Today marks 10 years since my grandmother passed away. I had always told her I expected her to live to be 100, and she came darn close at 98, so I will round it up, and call it achieved. I spent a chunk of time rifling through what photos I had of her, honestly not too many.
On 1 1994 visit home to Baltimore, I had sat her down in front of a cassette recorder, doing what I enjoyed, asking her to tell me stories of her life. She was the sixth of seven children growing up pretty poor in Newark New Jersey.
Perhaps my favorite photo was done with film in 1986, when I was taking a black and white photography class at the University of Delaware, catching her in mid sentence… she always had a point to make (probably much to my mother’s chagrin).
She was rather energetic for a grandmother, speeding around in her red Rambler. Look, she wore me out! I think this photo was from a birthday trip to Williamsburg PA, mid 1970s.
I never knew her husband, my grandfather, for whom I am named after– Abraham Levine died before I was born. Sometime when I was living in Arizona, in one of her many letters, she sent a picture of her and my grandfather (the date on the back says 1942) and she had attached a then recent picture of her
On the back she wrote “this year, New Year’s Eve”. It says something how we do not think much of our future documentation issues, as I can only guess what year this was (guessing late 1980s).
Here she is in the home I was born into but do not remember since we moved when I was two, this photo is stamped 1955
I love the old school TV, and in the back I think that is my Dad looking for an album to put on the old time record player on the right. That chair she is sitting in was in our basement of the family house I grew up in, and I ended up taking them to my first post college apartment (and later destroying).
This 1988 photo with Dad and Grandma would be at my sister’s house, my first trip home after moving to Arizona. She must have been talking about him ;-)
A year later, and here she is with my nieces, who are now in their late 20s. She may have wanted a hug.
In 1992, I must have mailed her a stuffed pet as a holiday gift (she always asked after my dogs…)
A much later photo, she is physically frail, but I can tell from her expression she is about to share an opinion!
I knew she played piano, and now that I think about it, I do not think I ever heard her play- this photo would have been at her apartment in the common area. I do recall her telling me how excited it was for her to find she could still play songs from memory
She was definitely not happy when the family made that decision to put her into a care facility. She was so damned proud of her independence
I have more in my memory, though fragmented, that are not in photos. Her apartment in Warren Park, the trips with her to see a Colts game at Memorial Stadium, her funny bathing caps she wore in the ocean, how she would swim way out in the surf with me and showed me how to jump waves, eating steamed crabs, her split pea soup I loved (and how she mailed me her recipe and her old soup pot when I moved to Arizona), the stories of her travels in the 1950s and 1960s, how she drove fast never wanted anyone to be stuck behind her complaining about a slow driving old lady.
But I find more gaps then memories. I guess what I can feel is her never ending demonstrations of interest in me and love and how she just made me feel like the most important person in the world. I wonder if that kind of grandmother has gone out of fashion, I hope not.
I’ll save one more from another visit back to Baltimore, guessing from my hair, the first time I grew it out, this might be 1996. She loved attention, and I loved giving it to her. This is when I would tease her about how she had to live to be 100, and I would call her “Granny” so she could say, “I’m not old”
I still have a lot of that audio I recorded with her in 1994. I sat down tonight, thinking I would pick up another chapter, spending 2 hours doing a video edit– and then realizing I had already done this segment when I did the first video 4 years ago. Instead, I took that old video and put it on YouTube to make it easier to play. I did this 4 years ago, and still have doing the rest on my todo list.
These were the stories I loved, what live was like for her in the first decade of the 20th century, how they never were sure what her birthday was, and the ones about her father, the chess champion.
As soon as I hear her sing song voice, more comes rushing back. Here’s to you Granny, your spirit lives with me.