Grandma was educated in a different time, and maybe Punnett squares hadn’t been invented yet, because she was convinced we shared 100% of our genes. “You write because of me,” she’d tell me, often, as a child. “I’m a writer.” It’s true. She wrote people poems on their birthdays, and she wrote novels she’d print out and put into three-ring binders. “My father wrote, too,” she’d add. “We’d put on ward shows and he was always the one who came up with the ideas.” As I got older, I grew increasingly frustrated with these tales of why I was the way I was. I wasn’t just a younger version of Grandma. I was a real writer. I would do more than write birthday rhymes. I would do more than write church skits. Yes, I was a brat. If I could, I’d retroactively unthink these mean, bitter musings of a pre-teen me.
Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe it was this very meanness, this self-important image I had of myself as a real writer, that kept me going on my fraught-with-disappointment path to publication. Maybe I never quit because of that voice in my head saying I couldn’t; that if I did then the rumors were true, and I was a “writer” simply because of DNA and not talent.
When I published my first book, my grandmother invited me to speak at her book club. Her book club formed long before such things were popular, decades ago when the members were all intellectually curious young moms looking for an outlet. “There used to be more of us,” Grandma said as she served me ambrosia salad on a crystal plate, “but we started dying off.”
It was still a big group, one of the largest book clubs I’ve spoken to. “This is my granddaughter, Emily Jane,” Grandma introduced me. “Emily Jane is who I want to be when I grow up.”
It’s the last vivid memory of her I have.
Grandma was a very old woman, one who seemed to eagerly anticipate death. She was constantly asking me which of her effects I’d like after her passing. So at her funeral last week, I did not shed a tear.
People spoke of her life and I heard the expected stories: of her strength and determination; her compassion for children, family, total strangers. Then, a friend of hers read from one of Grandma’s legendary poems, a thank-you note of sorts for the gift of a hamburger. It was your typical ode to delicious food. But that was not all—she included clip-art. A hamburger.
“P.S,” my grandmother wrote, “I put the paper into the printer wrong so the burger is kinda crooked. Also, I ran out of the other colors of ink so it is all blue.” And the kicker: “Oh, and sorry it’s upside down.”
Grandma, thank you for the quilts, the dishes, the artwork. But that is not your legacy. Grandma, you are who I want to be when I grow up. You are who I already am.