Grandma Jane runs her life by the clock.
At 6am, she heats up two Eggo waffles, which she smothers in syrup, turns on The Today Show, and pours the day’s first glass of Diet Coke.
By nine, she’s dressed: Banana Republic, hair curled, perfume modestly spritzed. She wears pink lipstick. Her nails are sharp, acrylic, also pink. She’ll ask us how we’re doing, what our plans are, and she’ll tap tap tap her fingers on the counter while she restlessly vacuums the floor – which still hosts the perfect vacuum lines from the morning before – and refolds the blankets that were not unfolded in the first place.
She apologizes for the mess.
At 12pm, she places a handful of mini Snickers and two more Diet Cokes into her purse, which she clutches close to her side as she pulls her large sunglasses down and says, “Ready?” She doesn’t wait for a response before she’s out the door.
She sits in the front row of the movie theatre and eats a bag of popcorn and most of her Snickers before falling asleep halfway through the opening credits. Jane, even within the clutches of an accidental nap, folds her hands politely across her lap and keeps her neck straight. She’ll wake up at a loud moment and say, irritably, that the film makes no sense before eating the last of her Snickers and falling asleep once more.
At 2pm, she eats a bean and cheese burrito from Del Taco, leaving behind no trace of hot sauce nor crumb nor chip even in sparkling white Capris; if Jane hadn’t been a secretary, she’d have been a mighty good hitman. No evidence could pin her down. She also drinks what, at this point, must be her seventh Diet Coke. You can hear her crunching on the ice from two rooms over.
It’s 4pm by now: Time for The Price is Right, a book, and another nap. When she wakes, she’ll get unready for the day, slip back into her robe and a pair of slippers.
7pm is Grandma Jane’s golden hour. Wheel of Fortune, a final can of Diet Coke, and a bowl of chocolate ice cream. She’ll feel badly if she’s the only one indulging, so we all scoop some for ourselves and chat during the commercials. “This brand is so rich,” she’ll say, as if she hasn’t eaten the same ice cream every night for twenty years.
I’ll look at her in this lamplight, in her perfectly manicured sliver of the world, and think – quietly, so as to not make it too real – how much I am going to miss her; how strangely empty life will seem without her presence, silent and unobtrusive as it is. When you move to a big city and can no longer see the stars, you don’t notice it for the first year or so. I suppose the loss isn’t sharp because, well, your mind is otherwise occupied with life’s mini inconveniences, the practicalities of daily survival -- rent and such. Until one night, maybe when you’re feeling particularly lost or confused or a friend has said something hurtful, and you look up for that old familiar guidance to see that the sky is empty. How cutting the loss is then. It becomes impossible to take walks thereafter without searching to see if maybe you were mistaken.
Soon after the spoons are rinsed and placed in the dishwasher from 1975, Jane hugs us, tells us how grateful she is to have us all here, and goes to bed. Tomorrow, the same day will begin and end, and begin again. It’s Jane’s routine.
Sometime on an April Sunday in 2018, my mom called. I was away on a work trip deep in the woods of New Jersey. She said Grandma Jane was sick, and that she was ready, so if my sister and I wanted to see her, we’d better hurry. Without any consideration, we caught the next flight out of LaGuardia.
I don’t remember much about this travel; it was blurry at the time and, by now, it’s all but completely drizzled away. I do know that my sister was a steady force and I was grateful to have her onboard. The older sister muscle shirt is not one she dons very often – she expects me to lift on my own – but when it is worn, she does so with such grace and never an ounce of condescension.
Thank god. I would’ve melted into the floor had I been on my own.
Our plane landed and we were greeted by our mom, who also seemed oddly steady and level-headed, albeit a bit tired.
This reference may be antiquated and corny, but it’s the right one: The women in my family are magnolias of absolute steel. In moments where most would turn on each other and grapple for control or the last word, we simply don’t. There’s an esteemed, old Dixie dignity at our core – you can trace it back through generations. There isn’t a wilted leaf on the tree.
We got there just in time. Less than 5 hours after our plane landed – while Aunt Mitzi laughed about her grand-kids and my mother adjusted the blankets – Jane left. Her way: Silent, unobtrusive, surrounded by the ones she was most grateful for.
Because Grandma Jane runs by the clock.
She wasn’t going to wait for us to think about it, decide if it’s really what we think is best. Jane was a steel magnolia, too. She said she was ready…
…which means she’s already out the door, sitting behind the wheel of her Camry perched on a (pink) cushion because she’s too short to see over the dash, on her way to the show.
For a woman I loved very much: I hope you’re not too embarrassed, and I hope your sky is full of stars.