Today, one of my best friends on the planet turns 90 years old.
Once, when she was just about my dad’s age now and I was a teenager, she sat on the steps by her front door and told me she was tired and getting old and didn’t feel well. It struck me for the first time in my life that my grandma was also doing this life for the first time, was also trying to figure out how to navigate it, that this life was a new experience for her, too. Up
Until then, I thought she had all the answers, that she understood what was happening. Instead of falling from a pedestal I began to love her wider and deeper in that moment. I wasn’t alone in this confusion even though our struggles were generations apart.
I come from one of the strongest women in the world.
She has taught me how to live. How to laugh about it. How to care about others, to be interested and curious about their stories. She has taught me about connection and how we can always find one, even with strangers.
She has taught me how to work. How to do it anyway. How to be resilient and strong and selfless, sometimes to a fault but so important nonetheless.
She has long beautiful fingernails that she tends to regularly. I always loved that because it never occurs to me to tend to mine. Her short, black hair didn’t start graying until her 80’s and then, only at her temples. She looked amazing in a bikini as a young woman on a boat in the lake.
She buys us too many Christmas presents. She remembers what we love. She sends me clippings from the local paper about a HS friend done good or my favorite hometown restaurant. She checks the Giants standings, even though she could care less about baseball.
She took us back to school clothes shopping every year. Once, I wore perfume in her car and she got pissed. Possibly the same time, she closed my finger in the window and didn’t realize it despite my yelling and then we laughed and laughed. She bought is gigantic sundaes and then sent us home.
She bows her head and puts her hand to her forehead and says “oh, I don’t know, Monica”. She calls me every name from her daughters-in-law to my cousin to her friends until she gets it right or just says “oh whoever you are!” She always has.
I’ve never had a meal that she’s cooked that wasn’t delicious, even food I don’t normally enjoy, like cooked bell peppers. Even cheese sandwiches. My grandpa used to sit at the end of the table relishing his meals, eating his salad right out of the serving bowl when everyone had had theirs. He loved her cooking. He loved her big, beautiful heart, the home and family she created for him. When he rolled his eyes at her, something she said or did, it was the most loving annoyance I’ve ever seen, to this day. Like he loved even the things he didn’t love about her.
She took exquisite care of my Grandpa their whole marriage, even when he didn’t deserve it, even when he turned off his hearing aid, even when he was gruff and dismissive, even when he lay dying and she held his hand and patted it with her other.
She lost her mom, so young, and made an incredible life with her dad. When her husband died just after the war was over, so young, she made an incredible life with my dad. She lost her beloved daughter-in-law, so young, and yet she kept our family afloat when we didn’t know how we’d go on without her.
I can’t imagine how she must have felt when I went into the hospital after trying to kill myself the third time. Or when she heard about Harvey and watched me nearly die from that too. She told me sometimes she wakes up calling for her baby and realizes it’s me. She didn’t lose her son but she’s lost enough to know.
She’s got a friend like I have. A life long friend. 8 decades now. They don’t see each other enough anymore but I’ll bet the farm they know each other’s secrets.
I’m sure she has secrets. Truths she’ll never tell, experiences she keeps tucked tightly in her heart. I’d like to know all of them, except the ones that are precious and sacred to her insides. Except the ones she pulls out and basks in when she’s alone because they are just her’s and she’s had so very little that’s just her’s in this life.
I come from a long line of strong women. A long line. She told me the other day how amazing her family is and I said “you started it!” And she did. And she’s kept it going. And she’s taught us everything we know about family and love and work and how to do this life with heart and laughter and courage. She keeps on teaching us and she’ll teach us for the rest of our lives, long long after she’s gone.
My only regret is that we won’t grow to be old ladies together. That when I am her age, I’ll wish I could pat her hand and shake my head and say “oh, I don’t know, Gram.”
I love you Vesta Marie Kilmer Welty Scarano. The eldest and the youngest of my family, you and Harvey, you are my heroes. Thank you for being my Gram and helping me through this treacherous, beautiful, messy, wonderful life.