October 23, 2008

Memories of My Grandmother

Yesterday, I saw my mom off at the airport as she headed off to Brazil. I wish I could be there with her, to give her some emotional support. She's there all alone and has a lot of annoying legal things to take care of. My dad is joining her later this week, so at least she'll have some help. If I sound like a broken record, my apologies.

I am still crushed by my grandmother's death. Death always takes us by surprise, doesn't it? We're seldom ever ready for it. If we knew that day X would be the last time we'd speak to a loved one, would we act differently? I should hope so. Unfortunately, we don't know, so doesn't this mean that we should always treat each day like it would be someone's last, and make it count? I think this is one of the lessons that I've taken away from all of this. You never know when people close to you may be taken away from you. You must cherish every moment with them. I've also realized the importance of family. I've had my issues with my mom, and as I reflect on things of years past, I've realized that we haven't been listening to each other. We were too busy being angry and resentful towards one another on the inside, while pretending that everything was okay on the outside. That will no longer happen. Happy thoughts now!

I would like to share a few fond memories that I have of my grandmother. I want these memories documented so that I don't forget them, and so that I can tell PK about her great-grandmother.

Vovó Vera always had cards for EVERYTHING: birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Easter, Christmas, or just because. You name it, she had a card for it. Now, with her gone, I will never receive those cards again. I will miss them dearly. Mom always got my sister and me to write her a few words in the cards. We often wrote the same old thing, but I don’t think that it mattered to her. She just loved getting cards from us. I sometimes used to draw little pictures in the cards for her. Flowers, hearts, and a little cartoon frog. I still have her cards.

When we lived in Brazil, my sister and I would spend weekends at her house. How I loved spending weekends there. Her apartment was tiny, but she always made us feel loved and welcome. There was always “bifinho com farofa” and Guaraná to drink. my sister and I loved to crack eggs and mix them around in a bowl and she always let us do that even though we wasted eggs in doing so.

When I was preparing for my first communion, it was Vovó Vera who always came to pick me up from school. She always brought me a McDonald’s cheeseburger when she came to pick me up. She was a very religious woman, and one of her greatest wishes was to see PK baptized. I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly keen on having PK baptized, but now there’s no doubt in my mind about baptizing her. It’s something she wanted and I’d like to honor her memory by doing so.

After we moved away from Brazil, she tried to visit us as often as she could. She visited us when we lived in New Jersey, Portugal, Ottawa, and Toronto. The last time she visited us is when she came for my university graduation. Having her there made a special day even more special. I’m so glad that she was able to come. Every time she came, she came with tons of gifts. She even brought us farinha de mandioca and Guaraná. When we lived in Ottawa, she came with my mom’s old guitar to give to me. I still have that guitar.

Whenever we came to Brazil for a visit, she’d start preparing for our arrival at least one week beforehand, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d start preparing one month beforehand. She never slept well on the night before we arrived, because she was so excited that we were coming. When her health was better, she’d always be there to welcome us at the airport, and would always drive with us to the airport to see us off. When we arrived at her house, we were greeted with can only be described as a food feast. Feijoada, bifinho com farofa, brigadeiro, bolo de chocolate, pão de queijo – the list was endless. One of the last times we were there, my grandmother had the Christmas tree set up in her house, with a bunch of presents under it. Even though we were there in the April/May timeframe, she set up the Christmas tree so that we could celebrate a belated Christmas together.

My grandmother wasn’t huge on baking, but she made a fantastic chocolate cake (bolo de chocolate). I love the cake so much that I got the recipe from her and now bring it to my parents’ house for birthdays and holidays. She also sent me a few other recipes which I still have, including bolo de cenoura (carrot cake) and bolo de milho (corn cake/corn bread).

