Little Earthquakes

When I was little, we lived across the yard from my father’s parents. In the morning, I would burst out the backdoor, run across the small but immaculate vegetable garden my grandmother faithfully tended, and jump through my grandparents’ front door in search of hugs and cookies. Ignoring my mother’s moratorium on 8 am sugar, there was always a plate of Stella D’oro cookies on the table in the foyer.

Mary was as close to the personification of Mother Nature that you could ever hope to find. It was a weekly routine to find her hunched over a shoebox in the the garage tending a sparrow’s broken wing, or setting a saucer of milk on the back porch for the neighborhood cats. In my mother’s house, a spider in the bathroom would receive a shoe, a spray of water, or a loud scream- but across the yard in my grandmother’s home, the same spider would find herself gently ushered out into the yard. “It’s bad luck to kill a spider,” she would tell me. “They are protectors.”

A deeply religious woman, she would talk to the statue of the Virgin Mary that presided over her flowerbeds every morning, asking for her blessing in continuing to care for her family. Or in the case of the burglar who stole my aunt’s jewelry from her hotel room during my sister’s wedding, asking for Jesus to consider breaking his legs. She had no problems asking for a little Godly wrath if need be- but only for the wicked.

As kind and as gentle as she was, she also brooked no nonsense from kids misbehaving. She would march out the front door in her babushka and her hand-sewn shift and turn the garden hose on the neighbor kids if she caught them throwing rocks at one of the neighborhood cats. “How you like it if I throw rocks at you next time?” she would say in her accented English, shaking her fist. They believed her (as they should.)

She had a beautiful tree in the front yard with huge, fan-like leaves. One humid afternoon as I stood in her driveway waiting for the ice cream truck to roll down the street, I tore a leaf off to fan myself with. The front door flew open and out she strode, wagging her finger. “That is a living being,” she admonished as I stood in horror, the disembodied leaf hanging limply in my hand. “You can’t go ripping things off willy-nilly. You hurt that tree.” For weeks after, I walked gingerly around the tree, wondering if it would grow a mouth and start throwing apples at me like in the Wizard of Oz. It never did, but I never touched it again.

I never got quite how hard her life was until I was older, only later in life learning about her time in a work camp in Germany during World War II, the family she left behind to start anew in the States, and the amount of work she and my grandfather, himself a concentration camp survivor, had to put into building a new life in a foreign land.

Despite the horrors she endured long before my birth, she embraced the joy in life and the pleasures of taking care of her family, tending her garden, and finding the good in everyone. Uncomplaining and possessed of a serene gratefulness for her life, she was the glue that held our family intact. From her, I learned how to tell if a cucumber was ripe, how to approach an injured bird, and the old school method for how to tend a bee sting (for the record, a slice of white bread in milk applied directly to the sting.)

Later in life, when Parkinson’s took her ability to garden, she would sit in the living room and look out the window at the small patch of grass where her garden once stood. Though her shaking hands would cause the milk to slosh over the sides of the saucer, she would continue to place the milk out for the kitties, since they were counting on her.

I look back on the path my life has taken and I know without a doubt that who I am and what I believe in is the flowering of the seed she planted in my soul those days in my youth. My life today I owe to her.

She died on Saturday.

No small part of me left that day as well.

Mary had the pageant pose down pat, always- hip turned out, shoulders angled. Here she is in front of one of her many gardens, with her omnipresent pink flamingoes. I don’t know why she loved the pink flamingoes so, but she did.

Sometime in the late 70’s, my grandmother helping me pick blackberries from the rambling bush in the backyard. (Also the first and last time a photo of me in a swimsuit will be on the blog. Just sayin’.)

And at my wedding, where rumor has it she closed down the place- on the dance floor all night. It was a great day. I miss her already.

Filed: Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged:
  • Arwen

    I’m so sorry. She sounds like a very special lady

  • Kira

    I’m so sorry for your loss. She sounded like a wonderful lady who gave you and the world her love and care.

  • Cathey

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I, too, had an extraordinary relationship with my grandmother. I can only tell you that you will feel her with you in so many different ways as the years pass. Given her early life, you were blessed twice to have her with you. I’m sure she would be very proud of who you are and the good you do!

  • Angelica

    My deepest sympathies to you and your family. I lost my grandmother a few years ago. She was my best friend. She taught me how to garden (now I’m a gardener) and how to drive, which wasn’t a good thing. She taught me how to take care of people and animals and how to swear. She was a heck of a woman who raised two boys on her own.
    She made you who you are, always remember that.

  • What a beautiful tribute. Clearly her love of nature, and her spunk, has been passed on to you. My condolences to you and your family.

  • Ivy

    My sympathies for your loss. I think it’s wonderful that you grew up with such a great relationship with your grandmother. May the coming days be gentle on you and your family.

  • Georgia Jewel

    I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  • Sue W.

