Monday Memories: Did I ever tell you about my grandmother?
I'm talking about my grandmother, Betty. The one that Grace is named after. (Grace's middle name is Elizabeth.) We called her Mem or Memmy, which is common in this neck of the woods. She was a wonderful woman. Always smiling, always laughing, sweet as all hell. She was the epitome of the "grandmotherly" type woman you picture as a kid... short, plump, tightly permed hair, and glasses. But beyond the physical features, she also had a "grandmotherly" personality... sweet, kind, adoring, and a kick ass cook and baker.
If you ask my siblings and I what our favorite "dish" of hers was, we'd all give the same answer without missing a beat. Her chicken pot pie. But see, it wasn't the same kind of pot pie that everyone else on the face of the earth refers to as chicken pot pie. It wasn't even a pie. It was a stew. I've tried to describe it to people time and time again over the years, and the closest thing I've found that is similar to her "pot pie" is chicken and dumplings stew. I don't know why we grew up calling it pot pie. We just always did. She was Pennsylvania Dutch, so I suppose it could've been another one of those cute little "dutchy" things that Pennsylvania Dutch people say (like "outen the light" and "go get on the car" instead of "in the car.") But for whatever reason, that's just what it always was.
I used to love to watch her make it. She's start boiling the chicken and potatoes on the stovetop while she handmade the dough from scratch. She'd sprinkle a little flour on her formica tabletop and then roll out the dough until it was flat. First she'd cut lines in the dough from top to bottom, about 1" apart. And then she'd cut from left to right, cutting those strips into 1" by 1" squares. My brother, my sister, and I would then help her scoop up all those squares and dump them into the pot (eating quite a few of those raw squares as we went), knowing that in a few hours, we'd be eating some real downhome PA Dutch style cooking.
She had another version of it that she'd make once in awhile too. That was called "Lazy Man's Pot Pie". It was the same recipe, but instead of rolling out the dough and cutting it into squares, she'd take the "lazy" approach and just tear off small balls of dough and dump those into the chicken stock. My sister and brother preferred it that way actually, but it just wasn't the same. The time, patience, and care she put into actually rolling out the dough is what made it so damn good in my opinion. Nothing could compare to those little one-inch squares of love.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late-90's. She'd been a smoker all her life until she had congestive heart failure. Then she quit cold turkey and never had another cigarette again. But it was too late. All of those years of smoking had done her in. She was a fighter though and went through cancer treatments, oxygen tanks, and multiple hospital stays. She made it to my wedding and I got to dance with her that night at our reception. I remember how she told me the next day how excited she was that she felt good enough to stay for most of the reception. She had good days and bad days, and that night, I swear, it was like she was her old healthy self again.
Towards the end, in May of 2000, she was placed on Hospice care and was confined to a hospital bed in her living room. My grandfather, my dad, and my aunt took care of her in between the Hospice nurse visits, and it got to a point where we knew she didn't have much time left.
I remember getting multiple phone calls one week, when my dad (or aunt or grandfather) would tell me they thought she was going to pass soon, and that I should come there if I wanted to say goodbye. They only lived about 2 miles away, so I'd drop everything and drive there, where I'd find my parents, siblings, aunt and uncle, and my cousins gathered around that goddamn ugly hospital bed, trying desperately not to cry and trying to wrap their brains around the fact that she was going to be leaving us.
And then after an hour (or several), we'd realize that the old broad had some fight left in her, and that perhaps she would hang on for a little while longer. So we'd leave and head back to our homes, knowing that one of these times, she really wouldn't hang on anymore.
The day she died was bittersweet. No one wanted to see her go, but at the same time, it was obviously time. Every breath she took sounded more like a gurgle. And she hadn't been conscious or coherant for days. I had been there earlier that day, after one of the false alarm phone calls, and I left so Steve and I could go grocery shopping. We went to the store, and as we walked in the door to unload the groceries, the phone rang. Literally, the second we walked into the house. It was my dad. He said to get to my grandmother's house immediately. They really thought it was time this time.
So I jumped in the car and flew down the road to her house. By the time I got there, everyone else was already there. My dad and my aunt were sitting on either side of the head of the bed. My dad was holding her one hand and my grandfather was holding the other. My aunt was stroking her forehead, whispering, "I love you, Mom," into her ear. My mom was standing behind my dad, her hands on his shoulders, no doubt wondering how to ease the pain he was feeling in having to watch his mother die. My uncle was standing behind my aunt, doing the same. My brother, sister, and two cousins were sitting around the edge of the rest of the bed, touching my grandmother's legs and arms, fighting back tears and whispering things to her, trying to let her know she'd be missed. My cousin's husband was standing at the foot of her bed, holding his daughter, my grandmother's only great-grandchild she ever knew.
I was the last one to get there. I walked in the door and went over to the bed. I bent down, kissed her forehead, and told her I loved her. To this day I get chills whenever I think about what happened next. My dad, with a slight smile on his face, said, "OK, Mom. Allison just got here. We're all here now. It's OK." My grandmother took literally one more breath, and then went to a place where she could breathe again. A place where she could get up from that hospital bed and be the happy, smiling woman she had always been. I have no doubt she waited for me. Not me in particular. I just happened to be the last one of us to arrive. But there was no way she was going to die before everyone was there. It just wasn't the way she'd want it done.
And so she waited. And because of that, she died surrounded by literally every single member of her immediate family, twelve people who absolutely adored everything about her. Her smile. Her laugh. Her ability to make anyone she talked to feel special. And yes, her chicken pot pie.
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