When a Grandma Dies

In high school, I had a boyfriend. His name was Peter, and ours was a sweet story. We knew each other all through grade school, until he went to an all-boys’ Catholic high school while I continued to the public high school. I was the only girl invited to his 6th birthday party. He was my first boyfriend in 7th grade, when being boyfriend and girlfriend really only meant holding hands and slow dancing as butterflies flitted inside of me. The summer before our senior year, when we both had the freedom afforded newly licensed teenagers, we began dating in earnest, and he became the first boy I loved.


What I remember most about this summer, other than it feeling endless and alive and full of light, is the time we spent at his grandparents’ home. Bebe and Ernest lived on a sprawling lot in the western part of the state, in a large house with a pool in the back. Peter came from a huge Italian family – aunts, uncles, and cousins – and Bebe’s home was the epicenter of it all. I remember her food – tomato and cucumbers simply dressed in oil and vinegar, perfectly cooked chicken cutlets, authentic meatballs unlike anything my mother had ever made- and how it quite literally brought her huge family together in the home she and her husband had built. Peter and I passed many hours at their home that summer and the one following, and I only loved him more for the reverence and affection he showed to his grandparents. The connection he shared with Bebe and Ernest became a bond for us, as I had a very similar love and respect for my own maternal grandparents. And ultimately, I felt blessed to be welcomed by his grandmother into their family for the time I spent with Peter.


When I learned that Bebe had died this weekend, it brought these memories back in vibrant detail and left me with a sadness in some long forgotten corner of my heart. I emailed Peter to share some of these memories with him and to offer my sympathy, but other than that, there is little I can do. As is the fate for so many high school relationships, the transition to college in different cities caused us to grow apart, and he and I both moved on long ago. Still, even sending an email to him felt like too little, a trite and distant gesture that couldn’t speak to the gratitude I felt for those afternoons as part of his dynamic, loud, loving, enormous family, his grandmother at the heart of it all.


And yet, I knew there was one thing I could do to honor Peter, and his deep connection to the matriarch of his family. I called my grandparents, who, at 93 and 88 with all mental and physical faculties intact, are two of the most exceptional blessings in my life. I chatted with my Grandma about what she made for dinner tonight and whether she’s watching Dancing with the Stars this season. I talked with my Grandpa about my nerves for school tomorrow and the drawing he worked on today. But mostly, I called to tell them both that I love them, because they are the heart of my family.


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