October 6 in Illinois, I had driven to the cemetery for GG’s birthday. She died the same month she was born.
It’s a small-town cemetery, maybe a thousand people are buried there. GG is next to my grandpa Pop, and they are next to my other grandparents Nana and Baba who are next to their parents Marion and Louise. Six grave sites all tucked in, an enclave of souls, and I couldn’t find them. I walked and walked and walked, trying to find the casket compound, the bouquets of leaves – reds and yellows with tinges of greens – in my hand.
And I wondered – what is remembering someone? What is honoring their life? What is celebrating their legacy? Why do those phrases seem overused, abused, skimming the surface?
The old caretaker helped me find them all, in the same place they have now been for years. But I hadn’t been for years. Was it the angle of the sun that disoriented me and left me searching? How could I mistake my roots?
What date is it today? 10-26. GG left this world. The ruby-red throated hummingbirds were all around me that day, feasting on the purple papaya flowers and kangaroo paws. It didn’t feel like October.
The long shadows of the Bay Area sunlight confuse my body. How many years does it take to be in a somewhere to start internalizing its sense of place and biological clock? The microshifts in the birds, who shows up when. The golden cherry tomatoes in the garden that finally expire for the season. The smells of decaying leaves, wet soil, dew in the morning. The gradual shifts in the golden light, browning of the hills. The first morning when a warm cup of tea becomes a necessity.
But it’s October and there’s no crispness to speak of. How can it be October, and October 26 no less? I almost wrote March 4 on a check today.
I sat cross-legged and staring at the rows of cookbooks. So many memories, so many options, feeling like I should do something special, something to remember GG. My own altar to her. I ran my hand up and down their spines.
The jello book jumped out at me. Its metal rings tarnished, red cover worn thin, to a pale rose hue.
GG used to shop in order to save, a depression-era woman who raised 4 kids on my grandpa’s bricklayer salary and with a side job as a cook and a seamstress. After she died, it took us 3 years to clear out the jello she had stockpiled. And the kleenaxes, paper towels, flour, and baking soda.
Should I make the 7-layer jello? The one that takes hours, as layer by layer are put down, some with condensed milk and all topped with hand-whipped cream. It looks like a beautiful wrapping paper ribbon.
Or should I make the one that everyone despises but we ate anyway because it was just GG. Orange jello, shaved carrots, walnuts and raisins.
Or maybe the green one – I guess it would be lime-flavored jello, with marshmallows, pecans, pineapple.
Or maybe it’s the thought that counts.