I don't think she ever really approved of my mother, but I don't think she ever did anything but love me. She told me once that we have the same feet - Olsen feet - from her side of the family. Long, large, and a little on the wide side. Neither of us were what you'd call delicate women, although by the time I grew taller than her (a feat I never really imagined I would accomplish when I was a little girl) to hug her meant to feel as if I was going to crush delicate bird bones if I squished too hard.
She wore heavy jewelry made of beads and wood and ceramic, I think to hide a neck she didn't like and wrists she thought were too thin. We traded candy dishes for presents until I finally made it clear that I wanted the crafty things she made, not the glass dishes she thought would help me serve dinner parties. She approved, I think, of my collection of boxes, once I started it, and gave me one every year she thought about it.
She loved it when I wore my hair up because she said it looked graceful. As I got older, mobile and on my own, we had a couple of shared afternoons here and there where she would catch me up on the marriages and births and love lives of cousins I half remembered playing with at age 5. She probably would've disproved a little at how corpulent we've gotten in Austin, since the latter years of her life she kept herself on a strict diet of coffee, eggs, bran and a few pale-colored veggies. But she always had glass coca-cola in her fridge for when her grandchildren stopped by.
The print that hangs over our fireplace was a gift from her to my dad - it's from a play he was in, in college and it's got Macbeth holding a bloody dagger in a field of red and purple blood, a crown of letters atop the skull of King Duncan in the background. Dad put it up at the cabin for a couple of years, although I found it in a closet with other paintings and took it back to my place with his blessing, since I think he was a bit bemused by the gift at the time. I think she gave it to him to remind him of some of the things he used to do - the art work and the theatre that he put aside when he became an attorney.
One of my last memories of her when she was almost completely cognizant, rational, and aware, but after she moved into her little apartment on the second or third floor the planned community, is when she gave me her proof sheets from the books she illustrated. She made such detailed drawings of plants that she got reasonable respect as an illustrator, and she has two books to her name. Apparently (I just went to search) they're only available in the UK now. These delicate ink drawings of poisonous plants line our bedroom walls, part of the legacy of a woman I will never forget. At the time she was painting this totally silly little 'town on the lake' painting at the time, all dark blues and yellows from the light reflecting on the water. My dad scoffed at the style because he can't help himself, but I know he was glad she was still painting after all these years.
Tonight I was told by my father (in passing, it's his way to be most noncommittal about the important things) that she's not eating anymore, and it won't be long now. It's not something sudden, my heart is not broken, because this amazing woman, once school teacher, who raised my father and his brother and sister by herself after her husband died, this wonderful lady I called Grandma, has been in slow decline for what seems like the better part of my adult life. Nothing seriously wrong, just old age, and a constant downgrade of her condition until she no longer recognized anyone nor got out of her chair nor kept herself up.
The woman I remember from weekend visits and Sundays spent at her kitchen table, learning cards and talking about things I can't properly recall, that woman will always be with me in my heart. I just wanted to remember her a little bit here.