song by The Beatles, and on the last line, a reminder to me.
And then I became aware of the music that was playing from Juan’s iphone, “The Arms of an Angel\” by Sarah McLachlan.
It was as if she was there. It wasn’t scary, a little eerie maybe, but mostly it was, well, perfect. I had come to say good-bye to the house and walk through it one last time, but suddenly I knew that even though I would probably never return to the house that held so many memories, those memories, and my grandmother would never leave me. The memories of all that we shared would carry me through the moments I would miss her. I said good-bye to her house, but not to the memories and love that we shared in her home.