When I think of Grandma Lea, I think about her house.
Her home on Evelyn Drive was Shangri-La to a 7-year-old. She had the good cereal, cable TV and only whooped us if we really deserved it.
After church on Sundays, we’d converge there to eat pasta. Her sauce was enchanted. It didn’t matter that it was mostly Hunt’s tomato paste. It was 100 percent magic.
The adults would watch the game — there was always a game. Meanwhile, my cousins and I would be “playing” in the living room downstairs.
You ever see that commercial where the professional wrestlers tell you not to imitate them? We disregarded that advice with impunity.
Powerbombs onto the lawn, piledrivers into the pool, elbows dropped from tree branches — we nearly killed each other, a lot.
It was all tremendously stupid.
It was our childhood.
Grandma’s house was the hub, and grandma herself was our gravitational center.
But you know what happens next. Because you have a grandma, too… or a great-aunt or a papa. And if you swap out the meal or team on TV, it’s your story, too.
You grew up. You got distracted by life. Some of you moved away.
The center doesn’t hold.
Now my family is spread across the continental United States. And forget coming to grandma’s house on Sunday. We’re so busy and far-flung that we couldn’t even get everyone home for her funeral.
Grandma Lea died this autumn. Don’t tell my son, but it happened on his birthday.
Typically speaking, the last lesson we learn from our grandma is usually loss. It’s a lesson we anticipate, but it still hurts.
And if I’m being honest, I don’t mourn for my grandmother. She lived 87 remarkable years and left behind a cadre of loved ones: four kids, 12 grandkids and five (so far) great-grandkids. All-Star stats.
No, I mourn the Sunday meals, the pickup football games and general closeness. My cousins and I grew up in the same square mile in Garfield Heights. Meanwhile, my children’s cousins live across three states and two coasts. They know each other as a face on a phone screen or in a picture frame.
And that’s partly us suffering from a sort of success — moving on for better jobs and bigger opportunities.
But it’s a kind of success that feels like suffering, at least it does right now.
Every generation thinks the next one has lost its roots.
Yes, the center couldn’t hold. But it never does.
By a confluence that I’ll call coincidence, my grandmother and my wife’s great-aunt died within eight days of each other. They had been the leaders of our respective families for generations.
They had carried the baton — through joy and tragedy, delight and deprivation, cradles and caskets. Sometimes, that baton weighed a ton but they shouldered the burden.
Now it’s our turn.
So we have to build a new center. Because, someday, my children’s children — a bit of a presumption, I know — will need a grandma’s house. So we need to start building those traditions now.
I’ll even cook the pasta. Just don’t expect the sauce to be as good as grandma’s.