Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Gathering light

My Grandma and I have always had a strong connection, she has always contributed a lot to my life.  This is mostly visible in the way I spend my time: I go to art galleries, cinema and theatres, I drink coffee,  paint, cook, watch the world go round - all of these things I inherited from her.  I even use Nivea cream on my face before bed, just as she did. 

I went to see her recently for a few days.  Every time I go, I wonder if it will be the last time.  She is getting older, her body and her memory are getting frailer.  She said to me, 'My mind is not working now. It was different last time you saw me, but my mind doesn't work now.'  And there are flashes sometimes of dementia that come and go, where the recognition in her eyes fades for a few seconds before she refocuses and remembers who I am.  My mum finds these flashes maddening and difficult.  I don't mind, sometimes I feel like she reveals interesting facets of her personality in these moments - some of them have led me to understand our family more clearly.  She asks me certain questions over and over again - which reveals to me the things she thinks about most, what she worries about, what she associates with me. Again and again she asks me, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' and when I say  'No' one day she says, 'Pity. It's nice having boyfriends. I always enjoyed having them around. When you don't have someone you don't realise what it's like but it's very nice. Only if it's the right one, not just any one.  One day....' and she waves her hand and gives a shrug. On another day she responds, 'Well. It's of no great importance.'  Another thing that preoccupied her was how I spend my time. 'Do you have any hobbies?', 'Do you paint? Do you draw?'. When she caught me looking at one of her drawings on the wall, she commented, 'I like drawing in charcoal.  You can do very little and achieve a lot.' Most of the emphasis was on my happiness, 'Do you enjoy what you do?' she asked again and again.  'You have to enjoy what you do, if you don't it doesn't work.  Nothing doing.  Things happen, you can't change it, but you have to enjoy it.'

My favourite times were the times she told me stories, little sentences, her eyes staring into space in a reminiscence for a while.  They weren't long, indepth rambling stories, they were little nuggets that pointed to a wealth of thought underneath the pauses in between. 'Vienna was a very nice place once. I expect it's all different now' she says of her home town.  'When I first came to Jerusalem I was very young.  I liked it.  I don't understand that now, but I did. We lived on the corner of Ben Yehuda.  I went to school in Talpiyot.  Instead of catching the bus, I would walk and save the money and have coffee in town or go out to eat on the way home.'  Another day she tells me about her piano playing: 'I used to play piano.  It was very nice.  But not like my mother, she was a concert pianist.  Even when she was very old she could play like no-one else.  One day a friend of ours came to the house with some sheets of music and she said "young man, give me that music." He said "Oh, Mrs Schaner, you won't like this music, it's too modern for you" and she said "Give it to me, I'll play it anyway" and she put the music on the piano and she played it note for note one hundred percent perfect.  She'd never seen it before.  I never played like that.  I liked to draw and paint.  I painted the dresses that I saw in the windows in the stores in Vienna.  I had a notebook full.  When we got to Israel, when I was about 12 or 13, my father went out in Tel Aviv and sold all the drawings, every last one in that notebook.  People bought them.  He was a wonderful salesman my father.' And she says with a sigh 'It was all so long ago.' More long silences. Then she says 'I never got along with my mother.  She wanted me to do things she wanted me to do, and I didn't want.'  She waves her had over her shoulder slowly, indicating the passing of time.  'We used to have a good time long ago, you and I.' We smile at each other, and resume our long silence.

Some days Grandma is more resigned to her fate.  She doesn't go out now, she admits that she is not interested. 'What for?' she waves her hand impatiently 'I had a good life.  I traveled and I did all sorts of things. That's how it was. Now I am old. I've had enough. I don't worry about my dying'.  Other days there is still a glimmer of the things that used to interest her, 'Are you going to the airport? I envy you.  Enjoy it for me.'

In the end, when I leave, we look at each other again, she takes my hand in her thin, tiny ones and I say 'I love you'.  With conviction, she replies 'Same here.' She squeezes my hand once, and holds my gaze for a few seconds. 'Come back soon and visit.  Soon'. I will.  I will.


  1. Makes me well up each time I read it. Grandmas are so very special.

    1. They certainly are! If you have any special Grandma stories, feel free to share :)