Wednesday, June 5, 2019

About My Grandmother

I had a long dream about my grandmother’s house last night. I can remember every detail of this place that meant a great deal to me. And I woke up remembering that she passed in June, twenty years ago now.
My dad’s mother was Frances Ellen (Rivers) Vensel and we lived near her my entire childhood. I got my middle name from her—Frances—and although I thought I didn’t like being called Mary Frances growing up, I miss it now. I gave my only daughter the name Frances too.
When we were very small, there were many of us granddaughters and when she’d get our names mixed up, she’d call us Genevieve in exasperation. And this is partly where Geneva got her other name, from this imagined granddaughter. Grandma Vensel was kind, smart and funny.
Her house was immaculate, as my mom would say. Her bathroom shelves held amazing powders, creams and perfumes, and she was always put together—clothes, makeup, hair. I’d go to her house by myself and sleep until noon, then we’d play pinochle for hours. After a surgery she had, she didn’t like her voice, but she sang in church anyway—softly, a beat behind everyone else.
She showed her disapproval in quiet ways, and her affection and loyalty was matter-of-fact. She was a steadfast support and great friend of my mother’s. She loved my grandpa and I believe she missed him terribly every day after he passed.
She was the only person I ever saw stand up to my father. She loved golf—especially  Chi Chi Rodriguez—also Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and when I asked who her favorite singer was, she’d say Engelbert Humperdinck to make me laugh. Sometimes, she’d have a drink or two and be a little boisterous.
She secretly smoked in the garage, where she kept the 1972 Chevelle she truly loved. The car was also immaculate. She wore driving gloves and sometimes, scarves tied expertly around her throat. And she loved me, and all of us, and showed us how to be strong, dignified and true.
There was more to her, of course, much, much more, but she was very important to me, and still is. I keep the last picture nearby, to remind me how fun she could be.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka