dear grandma,

it’s been a long time since we talked, and i never thought i’d be writing you a letter like this, much less posting it on the internet. hopefully you’ll read it. i don’t know if they have internet access in heaven, but i have a hunch you have pretty much everything you’d ever want at your fingertips, at least that’s what i imagine…

grandma, i don’t know if you’ve heard the news up there (is there a family newsletter in heaven?) but i’m getting married soon, in just a couple weeks. back when i was in middle school and high school, and more so in college, you used to always tell me i’d meet a prince.

“jessie, you’re gonna find a prince, lemme tell you,” you ‘d say in between our collective slurps of chicken soup or sips of coffee in your cozy apartment.  “a prince, i tellya. you just wait.”

i waited. and waited. and you were right. except i didn’t find a prince. i found holly. we found each other. she understands me better than anyone. i’m crazy about her, and i know you’d love her, grandma. and i know she’d love you. eight years later and i still talk about you constantly. i feel like she knows you already.

grandma, i can’t help but to think that it’s a shame you don’t know me now. i’m all grown up. i mean, you’d be almost 100 by now. and miserable, i’m sure, as you never intended on hitting 91 anyway. you used to always say, what am i good for? i’m so old, jessie, i’m so old, i’m no good for anything. i used to tell you, grandma! what are you talking about?! you’re so important to me, you don’t even know. and you didn’t know. but maybe you know now? your absence has left a hole in my heart a mile wide. i don’t know if you know it up there in heaven, but all these years later, i still ache for you as much as i did that summer morning in august 2000 when a phone call let me know–still in bed, my feet cold as ice–that you had left us, quietly, peacefully, in your sleep. only a few months, it felt like, after i called you on new year’s eve (you always were a night owl) and shouted, “YOU MADE IT!” into the phone. b/c, born in 1909, you never thought you’d make it and you totally did. and we laughed and laughed and hung up, both of us still laughing.

grandma, you were my best friend. and each day that passes, i see it and feel it even more. you were my rock in the storm, always ready with a dismissable hand wave for my enemies (“aahhh, who needs em!” you’d say with the force of a thousand north jersey grandmas), a hot drink, a piece of fruit, a fresh package of lox, some grapes (“ten,” you’d tell me. “only eat ten or you’ll get a bellyache!”), an espisode of the golden girls (oh, how we loved those! esp. when blanche’s balloon boobs popped! remember that??), a story to distract me from my worries, which seemed so large back then. looking back on it now, you never belittled them, you never made me feel bad.

there’s so much i want to write here about you for the world to see. all the things i miss about you. like how you used to kiss my feet as a little girl, and tell me about it as i grew up. “you know i used to kiss your feet?” you’d recount, laughing, picking up my tiny feet when i was still a kid. “eecch!” you’d laugh, making pretend you were grossed out. how we used to secretly hold hands in the backseat (i was always stuck in the middle of the family car on long drives and you must’ve known how i hated it). i miss your hands. so strong, stiff when you got old, but strong, always strong withbeautiful rings and so good to cook with. i miss all your hats, oh you always looked so gorgeous in your hats! some red, some green, blue and black and magenta, wearing them so well and so elegantly when we went to shul together…i always felt so proud by your side. i miss your cooking, your chicken soup (which i’m still trying to replicate), your thinly sliced sweet & sour meat (the “sweet” was sweet & low, i realize now and that fact makes me miss it even more). i miss the smells wafting out of your closed apartment door on the third floor–they’d tickle my nose before i even stepped out of that rickety old elevator (that i still have nightmares about getting stuck in to this day even tho we never actually got stuck in it–but we did have some close calls!). i miss you yelling at me that using a blowdryer on my hair every day would ruin it (you were right) and also that i ought to stop using all that other “crap” and just use dove soap b/c it’s the best thing for my skin (right again; i use it every day). i miss you yelling at us that we took away the only thing good left in your life (you were always dramatic, miss that, too), which, of course, was smoking unfiltered pall malls. (how you managed to keep your lungs clear remains a mystery to me, but i think it has a little to do withthe fact that you never breathed in the smoke in the first place, just in your mouth and out your nose for 65+ years) i miss you stealing everything salty that you weren’t supposed to have b/c of your high blood pressure–olives and pickles, mostly–off my plate at jersey diners. i miss splitting enormous, sweet-but-not-too-sweet cheese danishes withyou at those diners. i miss the way you used to look at me across those tables as i grew up. with so much love. like you couldn’t believe your eyes that i was growing up. and i wish you could see me soon, so soon, in my wedding dress. i wish so badly i could see your eyes looking into my eyes as i prepare to start a whole new chapter in my life.  

