I remember getting a shiny round button that said “Jesus loves me” at Sunday School as a little girl. Raised catholic, my family would go to church on Sundays regularly so I got used to the routine of it all. I remember sitting on the church kneeler in front of my parents looking under the pews at everyone’s shoes. It was incredibly tempting not to touch them! I especially loved the music. I’d hum along when I recognized what the choir was singing and sometimes would even sing the songs when I got home because they’d get stuck in my head. But besides loving the familiar music and the idea that someone out there I’d never met loved me, the best thing about Sundays was having brunch afterwards with my Great Grandma Rose.
Great Grandma Rose was old. Really old. She lived in an apartment right next door to our church. In fact, she’d lived in that apartment for over 50 years! While I don’t remember her joining us for church, we’d always be invited up to have a brunch afterwards. Thinking about it now, I suppose she was busy making it so it’d be ready when mass was done. Brunch with Rose consisted of eggs, orange juice, toast and jelly packets, of which she had told my mom at one point she had stuck in her purse from various restaurants! No joke.
Now, I was pretty young, probably three or four, until maybe five that we did this as a part of our week. I distinctly remember playing with only one thing at her house. It was a rusty old truck with little pieces of random plastic parts inside of it. You could take the parts out and fill it up again, dump it and reload, that’s about it. The whole thing was always stored inside a plastic brown bread bag that looked like it’d been around for a really long time too. It sure wasn’t the Wonder Bread bag I recognized from at home.
I’d go into the spare bedroom, the one she didn’t sleep in, and look under the bed for that truck by the window. It was usually slightly under the bed. There it’d sit waiting for me to pull it out on Sunday. As my parents talked, I’d roll it around in the living room by my sisters on the floor.
The song “London Bridge is Falling Down” is also in my memory as something my sisters and I’d sing and act out in her living room. “Ashes, ashes… we all fall down!”
The apartment building she lived in was more like a house turned into a four unit rental. There was a first floor and a second floor, each housing two residents per level. She was on the second floor. As you came in you’d enter a little foyer and then head up the dark, wood steps that creaked. There was a musty sort of smell that was incredibly distinctive.
She was to the left at the top. Once inside, there was a hallway that had a mirror at the end of it. Her bedroom was on the right and then the kitchen came after that, also on the right. There was a pantry closet on the left. Also on left, there was a tiny bathroom with pedestal sink and claw foot tub. The door had one of those metal hook locks. The spare bedroom shared a wall with the bathroom and looked out towards the front of the building towards the street.
The living room was across the hall from the spare bedroom and opened up to the kitchen as well. It also faced the street and had a door going out to a balcony, just big enough for one person. She had a flower box on the railing edge that overlooked the parking lot.
There was a couch with a shelf above it that faced that balcony. On the shelf sat an item that inspired my nostalgic story tonight. It’s an angel singing while holding sheet music and a candle. I see that I wrote a year on the bottom of it with a pen: 1998.
My Great Grandma undoubtedly picked it out for me off her shelf for my sixteenth birthday. It doesn’t seem to be of much monetary value. It has two spots where it’s cracked and broken on one of the wings. Someone tried to glue it back together.
There’s also still a bit of a sticker on the bottom but it’s too worn down to read, and it’s just covering where it says it was made in Japan.
But despite it’s little imperfections, what I love about it is the timing in which she gifted it to me in relation to what I was up to. That same year I was in an all women’s choir in high school called Voices Etc. with whom I was getting ready to tour Europe over the Easter holiday. We rehearsed and learned over 50 songs to sing in numerous concerts in places like Prague, in the Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Munich, Germany; and a school in Slovakia. Many of the concert venues were churches.
When I received this “knick knack” you might call it, I was incredibly touched. It seemed to fit my personality and passion at the time for music and experience in choir perfectly. We always aspired to sound angelic and knew our voices had the potential to lift people’s spirits and unite us as individuals.
I can’t remember Great Grandma really ever giving me much else. She’d given me cards with a dollar or two inside perhaps, but this was more than usual. I wish I had heard where she got it from or the story behind it.
Some of the things I remember most about her was that she watched things like Wheel of Fortune religiously. My mom and dad have reminded me many times that you couldn’t call Great Grandma during that time it was on. She wouldn’t answer.
I also remember that she was the only person I ever knew that was born in the 1800s! Seriously. She was born in 1898. Yes, the year she gave me this she turned 100 years old! She made it all the way to 102, just shy of her 103 birthday. Up until about a year before she passed away she lived by herself in that apartment. Some might say it was her good ol’ stubborn German upbringing and personality that kept her so strong.
She was my Dad’s grandma, and he used to visit her weekly to chat and collect stories about her past. My dance studio was just down the street on Atwood Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. He’d drop me off and head on over to talk with her for an hour. He actually wrote a book with all of her stories too. Guess I may get a little bit of my curiosity about past stories from him.
Looking back at those Sunday brunches, I feel a strong sense of how having that regular coming together really shaped us as a family: the company it gave her, and the routine it gave us. I’m sure my mom appreciated not having to make and clean up a meal once a week, even if the eggs were always over done, as she reminds me.
I’ll end with a picture of my Great Grandma Rose.
Did you have a weekly, monthly or yearly tradition in you family that you loved growing up? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below.