|photo by Bill Slavin|
We called my maternal grandmother, Mimi (pronouced Mim-e, not MeMe). She was hard of hearing and wore a clunky hearing aid on her chest with wires running up to the earbuds in her ears. When she talked on the phone, she placed the receiver at her heart so that she could hear you better. Her white curly hair wrapped around her head and she had the peaches and cream complexion of her English ancestors. She and Grampy, her husband, had broken with their respective churches so they could dance. They moved across the country in the 1920s from New York to California while Grampy worked as a professional portrait photographer.
|My grandparents dancing on the way to California|
She and I were close, not in the lap-sitting, hugging way, but as two people trying to span a great distance of time. Mimi taught me traditions: good manners and how to set a table with the silverware one inch from the edge. She told me stories of my French and English ancestors. She let my sisters and me play the organ that sat in their small living room. I loved to fiddle with its pulls and to try to reach the baffle-pedals to make the deep sounds that an organ makes. She had a stack of old-timey church music we all used. She was still a faithful churchgoer and knew Rock of Ages, Down By the Riverside, and Michael Rows the Boat Ashore by heart. Mimi also loved card games and taught us solitaire, gin rummy, and poker. She always won.
|On my tricycle on my grandparents' driveway|
We talked, not about great, wise ideas, but of everyday things: using lard in pie crust, cleaning the last flick of food out of a jar, making beds with no wrinkles. Mimi and I spent time in her garden where her favorite flowers, Calla Lilies, grew. She was the only person I knew with pierced ears. She wore oxford shoes, nylons that she rolled down just above her knees, and flowery, ill-fitting housedresses.
Mimi saved her McCalls magazines so that I could read the cartoons and cut out the Betsy McCall paper dolls on the back page. As I grew older, I began to read the stories published in the magazine. One day as I was reading a story, I came across a phrase that had been underlined, "Old age means loneliness." The words stood out on the page and I stopped reading the story. It had never occurred to me that my grandmother could be lonely. She had always been a constant reassuring presence in my life. Mimi, like my parents and other relatives, was someone who gave me unconditional love. I put the magazine down and began to think of Mimi in a different way.
|Emily Hart Belfi|
My family visited my grandparents every Friday evening. On Sundays, my grandparents would often come to our house. The relationship between the four adults was not perfect and as I grew older, my parents would often leave early on Sunday for a Sunday drive. I began staying home on Sunday saying that I had homework to do. But I really stayed home because of that short sentence underlined in McCalls. I stayed home to visit with my grandmother who had done so many small things for me. I wanted to give something back.