When I was little, there were three things I would always do when I first got to my grandma’s house. We went there pretty often; she lived only a couple of hours away so at least once a month we probably made it down to Santa Cruz for a couple of days. Every time we arrived, my brothers and I would race into the house – lock little kids into a small enclosed space like a minivan for two hours, and they’re bound to race anywhere as soon as you let them out. We would happily burst into the house and hug our grandma and our aunt, and then as soon as greetings were over, we’d race, very carefully, into the living room to commence the first of the three rituals.

The living room was a room full of relics and artifacts, pristine and well-kept. It was a room of oppositions, furnished in shades of black and white, soft with a big couch and lush carpet, but hard with ebony tables and a stone fireplace. My grandma kept trinkets in this room, decorating the shelves and the end tables with things like a huge golden platter, or a framed page of the Qur’an. Because of the delicate baubles everywhere, we were discouraged from playing there, except when we first arrived, because we had to check paperweight table. In front of the huge bay window, there was a small table with only a lamp and a myriad of paperweights. Each of the grandchildren and great nephews and great nieces were allowed to pick a paperweight and put their name on it with a little piece of masking tape stuck to the bottom. We were each allowed to pick one. Some day it would be ours to keep. I don’t know why we always had to check on them. But whenever we arrived, we rushed to the paperweight table to pick up our paperweights, check our names, stare into the swirls of glass and crystal. We’d inspect the other paperweights too, and then we’d put them carefully back, and forget about them for the rest of the stay.

This was a ritual my brothers and I all took part in. The other two things I always did when I first got to my grandma’s house, I did alone. I always admired my grandma’s collection of jewelry boxes and jewelry. She had a long dresser against the far wall of her bedroom, and along the whole length of it were jewelry boxes. Some were large, intricate chests, some were small delicate music boxes. I would check every single drawer, and play the songs in the music boxes and just marvel at the pretty of it all. There was one small pink box, made of a soft stone, and inside she kept a golden heart pendant. She promised it to me, and it felt special because it lived in her house with all of her other treasure. After she died, I found out she had more boxes, more jewelry hidden away in her closet and cabinets. When we spilled it all out over the floor to divide it between the girls left in our family, it was like something out of a treasure-hunting movie.

The last thing I always did when I got to my grandma’s house was pure magic, the stuff of elves and fairies. As soon as we had settled in, my grandma would always say to me, “Flopsy has been waiting for you. You better go find him! He’s probably hiding.” And I would race through the house, from room to room, flinging open closet doors and dropping to the ground in a heap to check under beds. Every time, he’d be hiding in a different place like the sneaky animal he was. The whole time I was at my grandma’s, he’d be with me. When I got older, I realized Flopsy couldn’t hide himself every time I came over. My grandma or my aunt had hidden him, just so I could find him as soon as I arrived. Flopsy, being a stuffed rabbit with rather large ears, never would’ve been able to open the closets I always found him hiding in. The door knobs were a good three feet above his head.

My grandma was the kindly matriarch of the family, the uniting force that brought us all together every year. Her holiday dinners were no event to be trifled with, every dish cooked to perfection, every place setting laid out with precision. Thanksgiving and Christmas were the only times our entire family was together at one time, and everyone would sit around talking over each other. We used to joke that people not raised in the family had to learn how to carry on at least three conversations simultaneously, since at all times several discussions would be going on across the entire room and at very loud volumes. We haven’t done that since my grandma died.

When I see pictures of my grandma when she was young, she looks like something out of a movie from the 40s – glamourous, beautiful, confident. She was a nurse and she traveled the world – my dad was born in Saudi Arabia, and our house is peppered with Arabian coffee pots and a scimitar or two. Also a camel saddle. When I knew her, she had the appearance of a gentle old lady who had lived a full life. But she also smoked like a chimney, had a glass of scotch everyday at 5:00 PM and was an avid follower of the 49ers, the Giants, and the Sopranos. She was also the best bullshitter I’ve ever played cards with, and apparently a poker player of great prowess. She was, in short, an incredible woman.

My grandma put me through college. The money she left to our family paid for tuition for me and my brothers, something we probably wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. I wish she could’ve seen me walk the stage.

Thanks Gramma. 

I miss you, and I know you’d be proud. 

Leave a comment


  1. cb

     /  June 2, 2011

    yeah, i miss her too…she is the only woman i know who could carry a conversation re: 49ers, SUNSET’s recipes, Giants, how great her president is(2nd Bush), her TV show, COPS, Wall street just from one breath to another…and i love her stories(esp. about walking in the snow, barefoot).

    she treated me like her own daughter, she spoiled all that was dear to her, …definitely a classy lady and all time cool GRAMMA!

  2. uncLe gene

     /  June 3, 2011

    Marissa: what a beautiful and fitting tribute to a great lady…even old uncles need stop, remember and tear up when remembering the “good times..o ” .So proud of you and will see you next weekend. Love Uncle Gene


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