I called my mother’s mother, Granny… but she didn’t deserve the title. There should be a rule for blood relations that receive an epithet but never earned it. In blood, she was my Granny. She was my Granny when she called every birthday. In theory, maybe she did love me. A sort of call and response ancestral game was played. She always started with “I love you. You’re my first grandbaby.” It was only fair for me to respond with “I love you too, Granny.” While she cried into the phone with “miss you” and “see you soon,” I listened to her voice being drowned by the cars along the street. I had grown to not rely on the promises that never came true, the wishes to be taught a Sock It To Me Cake family recipe was soon replaced with counting down until the phone conversation ended.
The summer trips where we would see each other and the overdue bonding would commence only lived in her imagination. She seemed to forget that I had grown up. And while she never failed to miss calling me on my birthday, I never called her on hers because I never knew when it was. I knew my elementary school best friend’s grandmother’s birthday was in December. My grandpa’s in October, but Granny was never a true tether for my reality.
Whether she had a favorite color is beyond me. She didn’t know how I took my tea or the movie I played on repeat when I was feeling sad. When I underwent my first heartbreak, she was none the wiser. I knew too much about her: the way she didn’t raise my mother, her thievery of my mother’s identity, her exaggerated stories that meant absolutely nothing, and how incredible of a baker she was. I never tasted the coveted marriage of ingredients she was skilled at. They always seemed to be reserved for others a bit closer to home.
I was an afterthought in the way I always felt my mother was to her. Like my mother, I was doing fairly well, but we were fun to brag about. I graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees. My poems had been published in a few journals on campus. I was a student director of a program and closely working with a few mentors. While she could rattle off my resume, she didn’t know about the times my depression hit. How I calmly pressed the washrag to my wrist as a compress as the blood flowed heavier than I anticipated. The narrowing of a NyQuil induced unconsciousness with the damp scent of a recently used shower. Granny still operated like the sixteen-year-old girl she was when my mom came to be. My mom continued to forgive her and out of frustration, maybe it was stubbornness, I refused.
Relaxing around Granny was out of the question as I tucked my jewelry within the recesses of outgrown clothes in my closet. Peace of mind was folded into my underwear drawer along with the family photos I coveted the most. It would only be for three days. Don’t leave anything of value exposed. The shuffling steps she would take in the hallway were soon joined by my heart’s steady bass as I strained to hear what she could possibly get in to.
A few months before her death, with a twenty something’s infallible pride and no ring on my finger, I informed my mother that Granny would not be invited to my wedding. The soft colors of my mother’s own wedding day becoming more focused as my Granny beamed at the camera, equally dressed in white. I didn’t want her missing teeth to show in my pictures in the same way that her absence in my life was.
At her memorial, my glassy eyes wanted to check the clock. Speech after speech was given about this caring woman, the grandmother figure that was in so many lives. My siblings and I sat there solemnly, wondering how nice it would have been to know this woman. It would have been nice for her to be our grandmother. Her baking skills were unmatched, apparently. Stories were swapped with tearful smiles from young girls talking about being in the kitchen with her, measuring ingredients, and mixing them in with her wisdom and jokes.
I was the lone baker. When I mastered my chocolate chip cookie recipe, my Dad was there. Every step of the way with careful critiques and inquiries. He taste-tested every batch with a glass of milk nearby and thoughtfulness in every chew. I never baked for my Granny. She never learned how I realized it’s best to not follow a chocolate chip cookie recipe for my batter’s base or even which brand of chocolate chips I use. She never asked. Instead, I was given her stories of how we’ll spend entire summers baking away different cakes and mouth-watering pies, recipes that were so beloved by those around her.
At her memorial, I read her obituary. I stood with poise, calculated breaths, enunciated words, and proper posture. There, in the sanctuary, with an audience, I learned bits and pieces of who she was, for the first time. When I concluded and sat down, I felt nothing. A woman approached me during the repast: “You read that obituary so beautifully. How did you do it?” I told her that I’d taken public speaking during college and had some practice. But little did she know, it’s difficult to mourn a stranger.