BY suzy

08/01 Direct Link
It’s quiet in my grandmother’s attic. Half-moon, stained glass windows touch the floor, jewelling the dusty floorboards with their light. The roof slants sharply, and on its beam I see the builder’s initials and the date, 1886. The house was built as a wedding present from the town sheriff, who lived next door, to his only daughter. My mother grew up in this grand house, and my grandparents still live here, though they rent out the second and third floors to two maiden ladies. The attic is still my grandparents’, and it’s one of my favorite places in the house.
08/02 Direct Link
I love to go up to the attic alone, passing the doors to Frieda’s and Maretta’s apartments as quietly as I can. I don’t want them to pop out and delay my visit to the wonders that await me at the top of the house: the wardrobes full of fragile, beautiful old ball gowns; the bed where my mother’s cat Smoky slept thirty years before, untouched since his death; my great grandfather’s sleighbells; the trunk of souvenirs my grandmother’s brother acquired on his Grand Tour of Europe. No matter how many times I see these things, I am still enchanted.
08/03 Direct Link
My mother was an only child, adopted by my grandparents when she was two or three years old. They went to the orphanage, where she had been abandoned as a baby, and looked at the children, as one would look at the puppies in the pound. My mother was bending over, peeking between her knees and laughing. My grandparents fell for her on the spot. She always knew she was adopted, and it never bothered her. Her parents told her, “We chose you out of all the children in all the world. Other parents have to take what they get.”
08/04 Direct Link
When my grandparents tried to adopt another child a few years later, they were told they were too old. They were in their early 40s at the time, an age when many people now have their first children. So Mom was an only child, in a time when that was unusual. She saved up her allowance and went to the maternity ward of the hospital, where the newborns were displayed in a big window . She asked one of the nurses if she could buy a brother or sister. They had so many, they wouldn’t miss just one, she thought.
08/05 Direct Link
My grandmother Ethel grew up on a farm. Her father didn’t want her to go to high school, and college was unthinkable. He didn’t believe in educating women. She ran away from home and stayed with her scandalous Aunt Luella, the one who got married in a fuchsia dress (so she could wear it again, and she did). She got a job in a candy store. She bobbed her lovely long hair. She went to highschool, and college, and became a teacher, teaching for many decades. Sixty years after she graduated, she proudly showed her granddaughter her excellent final grades.
08/06 Direct Link
My grandfather and his brother were walking down the street one day when they saw a lovely girl with soft, bobbed hair, Wedgwood blue eyes, and a pair of very shapely legs. My grandfather turned to his brother and said, “There’s the girl I’m going to marry.” And he did. When he presented her with the tiny diamond engagement ring which was all he could afford, he promised her he’d buy one worthy of her when he had enough money. When that day came, she said no – she treasured the original, the promises it held, the love they shared.
08/07 Direct Link
I always loved to look at old photographs and hear about the past. This turned out to be a good thing, because all my grandparents died within a year, and their stories with them. I loved to hear about their childhoods. My mother’s parents lived on farms in New York State. My father’s mother lived above the butcher shop her parents owned in London. My father’s father grew up in the tough docks of south London and never spoke of his family. To this day, I don’t know why he cut himself off from all his relations except one sister.
08/08 Direct Link
Both my grandfathers were named Ernest, and they both fought in WWI. My paternal grandfather was gassed, and I believe he suffered a nervous breakdown, though they called it shellshock then. He recovered and went to work at Lloyds Bank in the City, where he met my grandmother.

My maternal grandfather carried his father’s Bible onto the battlefield, and it saved his life, the bullet hitting his book instead of his heart. Later he was in the infirmary when the rest of his unit, including boyhood friends, was destroyed. He recovered and became the principal of his daughter’s high school.

