The first time I met her she told me to call her Grandma. Although my husband and I were only dating at the time, and although she was his grandmother, she instantly welcomed me into the family and for the rest of her life she treated me and the spouses of all of her other grandchildren, as one of her own.
That sense of being treated as one of her biological grandchildren was reinforced for all of us on her 75th birthday. She asked that everyone in attendance at her birthday dinner pose for a photo. As we all surrounded the table where Grandma was seated, one of my husband’s cousins began asking those of us who had married into the family to sit down, saying that the photo was to be of “just the blood”.
So I, along with the other spouses who had married into the family, took seats at tables outside of the photo shoot area. However, our children – who were blood, even if we were not – remained posing for the photo along with their blood-related parent. Although I thought excluding us was very weird, and although it made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, I didn’t object. But right before the photo was about to be taken, Grandma noticed that some of us were sitting at other tables, that we were not posing with her for the photo.
“Wait a minute. I want a photo with everyone. Come over here and get in the photo,” she said, gesturing us to join her.
My husband’s cousin said, “Grandma, we want a photo of just the blood.”
Grandma shot her a stern look and said, “No. I want all my grandchildren in the photo.”
Years later when Grandma could no longer drive, I would drive her around town, taking her to the bank, the grocery store, wherever she wanted to go. We’d have a great time chatting the morning away as we ran from place to place. Eventually, Grandma would say, “Let’s go to the Kumm Esse and I’ll buy you a piece of pie for helping me out today.”
Kumm esse means “come eat” in Pennsylvania Dutch. The Kumm Esse was a diner well-known for its pie. I would always decline her offer, telling her that she didn’t have to pay me for helping her out. In fact, over the years, Grandma had helped us out more times than I could count, with advice, with money, with anything that we needed. I owed her far more than I could ever repay and did not want her to feel obligated to me for helping her run errands. So whenever we were out running errands and she offered to buy me pie at the Kumm Esse, I would make up an excuse not to go such as telling her I didn’t have the time or saying I wasn’t hungry.
Several years after Grandma passed away we were reminiscing about her and laughing about the whole “just the blood” incident which has become a long-running joke in our family. As we were laughing and remembering Grandma my sister-in-law, who is a member of the “just the blood” club, said, “Remember how much she loved the pie at the Kumm Esse? Any time you went out with Gram, she wanted to get pie.”
And my heart hurt a little bit. I always declined the opportunity to go to the Kumm Esse for pie because Grandma always presented it as a payment for something I had done for her when in fact, she just wanted pie. I had denied her one of her favorite treats.
Grandma has been gone a long time now, and although I was not related to her by blood, I loved her as if I were. I always try to remember the two important lessons she taught me: family is not defined by blood and ask for what you want. If you want pie, say so.
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