When I was in kindergarten, I’d spend afternoons at my Grandma’s house. She’d sit at her kitchen table with me and together we’d drink tea—with lots of sugar—and eat slices of her homemade bread.
She was sixty-nine years old when I was born and had lived a long life before I was ever in the picture, but of course when I was young I didn’t think about the life she’d lived before I was in this world. I didn’t even wonder how she spent her days before I walked through her door every afternoon.
As a young woman, she raised her family in remote country, high up in the hills outside of Telluride, Colorado. She no doubt worked harder in one day than I do in month. But by the time I was in kindergarten she was beyond all of that. When I knew her she had the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing, centralized heat and television. By the time I came along she could do her dishes without having to haul water or boil it first. If she felt chilly, all she had to do was turn up the thermostat. And so when I sat at her table after school on those weekday afternoons, she had time to sit there with me. If she talked about her life at all it was in the form of stories about her and her sister Bessie playing together when they were little girls, and the trouble their very naughty brother Jesse always seemed to bestow on them.
Those afternoons were about tea and bread and childhood stories. She didn’t burden me with anything about the adult world.
If I could sit down with her now, I’d probably ask her too many questions. I’d want to know what it was like to raise a slew of children in a small cabin high up in the mountains. I’d ask about her parents, her brothers and sisters, her marriage to my grandfather. I’d want to know what brought her the most joy and what brought her the most sorrow.
As it is, all I can do is imagine what her life must have been like before I knew her. I can take the experiences of my own life and project what I know about love and hard work and responsibility onto her life as a young wife and mother. But all of that is speculation. What is real and what I don’t have to imagine is the memory of my grandmother’s calm presence. Time with her was soothing to my young soul. It was not about the future or the past. It was just about sitting together in the afternoon sun, drinking sweet hot tea and eating bread still warm from the oven.