Going to my grandma's house was always a big ordeal to my sister and me when we were growing up. She didn't live close by. It would take up an entire day that could have been better spent wearing our play clothes, getting dirty and smiling. We had to be proper at Grandma's. We had to be ladies. We ate cream of pumpkin soup and roasted lamb with mint jelly. We used the correct fork and didn't put our elbows on the table. We did NOT ask for seconds during dessert. We did NOT ask to be excused until everyone was finished eating.
We wore our Sunday best to Grandma's because we thought she expected it. We treated those visits as pure torture. Don't get me wrong, looking back at those days I can see our error. But we were kids...we didn't want to sit in the parlor drinking tea. We wanted to be outside exploring the possibility of fairy houses and mud pie eating contests.
The one thing that kept the visits bearable was a beautiful baby grand piano that my grandfather bought as a gift to Grandma before my dad was born. We would sit there on the bench pretending to know what we were doing. I'd hit two low keys back and forth imagining Cinderella running down the castle steps as the clock struck midnight. We'd look through the piano books and find 'On Top of Spaghetti' and sing at the top of our lungs. We'd open the piano bench and find tuning forks and pitch pipes and more books with foreign musical languages in them.
Once we found a book that had the song 'Yesterday' by the Beatles in it. Immediately, we were drawn to it; wondering why our proper grandma had a book with a song by a rock band in it. It was mesmerizing.
When my sister and I became adults, my grandmother aged along with us. My grandfather had passed away long before and she had lived alone for most of my life. But as time went on, it was becoming apparent that moving in with my parents would be a good idea. We all wondered how it would be, considering we always were so proper during visits with Grandma. She would see how we (gasp!) really live.
It was undoubtedly uncomfortable for a little while. Not just for us, but for my grandma, too. She was so used to having such privacy at all times. At my parents' house, she was constantly in the company of another person. At the time, my sister's first child was toddling around doing normal kid stuff. We tried to get her to understand that Grandma was her great grandma, but that quickly translated to my niece calling her Big Grandma. When Grandma seemed OK with it, that was the first time I realized how wrong I was about her my whole life. She started watching Spongebob Squarepants with my niece and nephew. She said "yeah" instead of "yes". She wore pants.
She had always been an enigma to me up until she lived with my parents. I was always afraid to be myself around her. I honestly don't know why. When I would visit her at my parent's house, we had the most wonderful talks about marriage and God and the world... she loved me so much more than I ever understood as a child. We just didn't know how to communicate it well when we were both younger. As we both moved on to different parts of our lives, she became more like me and I became more like her. She let go of a lot of mannerisms that she held onto, and I snatched them up to keep for myself. Yin and yang, I suppose.
My grandma passed away 5 years ago and I miss her every day. The things she taught me have stuck. When my kids slop around their dinner plates with their napkins on the floor, I think of Big Grandma. I explain to the kids how to properly cut their steak and where to put the knife when they're done.
And I play her piano that now sits in my front room. She gave it to me at one of my biggest turning points in life. My husband had just asked me to marry him, and we had bought a house - far away from my family. I was scared and nervous, even though I didn't mention it. That piano soothed me then, as it does now. I'm not a piano player. I took lessons as a child, but never became good at it. I just like to sit there and play the three songs I know...re-thinking all the time I spent at Grandma's house. Wishing it all back again.