08/09 Direct Link
My grandfathers didn’t like to talk about the war. My paternal grandfather somehow made it impossible to ask him about it, but my mother’s father would sometimes talk about how hard it was in the trenches, mud and never having dry feet, the hunger, the fear. He guarded German prisoners because he had studied German at school and could converse with them. He soon discovered that they were boys much like himself, just doing a job and what they thought was right. One of them made him a cross out of nails, which he kept until the day he died.
08/10 Direct Link
When the war was over, the Ernests both spent a week a week in Paris and were then shipped home. I can’t imagine what a shock it must have been for them to go from the horrors of the battlefield to the delights of Paris and then home. They would have been much different than the boys who set off idealistically years before. It seems that not much fuss was made of the returning heroes, who presumably either went back to school or looked for a job once they were back in their native lands, just got on with it.
08/11 Direct Link
Marjory, my father’s mother, was born left-handed, but made right-handed. In those days, there was something supposedly sinister about being sinistral, and her mother and then her teachers actually tied the offending hand behind her back, forcing her to learn to write with her right hand. Her handwriting was, not surprisingly, atrocious. When she started work at Lloyds, she wanted with all her heart to write in the ledger. A colleague gave her lessons at lunch time and after work. She practiced and practiced until her writing was good enough for the ledger. It was beautiful, like flowers. Like her.
08/12 Direct Link
When I was fifteen, I went to spend the summer with my father’s parents. About an hour before I was to leave for the airport, we got a phone call telling us that Mom’s mother had a brain hemorrhage and was in the hospital. My father got one of the men who worked for him to take me to the airport, while he and the rest of the family flew to my other grandmother’s bedside. When I finally arrived in England, I learned that my parents had forgotten to call and I had to tell my grandparents the terrible news.
08/13 Direct Link
My first panic attack, in the home of Christian Scientists. My chest ached, I couldn’t breathe. My grandparents didn’t know what to do, so they went and got their next door neighbors. Mr. was English and his wife was American. She gave me a little pill and talked to me softly, soothingly. I think I was in shock, and had been too worried to sleep on the plane. She said, “Rest now, and we’ll have strawberry shortcake later.” I fell asleep, and when I woke up, it was the next day. Too late for strawberry shortcake – or too early.
08/14 Direct Link
My father called and said my grandmother would be all right. She would be released from the hospital soon, so there was no need to worry. I could stay with his parents and enjoy the summer. I still worried, but I loved being with Dad’s parents and hearing about when he was young. We played Scrabble and cribbage in the evenings, and when there was a cricket game, my grandfather would go into the dining room, where the radio was (they never had a TV), and close the door so he could listen undisturbed. We had to be very quiet.
08/15 Direct Link
They didn’t have a refrigerator, just a larder, so shopping was a nearly daily event. My grandmother and I would walk to the village, stopping at the butcher’s and the baker’s and the greengrocers’. I wondered if the butcher shop reminded my grandmother of her childhood. At the baker’s, I always got a jam doughnut for my grandfather, who ate it after dinner with a knife and fork. The greengrocers were four unmarried sisters who had taken over their father’s shop on his death. They’d cut a cucumber in half for us, and always remembered that my grandfather liked bananas.
08/16 Direct Link
Though they had worked in the City for years, my grandparents rarely ventured up to town. Fortunately, a close family friend, who had known my father since he was three, volunteered to take me up and show me the sights. What she didn’t know about London isn’t worth knowing. She took me everywhere, and history came alive as she spoke. I never once considered her age (77) as we climbed to the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul’s or up to the Observatory at Greenwich. She never seemed to get tired, and her enthusiasm was infectious. She was a grand lady.
08/17 Direct Link
During our travels together, Allie, my tour guide to London, mentioned that she had never married. Her fiancé was killed during WWI, not as lucky as my grandfathers had been. I thought it was incredibly romantic that she had never married, and said so. She laughed and said, “My dear, you don’t understand. There were simply no men left. Nothing but old men and little boys.” The young men had gone to war and never came back, lost in the flower of their youth, leaving their women to mourn alone. “I still miss him,” she said looking into the distance.
08/18 Direct Link
Here’s how Dad met Allie: She moved into the house across the street. While she was unpacking, there was a knock on the door. She opened it, but didn’t see anyone. Then she heard a small voice saying “Welcome to Coulsdon.” Looking down, she saw a small blonde boy, clutching a bouquet of marigolds. She invited him in, and they were friends for the rest of Allie’s long life. Dad and I always visited her on my annual trips to London and we always brought her a bouquet of marigolds. Her friendship was a truly precious gift in our lives.
08/19 Direct Link
Marjory was terrified of her mother, even though she was long gone. Her mother, after all, had tied her left hand behind her back to teach her to write with her right hand, and had beaten her with a cane when she felt it was necessary. Marjory was the eldest child. The youngest child, Barbara, remembered this fearsome lady very differently, possibly from being born right –handed and the baby, thus apparently spared the rod. Barbara remembered her mother going to dances with her, and rather than chaperoning, dancing the night away. “She was a bright spark”, she said dreamily.
08/20 Direct Link
