I have not washed my pillowcase since my Family Reunion. Some folks who know me really well might understand the reason why. It smells like my Mema and Papa’s house (otherwise known as the family lake house). I can’t describe the smell, not really. It’s like a mixture of old books and linens, oil paints, coffee, Hungarian paprika, antique wood, and the kind of familial love that touches your soul – except that doesn’t even come near to describing it fully.

Three years ago, our Entire family made it to the lake house for our summer reunion. We took a family picture, all of the family units in a separate color, and my Mema and Papa in the middle. They have always been the center, the hidden structure holding up a gravity-defying layer cake of love and family. But my Mema... she was also the frosting.

Maybe an hour after that picture, after all the kids had gone down to the lake for a swim, my Mema had a stroke. Fate, I know I often call you a cruel bitch but for saving the kids that moment of trauma, for keeping them away until the ambulance left for the hospital… Thank you, Ma’am.

My Mema died nine days later. Except, if truth were told, the woman lying in the hospital bed for those nine days was not my grandmother; at least not the entire time. One of her daughters, my Aunt, was with her at the last moment. She told us my Mema opened her pretty cornflower blue eyes and smiled at her before she left.

I miss her terribly. I can’t even quantify how much so in mere words. So many little things that don’t even come close to making up the whole…

...braiding her hair when it was long, and then her braiding mine. Her calling me, “Little German girl.” Learning to crochet with a funny looking little wooden mushroom – and the patience it took to teach a southpaw.

I miss mornings in nightgowns, cooking Pfannkuchen, and Poppy seed cakes made from scratch. Fresh baked bread and Chicken Paprikash. M&M’s hidden in little tin cans for all the kids to find. Hugs that warmed you down to the marrow of your bones.

Coupons and recipes torn out of newspapers and sent in the mail with handwritten notes. Long walks, while holding hands, her skin soft as a baby’s. Watching her get a little schnockered on Jaegermeister one Thanksgiving, and her insisting I could have some as well, although I was only 14 at the time. Christmas cookies.

Her unwavering love during some of the hardest moments in my life. The way she’d call just when I needed to hear her voice the most. Her beautiful smile. The way she looked at my Papa, even after so many years. Her stories of living in Germany. Her temper and the way the she dropped into her native tongue sometimes. Heh - the way she called things she couldn’t find a word for in English, “Dinks.”

She was a brave woman, a woman of strength that rarely exists today, I think. Some of the things she overcame… and still she smiled every day, a smile that you couldn’t help but return. She learned English from soap operas and earned money doing laundry and sewing when she first moved to the States. She raised five children who are not short of amazing, they Are amazing. And she raised them to share that with everyone else they come in contact with. We are the family that we are Because of her.

She would have fawned over my boys just this past reunion – Shaggy with his long hair and sudden height, and Doodlebug, growing into such a big boy but still looking like my Daddy – her baby son. She would have told me how proud she is of me. And reassured me that I Am a good mother, just in case I wondered otherwise. She’d have given this to each of us, all of us. Quietly, as though we each were the favorite.

I know she’s up there, looking down and watching over us. Doodlebug tells me she still talks to him each night as he’s falling asleep; tells him “Sweet Dreams” and “I love you”. His cousin, GypsyRose’s daughter, tells the exact same story. I’m sometimes jealous. I wish she’d whisper a few words in my ear on occasion.

Until then, I think I’ll store some pillowcases up at the lake house… so I can smell her from time to time. And until I can do that, while I know it might be a little silly, I’m not washing this one.

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4 Responses
  1. Deb R Says:

    I think you look a lot like your Mema.

    I totally get the smell thing. After my mom died the day that hit me hardest after the initial grieving was the day many months later (maybe even as much as a year or more later - I lose track) when I realized that I no longer had anything that smelled like her. Everything I had that used to be hers had been in my house too long and Dad had sold the house they'd shared. I broke down that day and sobbed my heart out. If I had it to do over again, I'd have taken something with her scent on it and sealed it in a plastic bag to hold that smell as long as possible and would only open it now and then just enough for a breath of her memory. Too late now.

  2. dragonfly Says:

    Thank you! She was beautiful.

    And you know, I never thought about that -- putting something in a plastic bag. It's certainly an idea, though my bulging hope chest might be reluctant to add yet one more thing.

    The strangest thing is that her oil paintings (I have two) seemed to have harbored that smell also, even after years of being in various houses.

  3. Kim Says:

    All I can say is thankfully my school system has yet to block blogspot. You have been my escape during the crazy days of dealing with eleven year olds. But, all this family talk just leaves me behind my computer crying like a baby and hoping no coworker comes in. Thank you for the memory refreshers. Will we ever get through a family prayer again without tearing up? Can hardly wait for Thanksgiving!!!

  4. dragonfly Says:

    Will we ever get through a family prayer again without tearing up? You know... I sort of hope NOT, if that makes any sense. Don't know what's what these last couple of weeks. The memories have been nailing me. Less tears - more hugs! I'll save a few just for you. :)

    I'm SO jonesing for Thanksgiving already! I'm bringing Pumpkin spice cupcakes with eggnog pastry cream and bourbon caramel cream cheese on top!! Still working out the details but I can almost guarantee Death By Pastry!