    Beautifully written. She is alive in your words. My condolences to you and yours on your loss, and my congratulations on the gifts she left you.

  • Lisa W

    What a beautiful remembrance. Like you, I miss my (maternal) grandmother — and for that matter, grandfather — though I feel that I always have them with me because I know that so much of the best of me came from the gifts I received from them.

    I am so sorry for your loss, and my thoughts are with you and your family.

  • Aw, what a nice tribute. She sounds like a beautiful, wonderful woman. How lucky you all were to have her in your lives. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  • Thank you for sharing this. sending you and your family big hugs.

  • I am so deeply sorry for your loss. What a poignant tribute to your most beautiful and wise grandmother.
    The imagery you evoked has deeply touched me, my heart is so sad for you.
    Your grandmother is looking down on you just bursting with pride.
    May God give you strength to get through this most difficult time.
    Blessings to you and your family.

  • Melissa

    Beautiful post.

    So sorry for your loss.

    She is greeted in Heaven by all of the animals that she tended. What a joyous thing for her to behold.

  • My condolences to you during this rough time. You honored your grandmother with a beautiful post. Grandmothers are simply the best. Mine (“Grammy”) was an expert seamstress, chef, teacher, and grammar aficionado.

  • Leigh


  • What a beautiful tribute, indeed. My thoughts go out to you on your loss. ((hugs))

  • Melissa

    Sorry about your loss Dr V. My husband and I just lost an Aunt last week, know what you are going through ๐Ÿ™

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Melissa. My thoughts are with you as well. What a sad week.

  • Tisha_

    This one made my cry at my desk. I’m sorry for your loss. ๐Ÿ™ It’s wonderful that you have such greats stories about her, to pass on to your grandkids someday. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My wedding is in 18 days, and none of my grandparents will be there. They were my whole life when I was little, but they all died too young. It’s the only thing about the impending wedding that has made me cry so far.

    Cherish that photo of her at your wedding, forever. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Deanna

    One of my Grandmothers is exactly like this, and I am noticing how hard of a time she has trying to tend to her garden as she gets on in age.. I’m so sorry for your loss, I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now. You are definitely in my thoughts โ™ฅ

  • May she rest in peace.

    I lost my beloved grandmother (her name was Maria, the Romanian version of Mary) a couple of years ago. I feel closer to her now than in the last few years of her life when her beautiful spirit was weighed down by her aging body.

    The things your grandmother would say… I wonder if they come from the European grandmothers’ handbook? They sound so familiar.

    • I do think there is an Eastern European ladies’ committee somewhere that I wasn’t indoctrinated into. There is just something so earthy and real there. She understood what life was about.

  • A very moving tribute. I love the title of this post, too.

  • Beautiful post. So sorry.

  • So sorry for your loss… lots of virtual hugs to you during this difficult time.

  • Tonya

    This is a very beautiful tribute to some who was, I’m sure, a very beautiful soul. I hope that the happiness she brought to you and your family throughout your lifetime will outweigh the sorrow you feel with her passing. I was very close to my grandmother as well, and I understand the loss you are feeling. You have my sympathy.

  • Jessica, that is a beautiful story and it is so true of our grandparents to be the ones that teach us about nature and nurture isn’t it? My German-Polish grandmother and great grandmother are/were also very earthy. They knew the reality as soon as they looked at something. God bless you my dear.

  • Dear Dr. Vi
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful grandmother with us. You were so lucky to live so close to her, and to learn from her. My condolences as you grieve her death. I hope she will let you know that she is still close, and watching that you don’t pull leaves off trees and always respect spiders.

  • Arliss

    What a moving, beautiful, tender tribute. It sounds like your grandmother was a wonderful and extraordinary person. And how lucky she was to have a granddaughter who cherished her so much. Sincere condolences for your loss as you celebrate her life and continue on with part of her within you.

  • My Grandmother was like that as well, and she was born and raised in NC. Maybe it is a wisdom shared only with those who lived through those times. (WWII) My Grandmother left us far too soon, she never got to see my son, or go to my wedding. Those of you who still have your grandparents, treasure them, love them, spend time with them!

  • Lauren

    I am so sorry for your loss Dr. V. I hope that you can take comfort in all of the beautiful memories you have of her and the time you spent together.
    – Lauren

  • Tamara

    Our grandmothers pass on their wisdom to us, and then live on through us. Hugs, Dr. V ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I got behind on reading online over the weekend so am just now seeing this. Grandmas are very special, I was with mine when she died, I miss her a lot. Keep doing what you’re doing, your grandma will smile down on you.

    Take care……

  • I am so sorry for your loss. She was clearly a very special person.

  • Cami

    What a beautiful tribute to what sounds like an amazing woman. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Poppa

    …….. simply wonderful …….. so proud …… how many more golden moments I haven’t yet discovered on your site ???????????????