What It Looked Like
The heart supplies oxygen and blood to all parts of the body, without it we would cease to exist. Anatomically, the heart looks like a strawberry, protected by our ribs, lying in the middle of our chest. Everywhere we go, we see images of hearts though not anatomically correct but represent love. Love is a powerful emotion that we all experience. The classic shape of the crimson red or hot pink hoops that are seen everywhere come February. For these purposes we will be referencing the cartoonier version of the heart representing the emotion of love and it’s attachment to our feelings.
Growing up I had trouble pronouncing names so I made nicknames for everyone. I had two grandmas, one on my dad’s side and the other on my mom’s. I was smart enough to know that one wasn’t better than the other, so I couldn’t call one of them grandma #1 and grandma #2, I had to come up with something else. My grandma on my dad side’s name was Marlys and my grandpa was Marlyn. It was easier for me to just call them by the first three letters of each of their names, so I called them Grandma and Grandpa Mar Mar. That is probably the earliest memory I have with them and ever since then memories continued to be created.
The Gift was Given
“Jake, why don’t we give grandma mar mar this?” My brother asked as he found this small paper box that had a small heart shaped object just lying on some soft cushion inside the box. We found it in an old dresser where we kept our favorite movies. “Sure, but I don’t know if she is really going to want this,” I said. I had already opened the box and saw the heart there but then put it back in the drawer because I just didn’t think much of it. We decided to give it to her and we were so glad we did because it meant so much to her.
Every birthday, holiday and celebration she would always have something waiting for us. If it was our birthday she would have a cake and ice cream waiting for us at her house. Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter were all filled with candy and small goodies. She would always go to so much trouble to make someone else’s day just a little bit better. She really loved having all her loved ones together and enjoyed all the good times we experienced at her house. Oh, and her cookies! Sometimes they were homemade and others they were store bought but who cares; a cookie is a cookie.
One thing that stuck with me and made me curious as a kid and still does to this day, was how she treated her chocolate chip cookies. We all know the stereotype as to grandmothers and their famous chocolate chip cookies, but I have never seen anyone do what she did with them. She would refrigerate them! Can you believe it? I couldn’t either but it makes the cookie so much better I don’t know how, it just does. Usually you want them fresh out of the oven, when the chocolate chips are melting and as you break apart that deliciousness the chocolate stretches until gravity gets the best of it and it drips. Next comes the gulp of milk and your belly is happy. Nope, she liked them cold and that’s how she served them to us whenever we went over to her home. She would sit by the bar window that opened up to the outdoors smoking a cigarette and when we arrived she would go to her fridge and pull out those cookies.
My grandmother also had this strange obsession with cows. I never knew why she did but everything was cow themed at her house. I’m sure if she could she would have bought a cow to have as a pet. She loved taking care of pets but she always had too many, then again, at the same time I think it gave her something to do every day because she was retired and so was her husband.
Towards the End
Smoking had made my grandmother’s health deteriorate gradually but that couldn’t stop her. She would travel as much as she could as long as she had someone to watch her pets and if she was up for the adventure. Every time she got home she would always have pictures from her disposable Kodak Camera of her and her adventures and in every single picture you could see the heart pendant we had given her around her neck. I don’t recall her ever wearing any other jewelry other than the necklace we gave her and some small turquoise ear rings she picked up on one of her trips. We started visiting less often and calling less frequently once my parents got a divorce because it was harder to balance both sides of the family. We would mainly send cards back and forth, unless a holiday came up and she would make a surprise visit to us or she would pick us up and take her to her house. She started driving less and less and eventually only went out of her house for doctor appointments and to go marketing.
There was one visit that I do remember quite clearly and that was the time I cooked dinner for her and my grandpa. I made a classic Italian dinner that consisted of: Stuffed Chicken Parmesan, Salad and Garlic Bread and for dessert Lemon Bars. It was great because it was as if I was giving a part of me to my grandparents after not seeing them for so long. That’s why these visits became so much more important because we didn’t know when the next visit would be.
She had been in and out of the hospital after that visit and things weren’t looking too good after her third hospital stay. We went to the hospital after such a long hiatus since our last visit and noticed that our grandma probably would recover after this visit. A few days later she was released home to be with her husband for her final days. That next day she passed peacefully surrounded by her loved ones. This funeral was my first funeral and I’m glad it wasn’t the somber, “dressed in black” type but rather a celebration of life. She had lived a long and happy life and there was no reason for her to be alive and struggle in a body that was just holding her back.
Carpe Diem – Live Life to the Fullest
Fanny-pack around waste, my grandma was off to a better place, now leaving a place filled with excitement and thrills and embarking on a new adventure. She lived a Carpe-diem themed life. She took every opportunity she had and went for it. She would get in her camper and travel to New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona or wherever sounded exciting with or without her husband. I always enjoyed looking over pictures of her recent trips and thinking, “Wow, I hope I have this much energy this late in life”. She had the classic “Granny” look in all her pictures: white curly hair, glasses, and that fanny pack! If you looked close enough you could even see the heart necklace she was wearing and that really made me realize how much that small heart pendant we gave her so long ago still meant so much to her.
Though regret did fill my mind when I thought about my grandma, I know that she would never have wanted me to ever associate that with her. The regret I feel is that I should have visited, and called more often because now I can’t know, but dwelling on it isn’t going to change anything. Learning from our mistakes is what life is all about and if I could learn to put more time aside for the more important things in life, wouldn’t that be the greatest thing ever learned, if anything at all?
My grandmother did not live a short, undeveloped life, but rather a complete opposite. She found the man of her dreams, had a great job, had kids, her kids had kids, and got to retire to the joy of spending time with a new generation in such a different world from when she grew up, grandchildren. A woman of courage and strength is what my grandmother was made of. Always there when you needed someone to be there for you, but now what? Life continues for you but not for her, not for such a wonderful human being? Why? That’s life. Life is a constant struggle and once you think you are on top of things it just falls down and must be rebuilt. It’s about how each life is lived out and whether as you take your final breath, you are satisfied with what has happened and what has been accomplished in this life.
Life is not about winning or losing, rather it is about living. It is about how you spend your time with your loved ones and how you build those relationships throughout life. That little heart that was given has now returned to its home to which it was given from in the beginning and will know be passed on from generation to generation to follow. It was once just a symbol of love and affection but now so much more than that. A heart symbolizes the journey a person must take to feel accomplished in life and realize that all the hard work that took them to get that far all paid off.
The only thing that should engulf our minds before we pass on is relief. Relief that we accomplished everything that we could and now our physically bodies are worn out and need a break. Our soul and memories will live in the hearts of everyone we have inspired in our lives. The greatest hope we can ask for is that breath of accomplishment and relief as we exhale for our last time.
Jake Hagen is a freshman at Cal State Northridge and an aspiring chef, often found looking through cookbooks in search for the latest and greatest recipes to try out.