My grandmother was a strong and beautiful woman. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visiting her log cabin home in Maine. I can close my eyes and still picture the long, winding driveway. The smoke circles escaping the brick chimney every few seconds. Eight - that’s how many circles of smoke entered the sky before our green Ford Taurus reached the brown garage doors. We entered the house through the garage, which always smelled of fabric softener. I remember feeling the vibration of the washer and dryer on the concrete floor.
Before I could place my hand on the doorknob, my grandmother was there - her arms wide open, wearing a cardigan sweater and her tan slippers. Her square wire-rimmed glasses sat neatly on her rounded cheeks and her curly white and gray hair was perfectly kept, probably after using 3 cans of hairspray. I buried my face in her sweater. She was warm. She kissed the top of my forehead and hurried me in for chocolate chip cookies, which I could smell despite the strong scent of her cat, Misty.
Her kitchen table was a dark cherry wood with bench seating. The cushion was a white and red checkered pattern and lacked much real cushion. It was hard beneath my bottom, but I didn’t care. I shimmied my way to the end of the bench, nearest the window. I wanted to look out at the expansive fields and gorgeous mountains. I loved nature almost as much as my grandmother. That’s probably why I loved visiting her so much.
She moved to Maine before I was born. My mother and father were newly married and my grandmother was alone, having divorced my grandfather when my mom was just 12 years old. This left her as a single mother to three children. She devoted her life to raising them, without much help from her ex-husband. I’ve only heard stories of this man who would have been my grandfather. I was told he moved to Florida after he cheated on my grandmother. People say he became a fisherman and lived on a boat. He never contacted my grandmother again, nor my mom or my uncles. He sent child support sporadically. My grandmother had to take him to court over dividing pension and retirement benefits. She described the entire encounter as “ugly”. She’s too reserved and has too much self-respect to discuss the situation any further. He was gone and she needed to be strong for her children. I admire her so much for the woman she was and the life she created for my mother and her brothers.
My grandmother remained in New Jersey so that her children could finish school. Once they had moved out and started their own lives, it was her time to reclaim her life. She tells me how she dreamed of living in Maine for years, but that my grandfather complained of the cold and isolation. “The isolation is what I craved”, she would tell me over hot peppermint tea and biscotti from the Italian bakery. She loved the quiet, the serenity, the mountains, and the wildlife. My grandmother has always been a strong, independent woman.
I often wonder how the divorce and abandonment impacted my mother and uncles. I imagine that my grandfather’s absence left a huge void in my mother’s life. He never walked her down the aisle, danced with her at her sweet 16 or held his grandchildren. My mother doesn’t discuss it. I believe she cut him out of her life emotionally the minute he walked out the door. That’s always been my mother’s way of dealing with things or should I say, not dealing with things.
I wish I had more time with my grandmother. She passed peacefully in that Maine home she loved so dearly. My mother and I were with her. She was content. When she first found out she was sick, I remember crying harder than I had in a long time. This strong, beautiful woman was too young to leave this earth. I hadn’t pictured life without her and I didn’t want to. But in true fashion, she was the strong one - taking hold of my shoulders and lifting my chin, aligning my eyes with hers though I couldn’t see through the tears and swollen lids. “I’ve had a full life, Sarah”, she told me, smiling. “I’m not afraid and you shouldn’t be either.” Even when faced with her own mortality, my grandmother was strong, graceful, and without fear. I miss her every day.
But how can you mourn the loss of someone you never knew? It’s strange but I do mourn my grandfather - I miss the grandfather I never hard. My heart feels sorrow for my mother - for the loss of her father. We don’t even know if my grandfather is still alive and at this point, it doesn’t matter much. My grandmother was enough of a grandparent for them both. She is the one I will always remember and she will continue to live through my stories and through my daughters - Candice Alice and Veronica Emily.
I miss you Alice Emily Hoffman. You were a wonderful woman I was blessed to know.