My first two memories of my grandmother:
1) When I was a baby, she loved to hold me up and say "SOOO big!" She even bought a statue of this scene.
2) Up until I was 15 or so, whenever my family went out to dinner she would order a "Dewars, on the rocks, with a twist." Word for word.
Precise, elegant, complete. That was my grandmother, in a glass.
My grandmother cared about being an elegant lady. Though she never lost some Great Depression-era thrifty habits, she appreciated fine things: good art, good music, good food, the city of New York. She never really liked the suburbs she lived most of her life in; a native of Washington Heights, she missed Manhattan.
She treated me like a grownup as early as she could, and never dumbed things down for me. If she wanted to make a witty remark, but knew it would go right over my little head, she said it anyway. When I was too young to know that card games were anything other than what I played with grandma and grandpa, she told me, "I used to think that playing cards was for degenerates, but then I found out that I liked it." I get it now. Another time (she loved to tell this story), when I was little, my mother was off her feet for some reason so my grandma had to pick me up from school. She took me to the ice skating rink for my skating lesson, but I didn't know where I was supposed to go because my mom and always gotten me where I needed to be, and my grandmother didn't know because she'd never been to the place before. It was an unhappy afternoon, and I must have hated it, because the next day when I saw my grandma come by to pick me up from school, I lay down on the floor and started kicking, yelling, "I'm not going! I'm not going ice skating!" Another person might have tried to scold me into compliance, or to wait out the tantrum, or to soothe me with gentle words. My grandma knew me better than that: I had simply made an error of fact, which she immediately corrected. "Ben," she told me, "we're not going ice skating." "Oh," I replied, and got up and followed her out.
My grandfather was very different. He had a big personality, and he would be off singing and playing with me and the other children, while my grandmother sat with the other adults in conversation, because she found it more interesting. I feel like I spent the first 20 years of my life getting to know my grandfather, and wish I could have spent the next 20 getting to know my grandmother, but she would have been the first to point out the practical flaw in this plan: when I was 20, she was 83.
My grandmother was always forthcoming with advice, whether it was wanted or not. "You shouldn't eat that." "I don't like your hair that way, you should cut it shorter." "You should talk to so-and-so about a job." She loved her family and wanted us to put our best feet forward, look good, and do well, and nothing made her happier than to learn of and talk about our successes.
Her honesty made her easy to buy gifts for. A love for fine food - and in particular for excellent chocolates - is one thing we shared. One year, I found some wonderful chocolates to send her, and when she called me about them she was over the moon. The next year, those chocolates had been discontinued, so I found another brand recommended by the same source. When she called she said, "I wanted to thank you for the chocolates, but I thought you'd want to know, last year's were better."
She knew what she liked, and what she didn't, and she lived only as long as she was able to enjoy the things she liked. A few weeks before her death, she played bridge with friends. She was so physically exhausted by it that she declared it her last - but she came out ahead and took home money.
My grandmother died on the morning of Thursday, December 12th, 2013. She was 90 years old. I will miss her honesty, her elegance, and her love.