grandma, i knew i was gay a long time ago. when you died, i’m sure you found out everything quickly and i’ve been secretly relieved that i never had to actually tell you. my mom and uncle tell me that you and grandpa would be happy for me. that even tho grandpa was a rabbi, he could see thru all of society’s ridiculousness to the core of everything: that i’m happy. that i’ve found someone to make me happy forever. that two ppl that love each other makes the world better. uncle ben, your remaining baby brother, was going to come up from florida to the wedding, but he hasn’t been feeling well lately (he is pushing 90 afterall) and i couldn’t wait to see him. i figured he’d be your ambassador–and plus he looks just like you. now that he’s not coming, all i’ll have is your memory. but i’mquite certain you’ll be there with me.

i don’t really know how to close out this letter. it’s not often that i write a letter to someone who’s not here anymore. in fact, i’ve never done it before. i guess i want to ask you to bless us with a long, full, happy and healthy life together. to keep an eye on us from your perch in heaven, and know that i still love you as much as i did back then, that i love you even more now. that in my happiest and darkest moments i think of you and know that you’re watching over me. that if i could wish for anything, anything at all, it would be just five more minutes with you. just one more chance to kiss your soft cheek, one more chance to hold your sturdy hands, one more chance to stand next to you in services, just one more cup of coffee, one more golden girls laugh, one more argument, one more phone call making up, one more danish. one more anything. grandma, i miss you. please know how important you were to me back then. please know how important you still are to me. please know that an ‘old lady’ like you could have never imagined how much you did in the world when you were in it. and that you will be in my heart nov. 15th, my wedding day. and you will be in it always.

i love you,
your granddaughter,

my grandmother died in august 2000. she was my best friend.


6 responses to “dear grandma,

  1. I have three words: “NINETY NINE CENTS??!!!” Oh wait, a few more words: “Oh AARON, you’re VERRRRY good LOOKING!” Your gramma was an awesome lady and I’m so glad I got to know her a little! I’m sure she got the newsletter and is thrilled for you. xo

  2. This column made me cry so hard. It is amazing how much your Grandmother – a Jersey Jewish woman – reminded me of mine — a Washington D.C. black woman (although she was actually born and raised in Atlantic City, so there it is). My dear dear Grandmother died in June this year, just one day before my 35th birthday. We were incredibly close. And she was the biggest supporter I ever had. (My Dad is a close second; my husband is running neck and neck with Dad). She had the softest hands and the sweetest smile, and she understood things about life and about me that no one else ever will. I miss her sooooo much, Jess. I woke up just yesterday, after having a dream that she came back to us, in tears, missing her, needing her. But I know she is still with me, just as your Grandmother is still with you. We are better people for having had Grandmas like ours in our lives. And we’ll be better mothers and Grandmothers ourselves because of it.

  3. i just read it and now I am emotional too! You two loved each other so much. I remember her calling your parents house when we would go to visit and all she wanted was to talk to you. I remember the shabbos dinners with her and how you would make her laugh. You were the only one who really soothed her and she just loved you so much. You are very lucky to have had such a great grandma in your life and I know she will be with you on Nov 15th and is so happy that you found your prince(ss).

  4. This post made me cry, too. I have never come this close to having this type of relationship with anyone in my family. I am so glad that you had the opportunity to. I know your grandmother will be with you on your special day and she will be smiling down on you and Holly.

  5. As I wrote you, I have no doubt your grandma will not only be with you on Nov 15 but will cheering you on the whole way. I only wish I could have met her — I know she was an incredibly special person, and your retelling of your relationship with her is beautiful, poignant, and inspiring. I can’t wait until we’re both grandmothers (OK, um, maybe I can wait a *little* bit!) and can share with each other our own special relationships with our own grand-daughters.

  6. so beautiful jess. i cried and smiled, cried and smiled, and still tears are running down my face. thank you for sharing this.

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