Marjory’s mother had her own problems. Her husband, who owned a butcher shop, was a merry, lovable man who gave his friends and neighbors a little too much credit. His wife, on the other hand, saw the importance of balancing the books, paying the rent, and seeing that the butcher’s children didn’t go hungry. When he couldn’t bring himself to ask his neighbors to pay their bills, she put on her bonnet and sailed forth to do it herself. She didn’t take “no” for an answer. She may not have been loved by all, but she was strong and courageous.
08/21 Direct Link
Looking through old sepia photos, I come across a girl I don’t recognize and show it to my grandmother. She takes it from me and goes over to my grandfather, who is reading the paper. “Katie Shaw!” she cries, waving the picture at him. Katie was one of his former flames, and my grandmother thought he had destroyed all photographic records of his romances from 60 years earlier. “I saw Katie Shaw at the church picnic last year, and she was fat, Ernest, she was fat!” As she tears up the offending photo of now-fat Katie Shaw, my grandfather chuckles.
08/22 Direct Link
My grandmother gives me a book on decorative writing. As she does so, she slyly asks my grandfather if he knows who gave it to her. He guesses: “It’s X! I’ve seen him looking at you in church!” She shakes her head, smiling. “Then it’s Y. He’s always trying to walk out with you at bridge club.” No again. My grandfather wracks his brain for possible admirers, but he couldn’t guess, and she just smiles mysteriously. I think how wonderful it is to still be jealous, still playful, after being married half a century. They never stopped being in love.
08/23 Direct Link
My mother’s mother did recover long enough to celebrate her birthday. She died less than a month later. In the bottom drawer of her dressing table, she had a box with the clothes for her burial, right down to the undergarments. We had three open coffin visiting days, and they were three of the worst days of my life. Seeing her with the wrong shade of lipstick and powder on and hearing everyone say how beautiful she looked when she looked nothing like herself made me want to run away screaming. I did not find that ritual comforting at all.
08/24 Direct Link
After she died, my grandfather lost all interest in life. He came to live with us, and he’d brighten up a little when we came home from school, but his green eyes were opaque and sad. He began to suffer from nightmares, dreaming he was AWOL during WWI. He didn’t recognize my mother sometimes, and kept asking us where his wife was. He died of pneumonia four months after his wife’s death. That was the official cause, but he truly died of a broken heart. He couldn’t wait to rejoin the woman he had loved so much for so long.
08/25 Direct Link
I was shocked to learn that my grandparents’ house had been sold, and sold with nearly everything in it. In retrospect, my mother was in shock – an only child losing both parents so close together, but at the time, the fifteen year old me couldn’t understand why she didn’t ask us if there was anything we children wanted. I would have asked for my grandmother’s dressing table with its three-way mirror – I can still see her sitting there; she was meticulous about her appearance. I wanted my great-grandfather’s sleigh bells and Civil War sword, my grandmother’s sewing machine.
08/26 Direct Link
Ironically, Mom did keep a lot of her mother’s junk, and thirty years after my grandmother’s death, I spent a few hours looking through boxes of the things my mother did preserve: Jell-O molds, miscellaneous cups and saucers, an endless supply of relish trays, a vase or two. I have no room to store these things, so they’ll have to be sold or given away. There was one treasure so far: a faceted glass bowl with a gilded edge and blue stars painted on the facets. This dish is part of a set, and I hope I find the rest.
08/27 Direct Link
My grandmother Marjory told me she didn’t like peaches. I was amazed, and on further inquiry, learned that she had only eaten canned peaches. I bought some fresh ones, peeled and sliced them, and served them in the faceted star dishes with a sprinkling of sugar and cream on the side. She and my grandfather loved the peaches; they were a revelation, as you can imagine, canned peaches being nothing like fresh. We had them the rest of the summer, always in those dishes. Holding that bowl, the memories came flooding back. I hope the others are in another box!
08/28 Direct Link
The phone rings. It’s one of those wall phones everyone had in their kitchens in the 1970s. My father answers it, and as I watch, slides down the wall and sits on the floor, phone in hand. He drops it and starts crying. I had never seen my father cry before, and it scares me. I go to get Mom. There is a whispered conference in the kitchen, and then Mom comes out, gathers us all together, and tells us that Daddy’s Daddy has passed away. I can hear Dad’s sobs of utter grief punctuating the news. It‘s Christmas Eve.
08/29 Direct Link
My grandfather didn’t feel well in the night. He woke up my grandmother and asked her to make him a cup of tea, that English panacea. He went to sit in his special chair, the one no-one else ever sat in, to await the tea. When my grandmother brought it in, he was dead. My father said that his father died the way he lived: a Victorian gentleman. It’s true, and I’m still glad to think that he was in his favorite chair, waiting for his beloved wife to bring him tea, happy and safe before he simply drifted away.
08/30 Direct Link
Marjory came to visit us a few months after her husband’s death. She seemed to be fine, bearing up and being brave, playing with her grandchildren. One day, she had her youngest grandchild, who was five years old, on her lap when she slumped forward. She had had a stroke. My father accompanied his mother back to England, where she held on for a few days, dying peacefully with him by her side. Both she and Daddy’s Daddy were cremated; no visiting days or open coffins for them.

I lost my grandparents all within one year. I still miss them.

08/31 Direct Link
So here I am, looking back on events that took place thirty years ago or more. My parents are gone, as well as my grandparents, and sometimes, especially in the death days of August, the month when I lost my parents and my grandmothers, life seems like a series of losses and farewells. Despite the grief I feel, losing these people who are still so dear to me, I feel lucky to have known and loved them, and to have been loved by them. I wonder if it’s true that as long as you remember someone, they aren’t really gone.