Remembering my Grandma, even if she didn’t remember me…
Apple Pies. These words mean something; something so personal to me, and yet so deep and wide to the world, too.
It’s the Apple Pies of Autumn that get to me. The memory. The Michigan apples that my Grandma and Grandpa brought in bushels and bushels to my home so long ago. I was thirteen years old, just finding my way in a new place, a new school, a new home. My family had moved from New Hampshire to Rhode Island just a few weeks before, and I was struggling to find my way in my new surroundings. I had left a little town school with 50 students in my entire 7th grade… to find myself in a large city school with hundreds of students in my 8th grade class.
I was free falling, like Autumn leaves. I desperately needed something familiar.
Then my grandparents came to visit. They drove their rickety, red pick-up truck all the way from Michigan… and they arrived on a spectacular Autumn Friday afternoon in October. The back of the truck was filled with bushels and bushels of apples. The apples are what would save me.
These were my Dad’s parents; my Dad’s mother and stepfather. My Dad’s father had died of World War I injuries when my Dad was a little boy, and my grandmother had married a farmer who had immigrated to the United States from Yugoslavia. My Dad always told me how hard life was on that Michigan farm, but to me the farm meant Grandma and Grandpa and strawberries in the summer and apples in the Fall. My grandfather spoke with a heavy accent, but when he was with his fruits and vegetables, he glowed with the honor of working the land in his new country. I remember summer morning trips “to market” with my Grandpa and my younger brother, Grandpa talking away in his thick accent as we bounced around in the front seat of the truck. My grandma was a tiny woman with beautiful, soft silver hair and a brilliant smile. She loved her strawberries and she loved her apples…
As I ran from our house to my grandparents’ truck, I noticed that my mom was crying. She was in my grandfather’s embrace, and he was whispering to her. My Dad was hugging his Mom with one of his famous hugs. We hadn’t seen my grandparents in a couple of years…
My Grandma’s eyes locked with mine – I’ve always thought I look like her – and she began to tell me about the apples. And the pies we would make. Then she looked at my Dad with absolutely no recollection of him and said the words I will never forget… “He’s such a nice man.” My world crashed. My mom whispered to me through her tears that Grandma was suffering with memory loss. Dementia. The onset of what we now know as Alzheimer’s.
Grandpa and my Dad lifted all those bushels of glorious apples from that rickety, red truck… and I began to piece together that this may be my last visit with Grandma. I was heartbroken. But, you know, the visit was to become one of the most beautiful weekends of my life.
Grandma did remember exactly how to make apple pies. We made 18 apple pies that weekend. I helped her wash them. Core them. Slice them. Sweeten them. Oh, boy… did we sweeten them. She taught me how to make perfect pastry shells. And we baked those apple pies all weekend long, cooling them on our windowsills all over that new home of ours. Grandma had fleeting moments of clarity when she actually called my Dad by his name, Bill. She loved our family dog, Chippy, and she told me about every dog she had ever owned and loved. She told me how much she loved my mom… and she called her Rita many times over. And she called me Susie.
I think as I reflect back, I became a different person on that weekend in the Fall of my 13th year making apple pies with my Grandma from Michigan. I realized what a miracle life is. And love. And when my Grandma and Grandpa drove away in that rickety red truck on their journey back to Michigan… I knew in my heart that I would never see my Grandma again. I didn’t. She died the following year.
But I will always have my apple pies. My Grandma’s apple pies.
One never knows the impact that a word or a couple of words strung together may have on another. The memories these words bring. It is beyond magic. It is beyond a miracle.
Bittersweet moments in time recalled… with so much more emphasis on the “sweet” than anyone could possibly know.
This is why I love Apple Pies and just happened to marry an Apple Pie Guy!
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I am a member of AARP’s Kitchen Cabinet on Caregiving and Caresupport. I am not receiving compensation of any kind for my opinions/views. November is NATIONAL FAMILY CAREGIVERS MONTH and I am helping to get the word out about elder care issues.