My grandmother passed away last month right after her 89th birthday. I feel like there should be some account of her out there, that I should share just how special and amazing she was. I want her name to show up if you ever searched for her and for the world to know she was special and important. I’m so lucky she existed and to have had her be a part of my life. So writing this, or putting information out there about her, is one way I have of doing that.
My Grandmother really was my mother to me my whole life. I loved my mother, but she was more like a sibling rather than a mother. 2014 was an extremely hard year with death popping up out of nowhere twice for my family. My mother, Julie Marquez, passed away from ovarian cancer in August. She was 52. She didn’t even know she had cancer or even a serious cancer until mid-July of last year and then she died a month later on August 18th. I know she was scared and freaked out. I don’t think she realized until towards the end what she had missed in her life and not accomplished, I don’t think she really thought about that until then. I think she had always thought she’d have time to make up for those issues, and then she didn’t. Also, once she realized she couldn’t walk and that the wait until the end was going to be painful she just let go knowing the cancer was going to take her soon.
My mother and my grandmother were close, even though they were constantly nagging and fighting with each other. It’s just how they were. I think it kept them both alive and going; but my mother’s passing left a hole in her heart.
My grandmother was my favorite person, my best friend, and one of my biggest supporters. I always thought she would live forever or more realistically into her mid to late 90’s. She always seemed so formidable and able until this last year. She loved music, especially her music… when I was little there was still an 8-track player in the car and we would always put on Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett. We would sing “New York, New York” with Sinatra in the car and at home she would turn on the music and show us how to jitterbug in the kitchen. She still had all of her old records and we got her a record player just so she could play them.
She LOVED watching all the old movies. Lana Turner was her favorite, but she loved them all and knew many of the movies by heart. Turner Classic Movie channel never came off the TV, except maybe when the Dodgers were playing. She liked baseball a lot too. Also, she could paint! I didn’t even know it till I was older and asked about the paintings on our walls and then she confessed that she had painted them. Different scenes of the ocean, or a lighthouse or trees changing color in autumn.
She also made the best food and no one could make it as good as her (I wish I had inherited that cooking gene) and she really loved to eat her own cooking more than anything else. Her lasagna and cheesecake was expected around holidays and special occasions, but she also made homemade chicken soup, peas and pasta, lentils, ditalinis with butter and parmesan, meatloaf… all kinds of stuff. She used to cook me lots of salmon and steak in high school. Whatever I wanted, she would make. Sometimes she would make a whole bunch of different things, and if we didn’t eat it she didn’t care, as long as we ate something.
She taught me how to play Blackjack by the time I was 5 and we would bet pennies and play cards and talk. She would tell me about Las Vegas and traveling across the country with Grandpa and growing up in New York. She told me how she dropped out of school to help take care of her 9 siblings, and worked in a candy factory after leaving high school. She told me how she met my Grandfather, Jim, and just 3 months later she knew he was the one because she heard wedding bells when they kissed. She told me about the hard times too, and the “Outlaws” (aka her in-laws) who she despised. She told me about fights she had with her mother and husband and different people.
I woke up the other day and in my dream-like state I thought I heard my Gram shuffling around in the kitchen like when I use to live with her in her mobile home in Riverside. She would wake up before all of us at 4-5 am, make a pot of coffee and turn on the heater so we would be warm and cozy when we finally got out of bed. She would also lay out our clothes for us when we were little and if she knew what we were going to wear she would throw it in the dryer for a few minutes just to make it warm on cold mornings. I used to know to wake up when I heard the coffeemaker brewing and the smell of it would float into my room. Sometimes Gram would have coffee cake out or bacon crackling on the stove as she made us breakfast and we walked into the kitchen half-asleep. Those weekend mornings were the best because we would just sit with her and talk and eat and then go watch cartoons. After I turned 18 and started working I would sometimes drive home for lunch when I didn’t work far and she would always have something ready for me and we would watch the daytime soap operas together before I drove back to work. I lived with my Gram off and on my whole life until I finally moved out when I was 25.
Even after I left, I visited her all the time or would try to make a point of taking her out to places to eat she had never been before. I sometimes took her to a bar I liked and when we lived right next to each other again in 2011-2012 I would have friends over or small parties and she loved coming out and talking to everybody and hanging out with us. She was such a people person and just loved to talk and laugh. I once had a bacon party and she couldn’t decide what to bring, but finally decided on bacon, peas & alfredo pasta. Everyone loved it and she just loved talking about food and tasting everything, she talked about that party over and over again, or at least until the next one.
When I moved to Denver my Gram would joke with me saying, “Don’t forget your old grandma. You’ll never forget me, right? How could you forget me?” … Let me just say right now, it would be absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to forget my Gram. My Gram was the quintessential Italian grandmother who always had food cooking, smoking Kent Golden Light 100s and drinking endless amounts of coffee to pass the time. She always related to me, wanted to spend time with me, helped me in any way she could, listened to me and fiercely and endlessly loved her family. She let me know that life was hard and we would have problems, but that we could get through it and be stronger for it.
I will miss you Gram. RIP.