This morning I walked down to the marina for the first time in a few weeks. I haven’t been walking. I haven’t been writing. It is interesting how much the two are now linked. I was traveling for work when I received the news that my Gramma had passed away, finally closing her eyes to her dance with alzheimer’s. I was first going to call it a struggle, but dance seems more appropriate. My Gramma never lost her graceful spirit and just as she did all of her life, she accepted and danced with what was delivered her way.
Metaphors aside, I remember dancing with her in our pajamas at her old house on 1st Place. I was small. The music was loud and our feet slid along the hardwood floors of her living room. She was a fun grandma. She danced with us. She jumped on the bed with us. She jumped off boats with us. Whenever she talked about where she was from, she would jokingly say “quarter”, “water” and “Long Island” in a stereotypical New York accent. My sister, the first of her grandchildren, and I, the second, spent a lot of our childhood with her.
She always had cookies in the black and white cow-shaped cookie jar. There was always ice cream in the freezer. My sister and I would sit on the floor in the den watching movies with Grams’ golden retrievers. I always loved going through her things, as though they were treasures. She had cool stuff. She would tell me stories about the past and show me black and white pictures and tell me about the family members in them, who all seemed mysterious to me. When I was probably ten, she gave me an old pocket book of French, with which I became fascinated. That’s when I fell in love with France and French. There was never not a large sketch book in her house, and always we would draw. She shared them with me, and in between pages of artistically sketched hands and arms and faces, I would learn to create my own art. We were downstairs in her house when she first taught me how to draw eyes. She was the first that truly encouraged any form of art in my life, and I can still hear her voice say “JAYME! You drew that?!” with a look of genuine fascination as she stared at the piece of paper. Her gifts throughout the birthdays and Christmases of my youth were easels, painting lessons for my seventh birthday, an art case full of oil paints and brushes, a book making kit, journals, a sewing machine for my tenth birthday. The list goes on. She realized my creative interests and encouraged them with genuine love, even before I ever knew what creative interest was. She understood what I was and what I could be before I ever understood it myself.
I see myself doing this with my brother, who will be ten on Monday: wanting to encourage his art, his creativity, his passion. Actually, I see a lot of things I am doing that are similar to what my Gramma used to do. I have realized as I’ve gotten older that I am more like my Gramma than I ever knew. It dawned on me most when I read one of her journals. She was 58 when she wrote at least one entry. “I want to be a Hippy – move on – at 58 years of age.” I was 13 or 14. I never knew she was thinking that then. “My soul aches for personal purpose, creativity that will bring joy to others and myself.” It’s almost as if I could have written these words, and it makes me wonder what kind of relationship we would have had if we lived in the same time as each other. If I were born in her time or if she was born in mine. I feel like we would have been really good friends. But then again, I feel like she would have been really good friends with anyone. She saw beauty in everything. She passed that gift to my mother, who passed it on to me. I wonder who gave that gift to my Gramma, or if she just found it herself. There are so many questions that will never be answered, and the more I learn about life, the more things I question. I wish I could discuss those things with her. I wish I could pick the insightful brain of my deceased grandmother.
I will never forget the way my mom held my Gramma as death grew nearer. Or the way I couldn’t help but know that one day I might hold my own mom in the same way. Since her death, my cycle feels shorter. My life cycle. Seeing my Gramma’s cursive handwriting from years ago, writing out the bills she owed and the notes-to-self, setting a plan to make her dreams happen: wake up early, clean the house, work on art, make it happen. Those bills don’t mean anything now. Those dreams for her living life were either conquered or not. It’s final.
What is not final, though, is what carries on into the lives of the living. I used to think my appreciation for life and love and beauty came from my mom. Surely, it did, but I now see my mom’s appreciation for life and love and beauty came from her mom, my Gramma. These are the gifts Gramma contributed to the world. What we do with our life and in our life and what we make of our life are the true treasures we leave behind. It’s the source of history for everything that succeeds.
As someone special said to me, I was a decision in my Gramma’s life. All of my family members were. I see all the lives that would not have been had my Gramma and Papa not decided to get together back in the late 50s. From that, I understand that who I choose to be and who I choose to share my life with will directly result in the future of all of my unborn descendants, just as those that came before me resulted in mine.
My gramma understood that, too. In 2000, she wrote “My father, who is no longer alive, was born 92 years ago in 1908. My mother who is no longer alive was born 88 years ago. Lives gone by, and the results are tremendous, a small world among itself. Their parents born in the 1800s, we’re a world among itself.” All the choices of those people have created the world as it is today. Similarly, all of our choices today create the world as it will be tomorrow. She was eager to share stories of the past with me when I was young. These stories and the way she wrote of her childhood leads me to believe we shared an interest in the passage of time. I’ve started researching our family history on ancestry.com and how I wish she could collaborate with me on our family tree.
I have learned that my Gramma’s great grandfather was Josef Tvrdik, born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia in the 1830s. Another great grandfather, Victor Fahrenfeld, was born in Germany in the 1860s. Both of those men made a decision to immigrate to New York City in the 1800s. From that decision, each of their offspring were born in New York. Eventually those offspring, Joseph Tvrdik and Emma Fahrenfeld, crossed paths in life and made decisions to be together. This led to the birth of my Gramma’s father, Joseph Tvrdik. From there, the cycle continued.
Those people in the old photos, lives that seem so foreign to me, are actually intricately laced into my being. One day my Gramma, and me, will seem foreign to a new batch of people. We will just be a piece of the historical puzzle. How we choose to live right now means everything. I choose to accept what I have inherited from the past, mix it with parts of me and exhale it on to the future through the way I live out my time here on earth.
To Gramma, thank you for the way you lived your life and all of the choices you made, which both directly and indirectly affect me still, as well as our family and our descendants. You breathed love and kindness onto everything you touched, and that will carry on through the winds of time. As always, I agree with Emerson. “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Grams, you succeeded.