Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mommom and Poppop

Growing up, if there was one thing I could count on when visiting my grandparents in New Jersey it was that they would go out of their way to respond to every need, want, and whim for my sisters and me. We felt loved, special, and wanted from the moment we bounded in the door until we walked exhausted back to the van at the end of the visit. Mommom would line her walls and floors with giant rolls of paper, so we could draw and color on literally every surface of her hallway. We'd sleep piled onto an air mattress and giggle long into the night knowing Dad couldn't punish us with Mommom in the house. For breakfast, Poppop made us pancakes larger than our plates and stomachs, and let us load them up with as much butter and syrup as we wanted. We learned to paint and craft around their dining room table, munching on animal crackers and sipping guava juice. There was no place on earth where we felt more loved and wanted.

As we grew older, we began to appreciate our grandparents for more than their unconditional spoiling. I loved hearing their stories from life in Brooklyn with both sides of the extended family, their very vocal opinions on pretty much everything, their dramatic story telling, and their friendly banter back on forth. We were often joined by my great aunt and uncle after dinner, and the four of them would have us laughing until tears ran down our faces and our sides ached. 

They loved knowing what was going on in our lives, and continued to give us undivided love and attention. We'd horrify Mommom with our stories of camping and backpacking, telling her of the bugs and lack of hot water. We'd laugh with Poppop about how cold his house always was, and he joked that he revived the flies with the hairdryer every morning after they had frozen overnight. Even in high school and college, we continued our "argument" with Poppop. Every card we sent him had hidden in it, "Poppop is silly" and every card he sent back had hidden, "Poppop is great". I'm honestly not sure how it started, but I think Mommom may have had something to do with it.

Everyone was welcome at Mommom and Poppop's house. We'd spend holidays in their kitchen preparing a feast fit for royalty. The dining room table would span the length of two rooms, packed tight with our boisterous family and loaded from one end to the other with our feast. Mommom, who worked in food safety, would cook the turkey until it was done, and then just a few hours more, just to make sure. The cousins all fought for the seat of honor at the head of the table next to Poppop. More often than not, we'd be joined by several friends of my grandparents or aunts and uncles who had no close family of their own. We'd feast over laughter until we could eat no more. Then we'd clear plates and bring out the stuffed artichokes before breaking into the fruit, nuts, and dessert. The evening would die down as Poppop sat at the head of the table, endlessly stirring his coffee and straightening his folded napkin.

Five years ago everything changed when Poppop was at work one morning and by that evening he was gone. None of us were prepared for the loss. The large five bedroom house felt big and empty for the first time, and it was so quiet without Poppop walking around, chuckling at his own jokes. Chou and I spent countless weekends packing up the puppies and driving to Jersey to be with Mommom. We laughed, cried, and remembered my amazing Poppop.

Slowly Mommom began to move forward. She got her dream dog, a standard poodle, to spoil and pamper, the very thing she did best. She started painting and crafting again, and loved showing us her latest creation. She was incredibly talented and we loved seeing her masterpieces. We started cooking with her and she taught us so many of our favorite family recipes. Mommom was a master supervisor and would sit at the head of the table as she instructed the rest of us. We made gravy (marinara sauce) with meatballs and braciola, pirogi, pignolis, and pizzelles. Cooking with Mommom was always, "a little bit of this, a little bit of that" and rarely included actual measurements, so we'd make it with her on the weekends, and go home and make the same dish several times in a row until we felt confident we had it mastered. Chou took over breakfast duty in Poppop's absence, and Mommom would always say how nice it was to have real eggs instead of her "phony eggs" she normally ate.

We spent hours and hours going through all her treasures and years of memories as she prepared to sell her home. We found bridesmaids' dresses from the weddings of my parents, aunts, and uncles. We found gifts from her wedding and family heirlooms from my great grandparents as well as favors that Mommom had made for my wedding. We sorted so many pictures of so many amazing memories, terrible fashion blunders, and crazy relatives. We found endless crafts, some completed and others just started. Mommom had a kitchen gadget for everything imaginable, a fair share of infomercial products, and an entire bedroom closet packed with pots and pans (in addition to the ones in the kitchen). We found every closet, cabinet, and dresser packed to the brim with years worth of memories... and junk.

I'll never forget calling Mommom to tell her I was expecting E. I told her she was going to be a great grandma to which she immediately responded, "I've always been a great grandma." That was Mommom. All I could do was laugh and agree. It was true! However, Great Grandma was a little too old fashioned for Mommom, and E knew her as G.G.Mom. E was every bit as spoiled and loved by her as I was as a kid. Every picture I have of Mommom in the past two years is of her and E. Every time E saw Mommom she heard, "How's the most beautiful girl in the whole world?!" followed shortly by "Who loves you more than I do? No one. No one loves you as much as I do!" Every single time.

We lost Mommom this month. There are no words to describe how much we will miss her. Her telling us to make it nice, "because nice matters", pointing with a loose sideways fist because somehow that was more polite, and trying desperately to rein in my awesome aunts as they threw rolls from one end of the table to the other in the middle of a nice holiday meal. I'm so thankful that Mommom was my grandma and for the years we got to spend with her. I'm also upset that E won't remember the woman who loved her the most.