To My Grandmother (Who Would Have Been 103 on June 18)

Dear Grandma Mickey,

It’s been some time since we talked. The last time we spoke was when I stopped by Mauston and left an invitation to Zylan’s graduation party on your grave. I believe you were at the party in spirit.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to you before I left for Qatar. It was such a whirlwind of preparations between the short time I made the decision and when I was set to depart. While you were alive, I would always try to stop by if I was passing by Mauston. However, although you are still in the town, it’s not the same now that you’re not in your home. When I was completing the apostille process (I had to hand deliver documents in DC and NYC), I thought about you during my stay in DC. There was a JFK exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. I know how much you loved him.

As I think about you on your birthday, I wonder what you would have thought of me moving to Qatar?

Had you been alive before I left, I would have shown you the copy of my work contract. You would put on your reading glasses, but with your eyesight, you would have a hard time reading the fine print, so I would have probably read you the line items of amenities and tell you the conversion rate between USD and QAR. Your sharp mind would quickly do the math. “Oh my!” You would have said, “They’ll pay you that much to teach?”

Ever the voracious reader, you would have probably learned about the blockade of Qatar in one of your newspapers or magazines. You would have had Uncle Paul print out some articles about the country—maybe even adding Al Jazeera to your reading diet, which when you were alive consisted of Time, People, The Wisconsin State Journal, and the church bulletin. You might have worried for my safety, but being the lifelong Catholic, I’m sure you would have said a rosary prayer for me.

Maybe if I had gotten the chance to say goodbye to you before leaving for Qatar, you would have slipped me a $50 bill, and I would have given you a hug. Your elderly arms would have frailly squeezed me.

You would have enjoyed reading my blog. Uncle Paul would have to download my posts to your Kindle. Maybe you would ask him to leave a comment every so often: “Grandma saw the Emir of Qatar on Charlie Rose. What a well-spoken young man!” or, “Grandma read an article on Sheikha Moza. What an amazing lady!”

Maybe we would videochat every so often. I would tell you about Ramadan and Eid al-Iftar, about how my Muslim friends invited me to pray with them. I would joke that Muslim kneeling is more difficult than Catholic kneeling. You would nod your head and smile. However, maybe the connection wouldn’t be good, and you would have a hard time hearing me—you always told people that I was a low talker.

Maybe I would visit you during my summer break and tell you about the punctuality and attendance of my students, and you would have been aghast. You would tell me about your experience at nursing school and how you didn’t go home once in four years. You would also tell me about how all your children had perfect attendance in school growing up. I heard these stories about 20 times already, but I would happily listen to you tell me them again. Zylan and Ronan would probably accompany me as I visited you, and you would then grill them about their performance in school.

I would bring some photographs of my travels for you to look at. I would tell you about Barcelona, Casablanca, and Muscat. You would gush over the cathedrals and mosques. Maybe you would tell me about your trip to Egypt and how you saw the Pyramids of Giza.

At 103, my short visit would probably tire you out. If you were a spry 93, you’d have Uncle Paul drive you to the Chinese buffet so that you could buy us lunch. The boys would snicker as you wrapped the chicken skewers in a napkin and slipped them in your purse.

Maybe there would be oatmeal or ranger cookies when I would visit. The boys would devour these. You might ask me to get a plastic container from your pantry so that we could take some with us. Knowing the boys, the cookies wouldn’t last very long during the car ride.

When the boys and I would have to leave, you would remind Zylan about the importance of an education and support Ronan’s interest in the military. You would slip each boy a $20 bill, and maybe me one as well—for gas money you’d say. You would tell us how proud you of are of us all, and we’d take turns wrapping your tiny frame with our hugs.

After you turned 90, every time I visited you, I accepted that our goodbye might be the last one. So, I was never sad when I left, only grateful that I squeezed in one more visit with you. And, though I miss you, I treasure the quality time I was able to spend with you right up until the end of your life.

In sum, Grandma, Happy 103rd Birthday. I hope that you are at peace.

Love,

Conan

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