There’s this dinky little walk-up ice cream shop at the border of my grandma’s small Ohio town and the next. The train track runs right behind it. My cousins and I would spend afternoons with Grandma eating boxed mac and cheese and ramen on her scratched-up wooden table. If I think hard enough, I bet I could recreate those scratch marks into something of a masterpiece, with hints of innocence and undertones of invincibility. Her ability to love us was somewhat of an artform itself.
Every summer, when it got hot enough, she’d drive us to the tracks for ice cream. We were too shy to order. Or maybe too in awe of the way she treated everyone with something more than kindness. “I’m sorry, how much did you say it was?” she would ask the girl at the window. Grandma was always hard of hearing, I came to learn as a teenager. The way she nodded and smiled at my stories of childhood gossip had convinced me otherwise, I guess.
Soon, summers came when Grandma would drive us but sent one of us out to order so she could stay seated in the car. She always ordered a small Pina Colada sundae with pineapples on top. I hated pineapples.
Soon, she didn’t even do the driving. My mom would take us. Grandma’s order would be the same. She swore that each time, it tasted better than the last. She was a simple woman, always finding pleasure in the most ordinary things. “Isn’t it just beautiful to be here all together?” she’d say. I wish I looked up more from my ice cream to be able to agree with her. I’m afraid to ever put my head down now. There’s so much I’m afraid to miss.
Soon, my brother was old enough to drive us. Mom would stay home with Grandma. We stopped asking what she wanted. We already knew.
I went back to the shop today. It’s been a long while. My life is different now. I graduated college and moved out West. I bought my own car, and I’m not too shy to give my own order. I’m the only one in line and wonder if it’ll go out of business soon. I haven’t seen some of my cousins in years, though I know Grandma would hate to hear that. One of them turns 21 today. I even like pineapples now.
Grandma doesn’t live down the street anymore, but I drove by that condo today, too. The home that was once filled with the sound of her piano hymns as we walked in. For the few moments before she heard us enter, I caught a glimpse of Gerry Daiber, not Grandma. When you’re young, I think you forget that the people who raised you once lived their own lives, too. Her title differed, but to everyone she was a healer of sorts. Her love healed people.
She’s living somewhere much, much better now. Somewhere where I imagine her hearing is perfect and the breakfast tables aren’t scratched. Somewhere with a piano that’s in tune. I just hope there’s room atop it for a small pineapple sundae.