She was ready.
This got me to thinking: What will they find when I’m gone?
When I was a child, my grandmother stayed with us frequently. I can still hear her precautionary warnings as we left for school.
“Did you remember to change your socks and underwear, Schnookie? If you get in an accident, you don’t want someone to find you in dirty underwear.”
I stressed about that as a kid. I worried about the what-ifs of someone finding me, unconscious, in mismatched socks or less-than-clean knickers. My gosh. What would happen? What if I hadn’t scrubbed behind my ears, either? Would they also see what I wrote in my diary when I was mad at my sister? There was a lock on my diary, at least.
I didn’t realize until much later the lesson she was trying to teach. She wanted us to stay clean, whether people could see it or not. She was warning us that all of our secrets would come to light, one day.
I have a good example of that. Can I tell you a story about my grandfather?
Gramps picked apples and made homemade applesauce every autumn. Usually he picked “seconds” off the grass at the apple orchard, checking carefully for the freshest fruit that had fallen from the trees. Bushel baskets full of crisp red apples lined the kitchen countertops and table, as he began full-scale applesauce cooking production. Wash apples, peel apples, slice and chop apples, pinch of this, pinch of that…cook it all down, sweet and simmering, so that even the neighbors all the way down at the end of the block wondered where that delicious apple pie smell came from.
All of his visitors received gifts of his homemade sweet applesauce. He packed it in recycled butter tubs and plastic boxes and re-used cottage cheese cartons, filling three large freezers in his basement. Walking carefully down the steep steps of the home he’d built for his family after the war, we grandkids had to walk past an ancient gas oven, complete with mint green steel trim. It looked as if a gingerbread boy might come popping out of it at any moment. Then pass by Grandma’s washing machine. I can still see her there, standing in the cellar in her floral housedress, feeding fresh-washed laundry through the wringer. We waited by with the laundry basket and wooden clothespins. It was our job to hang the laundry out on the line in the back yard.
“Watch out for your fingers, Dear! I don’t want you to get hurt!” She’d say loudly, as the black rollers pulled each article of clothing through, squeezing the water out in rivulets that flowed back into the tub.
Gramps had a much more gruff tone of voice.
“Keep your diamonds. Gimme a heart. Every pig’s got a heart!” he’d say, as he trumped all the tricks and won all the card games. Monkey Bridge, Bridge, Sheep’s Head, it didn’t matter. He said it would make us good at math, but that didn’t work out so well for me.
After the games, we’d follow him downstairs, and he would open the antique green paneled door to his “cold room”. I think “cold room” was the original root cellar of the house, cool and dry. But now it was packed full, floor to ceiling, with coupon items that Gramps had purchased for almost nothing. “Take some cereal,” he’d say. Or “load your car up with toilet paper before you leave. The store paid me to buy that.” In his retirement years, he commandeered the kitchen and collected coupons, dispersing the goods throughout the families of his children and grandchildren. The “take home pile” of toilet paper and cereal was usually topped off by plastic tubs filled with applesauce, fruits, home grown vegetables, coolers and insulated boxes and newspaper-wrapped bins… He loved to give us the food that he made.
We all loved it.
Then came the day that he died. He was working in his organic garden, when suddenly, that was it. Card game over.
When he was buried, all my family gathered together. We tried to comfort Grandma, but after 50+ years of marriage, there was no comfort for her without him. We prayed, and ate together, we even played his card game of Sheep’s Head around the dining room table. We neatly folded back the tablecloth, and I lost, as usual. Evening fell, the relatives began to disperse, and the funeral mood began to lift.
“We need to clean out the freezers,” my aunties said. “Since you have a truck here, you take a freezer home. We’ll even let you have all Gramps’ applesauce.” they promised.
So, with mixed emotions, we trudged downstairs. “Think of it as your inheritance!” chuckled one of my aunts. “You can take home all the applesauce that Gramps made for himself.” What a sweet gift.
We opened up the freezer and began to unpack it. We chuckled about how many applesauce cartons I would be taking home. But upon opening the freezer, it became clear that something was wrong. Gramps had spent months making applesauce and handing it out as free gifts to those he loved.
But his freezer at home was filled only with apple peelings. That’s what he had saved for himself. All the good and sweet fruit, he had packed and given away to others.
He kept just the peelings for himself.
All these years later, I still don’t quite have the words to say just how that made me feel…
I always recognized that he worked hard for us. Despite any faults he had, and his gruff voice and his card-playing compulsion, I knew he loved us.
But I didn’t know about his secret sacrifices.
It made me feel small and humble…
That was a good secret to discover.