Due to health reasons, she was unable to come to my wedding or my sister’s wedding. She wanted to go so badly. She had even purchased dresses to wear for both weddings. I wanted her there too, but there was no way that she could come, given her poor health. Even though she never came to either of our weddings, she did have the opportunity to meet our respective husbands. the hubby always talks about meeting Vovó Vera for the first time. Without even knowing him, she greeted him with a great big hug. When she found out that the hubby liked to eat chocolate, she showered him with chocolate. She always treated the hubby and Josh with love and respect, as if they were her own grandsons. Whenever I spoke with her on the phone, she always asked about the hubby.

We left Rio about 20 years ago. When we left, I gave Vovó Vera my stuffed Garfield and asked her to take care of it for me. Every time I came back to visit, I asked if she was taking care of Garfield for me. I never once asked for Garfield back. In my mind, I thought that if Garfield was under her care, then it would give her a reason to live. Speaking of stuffed animals, I made her a sock monkey which I gave to her when we were in Brazil in April of 2007. I named her Lulu. My grandmother loved Lulu and even gave Lulu a personality.

Vovó Vera was extremely excited when she found out that she was going to be a great-grandmother, and even more excited when PK was born. She never met PK, but mom and I sent her pictures. Last time mom came to my house, we were on the phone and she heard PK give a little cry. I’m so saddened by the fact that my grandmother never met PK. And yet, she loved PK completely unconditionally.

When PK was born, she sent me a great big care package. It was delivered to mom and dad’s place since I knew that mom would at least be home to receive the package. It arrived the day we were up at my in-laws, who live pretty close to mom and dad. I never swung by my parents' place to pick up the package and instead waited until we were there for lunch the following weekend. My grandmother was crushed that I didn't want to pick up the package on that very day. I now know why. The package was filled with clothes for PK, all chosen with such overwhelming love and care. Although I thanked her for it, I never told her just how much I appreciated the gesture. I wish she knew that it meant the world to me.

My grandmother loved it whenever I called her. When she’d pick up the phone, she sometimes sounded sad, but hearing my voice just brightened her day. Knowing that I brightened her day like that made me feel so happy. I’m going to miss calling her up so very much.

One of the things that most impressed me about my grandmother was her memory. She had the most unbelievable memory. She always remembered birthdays – my birthday, my sister’s birthday, mom’s birthday, and even dad’s birthday. And if you asked her to, she would be more than happy to sing the French national anthem and “God Save the Queen” in their native languages. If I remember correctly, she could even conjugate some Latin verbs and knew a few Latin words too. This was all stuff she’d learned as a child and could still remember!

She always found a way to try to communicate, even if you didn’t understand her. I remember one time when she visited us in Ottawa and we were at the checkout counter at the supermarket, and she started talking to the bagging guy in Portuguese. He couldn’t understand a word she said! Thinking about it still cracks me up.

In 2001 she came for my university convocation. At the time I was dating this annoying guy with an equally-annoying mother. There was a reception for graduates after the ceremony, and this guy’s mom came up to us to talk. Well, my grandmother, my sister and I all bolted, going our separate ways, leaving my mom stuck with her. Even though my grandmother couldn’t understand a thing that the woman said, she still wanted to stay away. We later found my grandmother sitting on a bench talking to this other elderly woman. Neither of them spoke English, and the other woman certainly didn’t speak Portuguese, but it didn’t matter, because they were chatting up a storm!

The two times that the hubby was in Brazil with me, she always tried to speak to him, even though he didn’t speak Portuguese and she didn’t speak English. Still, they tried to speak to each other. the hubby knew a few Portuguese phrases, which he said to her, but his pronunciation was so horrible that she’d always whisper to me in Portuguese, “What’s he saying?” She knew a few English words and phrases so she’d throw whatever she had at him. And when all else failed, she’d start chanting, “I like coffee, I like tea. I like you, do you like me?” When she called my house and the hubby picked up the phone, she would try her hardest to tell the hubby, “Hubby, this is IndyComp's grandmother.”

May these memories be immortalized in this blog post and through the stories that I tell PK as she grows up, so that like my grandmother, she too may learn to love someone that she never even met face-to-face.

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