For every year of my life, I’ve been gifted two dollars. One dollar came to me before December 25, for Christmas, and one dollar on February 11, for my birthday. Both of these cards always arrived early and at my mother’s address, despite however old I got, aging from childhood to having a roommate to an apartment and now a house.
When I was a young boy, I fought, as young boys do, against hot, itchy sweaters. I was given stern warnings against misbehavior and made to go to family reunions and holidays, where I would sit, awkwardly, around dozens of strangers I shared blood with, but nothing else. Well, not entirely accurate. When I was in third grade, another cousin was convinced he too would one day marry Britney Spears, which I could only laugh at, because I knew that only I were so ‘lucky.’ All of us gathered, simply because the generation before us, told us to. Because it could possibly be grandma’s last.
I remember being at these events, waiting in a line of family to finally say “hello” and “happy holidays.” Her silky smooth and low voice was one that could ease all hesitations in a way that only a wise grandmother could.
Walking away from a conversation with her, you couldn’t help but feel warm. She was grandma. She was everyone’s grandma. She was loved by everyone so much that she only ever had that much extra to give, with a sparkle in her eyes.
This grandma effect was only made more smoothing by the way she would hold your hand in her own tiny, delicate bones of hands, covered by soft skin that wrinkled and collected at every joint and bend.
I also remember vising her in her home, as a very young boy, the few years she lived next to the rest of the family on the plot of land in West Portsmouth. I liked the way she kept her cookies in an old jar, like all grandmothers in cartoons did. She didn’t keep them in their plastic sleeves, protected from the cats in the microwave.
I remember visiting her in her apartment years following, after she moved. Finally, I remember moving on, as I got older, and not seeing her as often.
Past these few memories, I do not know my great-grandmother, who was a collection of 86 years of knowledge and dozens upon dozens of loyal children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, and the like, who all participated in events to show her the legacy she was connected to.
In fact, I do not even particularly know these many cousins and et cetera very well, having taken every opportunity to skip the holidays as an older teenager and young adult that I could.
I just know that we are all connected now, in knowing that we will no longer each receive cards and $2, reminding us that we weren’t forgotten.
In fact, being a complicated person to like all of the time, there have been times in my life where the only card I’ve received has been from her. I could always depend on her for a nice, little reminder that someone out there was still thinking of me.
And, now, after a very long opening, I digress to the point of this column.
A few years back, my good friend lost her father. A man I admired, who served in the military and raised two girls that weren’t biologically his. He spent his later years in life helping veterans and volunteering. I liked him. Years before that, I experienced death for the first time when my great-uncle passed away in front of me. Recently, my best friend nearly had a health scare with her father, someone I have known since I was eleven. This past year, I was in hospice as another grandmother I vaguely knew passed.
I’ve only recently realized— being a 24-year-old who hasn’t yet faced death as frequently as I one day will,—that, despite how little you may know a person, the world seems smaller when they are gone….even knowing 15,000 new people are born each hour.
As I’ve aged, I’ve learned quickly that materials do not matter.
My wife and I barely spend money on items and junk. We spend our money on experiences. We travel when we can and we eat and drink new things. Haggis is bad. Alligator is good.
As I age even further, out of young adulthood and into adulthood, I’ve been faced with the truth that experiences with people are also just as important, because nothing is promised. My mother and step-father, who are my best friends, now that I am old enough to say that without embarrassment; my angel of a grandmother and crafty fox of a grandfather; my siblings and dear friends— these people aren’t guaranteed to be here forever.
We are obsessed with New Year resolutions and losing weight, buying a new car or designing the perfect house. We are fooled into thinking these things will make us happy, if we work hard and achieve them. Of course, to some degree they may.
What is important, however, is seeing the sunrise at different corners of the world and eating the foods famous to each new place to you, but old to the world. Experiencing these things with people you love and telling your story for them to carry on and taking their story to pass onto others. We are only the top of the food chain, after all, because we can share what we’ve learned with others, and strengthen community for everyone alive and yet to come, shaping the world into a better place with each generation that we’re gifted.
As I wrap this ramble of a message up, it seems almost silly to waste time writing a column stating something so obvious and immature a thought as to being boiled down to, “Hey, Portsmouth…..Please, remember that people do die. Love them. Taste new wines with them. See new forests and skylines with them. Share new jokes with them.”
They do, though, and I am writing exactly that.
I will no longer receive cards from my great-grandmother, who passed away this week. I no longer have the things I bought with the dollars that came in them, but I do have the memories of opening each one, knowing excitement. I will always thank her for taking the time to lick the envelopes sealed and, in doing so, reminding me to remember those we are connected to.