A Gan is one step better than a grandma – and grandmas are pretty awesome. A Gan is someone who would crawl across the country on her belly for you – she’d do anything for you. She wouldn’t judge you. She would love you unconditionally from the time she held you when you were ten minutes old – “with your tush in one hand and your head in the other.”
A Gan is someone who tells you how much she loves you every day, and who can’t write enough “XO”’s before she proudly signs her name in birthday cards – a name that you gave to her when you couldn’t say the word “grandma”; and it came out “gan-ma” – later shortened to “Gan”.
Let me introduce you to “Gan”. “Gan” is my grandmother, whom I love dearly. Not whom I “loved”. It will never be past tense with her. She will live on in me forever; after all, I am a generation of her flesh and blood.
When she introduced herself to people in front of me she said, “I’m her Gan.”
On her 80th birthday we sat at a bar in Vegas toasting over cocktails! (Yes, she was that cool, even in her eighth decade here with us.) When I was in college, she would walk through my dorm high-fiving everyone in the hallway – and every single person – from the cool guy smoking his cigarette in the corner wearing shades, to the blonde R.A. featured in Playboy magazine, thought Gan was all that.
Gan taught me how to cook pork roll and sunny-side eggs. She told me I was “ookosh”, or “smart” in Hungarian. She held my puppy, Bubbles, on her shoulder the entire three-hour ride home from Connecticut in the car, when I adopted him. This, is my Gan. There’s no other woman like her in the world.
Gan rang in the New Year in Times Square with friends in 1940. She had the classic 40’s hairstyle, red lips, and red nails. Some time after that , she met my grandfather, later unveiled as an abusive man, whom she divorced down the road. She had to work hard her entire life until she retired in her 60’s for everything she had.
Gan walked through life always telling me that it doesn’t cost anything to smile. She bought me my first computer, when computers were super expensive and not the norm in every house. Every year before school started, she took me shopping for a special outfit, after spending a prized week with her on my summer vacation, where chores were unheard of, sleeping late was mandatory, and me dictating the day’s activities was expected.
Gan always dropped everything to spend time with me when I visited. She always said, “It’s just a house. It will still be here at the end of the day. If I go like ‘this’ (she said, swiping the table top with her hand at imaginary dust) – who will care? It’s not important.” She knew that chores and life’s stresses shouldn’t take precedence over precious time with loved ones.
I always said, “When I grow up, I want to be like her.”
When I was 4 years-old and lived in Florida, before airline regulations were stringent, she would pack portulacas in her suitcase when she visited me from New Jersey, carefully wrapped in Saran Wrap and plastic baggies, so we could plant them together near my swing hanging from a tree. She taught me a few words in Hungarian and how to count to ten in the language, too, which I still can do! [egy, két, három...] She loved eating at diners, and her favorite breakfast was a glass of orange juice, a Thomas’ English muffin with real, salted Breakstone’s butter (which I called Gan’s butter), and a mug full of Sanka instant coffee.
I inherit my affinity for shoes from her! I remember when I spent the weekend at her house one time when I was little, I was amazed that she had TWO closets full of shoes stacked in boxes! (She beats me when I thought my one closet full was pretty amazing!) She was cool way before Carrie Bradshaw knew who Blahnik was – a woman way ahead of the times.
One of the hardest things for me to watch was her age these past few years. She was slowing down physically, but her mind was always as sharp as a tack! She never forgot a phone number and could name all Presidents of the United States in succession from George Washington to Obama! (Even I can’t do that now!)
I knew she didn’t have forever to live, but she always spoke as if she did. She would talk to me and say things like “Someday I’ll tell you…” marking an infinite future. Her positive attitude about life is why she lived to be 93; there’s no doubt in my mind. If you think you will live for forever; well, you just might live as close to “forever” as she did: nine decades, three years, and 130 days worth of sunrises.
She lived far, and I’m so glad I got to see her one last time with my daughter before she died. The last hug I gave her resonated with my mind, body, and soul, on a level where subconsciously, I knew it would be our last embrace. As frail as she appeared, she was strong. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders as if she were in her 20s with ease and warmth, pulling me close.
The last time Gan and I had a lengthy conversation on the phone, she told me how proud she was of me. She hadn’t told me that in a long time. She was short of breath, and normally we only spoke for a few minutes at a time, but that last conversation we had was longer than usual. It’s as if she mustered up every last bit of strength to tell me how much she loved me, and how she just knew, she felt, through that universal connection – the way that two souls are connected – that I was going through a difficult time in my life, and she supported me and loved me. I didn’t even have to go into detail with her about anything, and she just knew.
We had this connection; we always did – where she supported me no matter what, and she was there for me always. When Gan needed me in recent times, I was there for her in a heartbeat. I just wanted to be. She never had to ask. That last conversation we had – again – I just knew that would be the last time we spoke at any length, in my heart, and I felt the tears well, and my chest tighten as I got all choked up; it was a few days before she died. Gan knew that would be the last conversation of length we would have, too, that time was running out - because she made sure she told me everything she had to with every breath she took.
I had planned the day after that conversation to get two tattoos, my first ones, on August 24, to mark my freedom, my life, and my choice in a very personal way. I have wanted to get “inked” since I was 17; but never did. I always put it off. When August 24 came, I plowed ahead with my plan, and little did I know that the symbols I chose would be emblazoned not just on my body, but into my soul, as well, because of the timing. Fate.
As the artist stenciled the designs on my ankle and my hip, I could feel my grandmother slip away; and at the same time, I felt Gan’s energy seep into me with every injection of ink. These forever markings are now not just a symbol of my inner strength surfacing, but whenever I look at them, I think of Gan and her amazing life, her positive glow, and her courage right up until her last heartbeat.
With Gan’s last breaths, as she knew her final hours were approaching, she spoke through a phone held by an angel, to the people she loved most, including me, saying “I love you, I love you, I love you!”
Later that evening, Gan passed away.
I could just “see” Gan now, looking down at me (and my tattoos), going “Laur----“ with a look expressing how she would never get inked, and would wonder for a second why I did; but once she knew the reasons, and that these designs mean so much to me – she would smile. Gan would love me whether I had no tattoos or ten.
I can feel her presence sometimes, watching over me. Even in the past few weeks I have noticed a sprinkling of miracles in my life that she had a hand in. Subtlety – that was her style – but beautifully so. She’s got a team of angels at her side now, and ones here on earth too (you know who you are – as you have made yourself known to me in recent days); and I’m so glad Gan is looking out for me still.
There are no coincidences in life. Timing is everything. I love you Gan. I will watch your spirit thrive in the actions of your great-granddaughter. I will remember you every time I taste one of your delicious recipes that you taught me to make. I will feel your strength surge through me every time I glance down at one of my tattoos. Your legacy, lives on.