I am the only one in my family that my grandmother was never mean to. And it’s not because the rest of my family are all horrible people and I’m some kind of angel. It’s simpler than that. I’ve always thought that it was just because I was just too young to be mean to. My grandmother was 71 when I was born, and by the time I was sixteen, she was in a nursing home. But she was more than mean enough to the rest of the family. She was cruel to my father and his sister. And she was nasty to my mother for years. She even managed to alienate her other two grandchildren, both of whom are more than 15 years my senior. I understand why everyone else feels the way they do. But I remember her differently. Sometimes I feel like there’s a family club that I’m not part of because I’m the only one who has no reason to hold some kind of grudge. At her funeral, I was the only one who cried. I cried because I do miss her; because I remember her as generous, caring and acutely aware of how fortunate she was and how so many others had so little.
She and my grandfather lived in Scottsdale, and they would often drive to Mexico to buy Kahlua, her favorite drink. I only made the drive once. I was ten. Sitting in the car in line to come back into the U.S., there were Mexican children begging in the midst of all the traffic. My grandmother rolled down the window and started giving out money. The way I remember it, she gave out a lot of twenty-dollar bills that afternoon.
Then, there’s the Thanksgiving story. Walking into a grocery store, she saw a family digging through a dumpster at the back, looking for food that they could salvage for their Thanksgiving dinner. She went into the store and bought them everything they would need in order to have the kind of Thanksgiving that her family had. Later that year or some years later, I can’t remember how the story goes, the father of the family made a point to find her so that he could thank her for what she had done.
As I get older, I wonder how accurate my memory is and if the Thanksgiving story ever really happened. She had a penchant for storytelling and humility was never her strong suit. But the more I try to figure it out, the more I realize it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that she taught me that it is the responsibility of those of us who have to take care of those who do not. And she showed me how important it is to treat people who are less fortunate with dignity and respect. It’s somewhat ironic that I would learn these values from her, but now that she is gone, this is how I remember her.
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