Gramma had always told us that when we had to clean out her house someday after she died that it was very important that we didn’t just throw anything away, but instead go through pockets of clothes, and leaf through books before we decided what to do with them.
When I first got there Mom and I were looking at some of the framed photographs that Gramma had (some were pictures of our family, some were photos of dogs, things like that) and we noticed that sometimes Gramma would just slide a picture in front of another one. Sometimes she’d put a photo in front of a signed piece of artwork. Other times she had inserted written lists of pictures so that we knew how many photos went with that set. So when we found a framed picture, we’d open the frame to see if there were other things inside.
Friday afternoon I had taken a break from cleaning out my mother’s old room and had gone down to the second floor to get some cleaner air. Wanting a break from lifting and sorting, I walked into my great-grandmother’s room, where we were keeping all of the framed pictures and some of the glass. It is also where gramma’s ashes are. They are sitting on a chair in the corner, in a bag with her name on it. There have been some complications in getting her ashes buried in the family cemetery, so for now, that’s where they are sitting.
I was just looking around the room for something to do when I looked at Gramma’s ashes and said, “How you doin’, Gramma?” I leaned over and grabbed the rectangular frame that was leaning beside her. It had pictures of my family taped to the glass, so I wanted to grab those pictures and take them home. There was a picture of my dad with my cousin in there that I really liked.
I walked out into the living room and sat on a chair. I peeled the tape from the back of the frame. I slid out the picture of my cousin and my dad. I turned it over and it said, “Your cousin.”
And that stopped me for a second. This cousin is on my dad’s side of the family. In the family on this side he’s only a cousin to me and my sister. Instead of sliding another picture out, I finished peeling the tape from the back of the entire frame and pulled the back off.
They were all pictures of my family, all labeled with their names (if she knew them) and their relationship to me.
I don’t even know how it all formed in my head. Seeing my name there, all full of exclamation points, like she always did when she wrote to me, “Hi, Pamela Ann This is your grandmother! Hello!” It took a second for me to take it all in. To realize that I was reading something from her to me.
I think I shouted first. Then I called my mom while I started crying. She came down the stairs with my Aunt and they looked over the photos with me. Gramma must have done this while she was waiting for me to be born. Although she put down the time and year, she neglected to put the date.
It was the “I hope you find this!” that made us all quiet. So many people have come through this house over the past two months, combing through things and throwing things away. There have been three tag sales and just hours upon hours of emptying frames and gathering photographs. But yet, I opened the one that was addressed to me.
I looked up at my mother, who was about to climb the stairs. “I’m glad you came,” she said wiping her tears.
I looked up into the bedroom and thanked Gramma’s ashes.
It was the first thing she ever wrote to me, and now as I think about it, it must have been the first time she ever told me that she loved me. How funny that it ended up being the last thing I ever read from her. It’s the last time she ever told me she loved me.
After I had gathered the photographs I went downstairs to get something to drink. As I was walking back up the stairs I saw something in the middle of the floor in the room next to the stairs. It was a folded letter. We’ve been in and out of that room over and over, and never saw a piece of paper right in the center of the room.
I picked it up. It was a letter Gramma had written to my mother a year before I was born, telling her how much she loves her. I took it upstairs to my mom and then decided that I wasn’t going to root around anywhere for a little while, as it was all getting to be a bit too much for me.
Never let anyone tell you that my Gramma wasn’t going to get the last word in with anyone. She finds a damn way.