Today, my grandmother would have been 91. She passed at 85.
Mamie and I always had a strange relationship. Perhaps because of the distance – we lived over a thousand kilometers away. This was a time when the Internet was not quite simple enough for our elders to handle. Besides, she probably had never used a computer, even if those were widely available in the 90’s. We did not call much either, although I cannot really explain why. We would see each other according to my parents holiday’s schedule, which was directly linked to their bank account gauge turning green: not so often. Once grown up, I visited when I was passing nearby, only once I made an effort to take a very long detour to see my family in that area.
I valued the few times I had with her. I listened. When we were young, my sister and I would make a little fun of her Northern idioms and onomatopoeias. There was this man-mère that kept coming back. Textually, it is the Ch’Ti word for mother; literally, it means “My God” or “Holy Cow”. We liked her for these moments: the links to our roots and the folklore we knew nothing of.
She was the only person willing to talk about two important persons: my dad and his father (he passed in 1979, before I was born). Little stories of a teenager, of a husband – who would doubled up as the postman, of a family. Somehow no one else, certainly not my dad, spoke of those times. She had a sort of exclusive right to the family’s collective memory.
After her husband passed, things changed. Her children were adults, and she was nearly alone, living on a little allowance from the postal services. No easy times. She had eight grandchildren, of which I am the 5th. I like to think that her grandchildren made her proud too.
This picture is about to be 10 years old. I looked young and dumb then. She hated photographic flashes, in the same way that she hated only very few things: they passed and get ignored or forgotten. She has some grudges but new to overcome them. Somehow, on every picture I can find of her, she looks the same. As if her smooth cruising attitude to life and her forged ideas about the world had made a physical imprint on her.
She comes from a time of faith – Christian faith that is, of loyalty, including to her late husband, of principles and values, of introspection. She would not miss a weekly visit to the cemetery, and the traditional Toussaint.
Now in a time of stress, of lack of faith – in the world, in the future, if not in a God – a time also of constant anticipation, I can look back; see her in my memories. In many ways, she gives me strength.
Memories and a few pictures are not the only things I have to help me remembering her. There are the mugs, and they have their little stories. One of those things that as a kid seems odd or awkward. We made fun of these mugs, but when we visited her apartment, this was the one thing I asked the family if I could keep. There are memories in those two mugs. There is a little of her in them. They are well over 30 years old now, still being used, the prints still in good shape (she did not use a dishwasher – our mom had the same mugs, the prints passed out long before their 30th anniversary).
There are the mugs, and they have their little stories. One of those things that as a kid seems odd or awkward. We made fun of these mugs, but when we visited her apartment, all of us together, after her funeral, this was the one thing I asked the family if I could keep. There are memories in those two mugs. There is a little of her in them. They are well over 30 years old now, still being used, the prints still in good shape (she did not use a dishwasher – our mom had the same mugs, the prints passed out long before their 30th anniversary). Somehow it seems right that the company that made them is still around.
It took my grandmother’s passing for me to realize the force she was for the family, for me and for my future. It is strange to think that we need our ancestors to think better about our future. Strange, but reassuring. It took her to go, and a few years of insouciance, for me to stop being stupid. And now it feels egoistic.
I am very fond of my grandparents. They all passed now. There are the memories, and there are the regrets of not having built more of these memories, stories, anecdotes, all those little things that make me, in parts, who I am and where I am headed.
No matter the years I got since that picture, the kilos gained and the extra hair, no matter how much I change, grow, do or not do from here, one thing will remain:
Mamie, I miss you.