I'm named after both of my grandmothers - my first name is for my father's mother, and my middle name is for my mother's mother. Monica Ruth. It's funny, too, that had I been born a boy, I still would've been named after grandparents, though instead the men - I would've been Ross Edmund. No gettin' around it.
When I was little, my family and I would make frequent trips up to Michigan, the state where both of my parents were born. Summers were spent at a cottage my great-grandfather built on a lake, and winters were spent at either my grandparents' house or at one of my several aunt's and uncle's. I got used to hearing my name called and knowing people were probably calling out for my grandmother instead of me. Over the years, we stopped going up for Christmas, but summer at the lake stayed a tradition. As I got older, I started to feel awkward and worried I was too old to keep going back every summer. I knew that eventually the cottage had to become another one of those places from childhood for me - a place where everything became too small and too real and didn't resemble what I'd remembered. And that I'd have to let it just fade away into memory. My cousins who still lived in the area, or whose parents owned places on the lake - they were allowed to keep going, it was their lake now. But now that I was older, I no longer belonged.
But then something incredible happened. I didn't want to let go - so I didn't. I made an effort to go every year, sync up with other visiting relatives, and dragged my boyfriend along with me. After a while, I'd successfully transitioned a place of childhood into a real place - one susceptible not to just old memories, but new ones too. And one of the best parts was that it gave me a way to see my grandmother on a regular basis - every year.
My grandmother was fearless - she fenced in school, and the learned how to ski, water ski, dive, sail, ice skate, windsurf, and ride motorcycles to keep up with my grandfather. I remember how pissed off she was when my uncles told her that, in her seventies, she was too old to keep water-skiing. She was always self-conscious of her slightly crooked teeth. When I was sentenced to 3 1/2 years of braces, I found so much comfort in seeing my grandmother wearing braces along with me. In her seventies, she related to me in a pleasantly surprising way.
She never asked me when I was going to get married, or when I was going to start having babies. All she wanted to know was if I was still drawing, and if she could see it. She told me exactly what she thought of my current hair color (good or bad). She told me she loved that I had such an imagination. She liked that I always wore lipstick. My grandmother could paint, draw, sing, and play the piano, and all of her eight children are likewise talented in one form or another. She didn't care who her children or grandchildren turned out to be, or what they ended up doing -- just that they do something. They couldn't sit idly by, they had to participate, and join in the joy that she saw in life.
I was five when my grandfather died, so I don't remember much about the toll that paid on my father and grandmother. I remember her most when she was recovering from his death, making new friends, and wed her 2nd husband when she was 74. I remember her being 78 and running out to take the trash out before the garbagemen came. I remember her insisting we play dominos every time we came over. I remember her having dessert at every single meal.
Love you, Grandma. You are missed.