What happens after

My Grandpa will be turning 90 this year. He lost his wife of 66 years, my dear Grandma, last fall. Grandpa is still in good health; he keeps a nice garden and follows the Sacramento Kings.

The last time he went to the doctor, the doctor told him about one of his patients, who at 92, was widowed and two weeks later married an old childhood sweetheart. They lived together for ten years before he died.

My dad asked Grandpa what he thought of this. Grandpa said he could never see himself with another woman; for him there was only and only ever will be Grandma. She was a wonderful woman. They traveled the world together, raised three kids, seven grandchildren and two great-grandkids. All that is given. But what worries Grandpa is what happens after - in heaven.

"What would I say to her when we meet again?" he asked my dad.

I'm not sure what charms me more - the idea that he expects to see her again, or the the image of the two of them, reunited once more.

one hundred word story #47: Pies

You're eating Grandma's pies, Dad says. We look down and the boysenberries are impossibly ripe for late November. She made them in August, he says. She was always so efficient. He guts the last turkey and we feel it now, turning in our bellies like a knife. They’re just pies, you say. Sugar is sugar. But it isn’t the sugar I’m worried about. It’s the kneading. It’s those four months without light. Someone dies and everything they touch is sacred. Might pie be sacrament? The berries are sour and plump. Someone wears her apron. We eat until we’re full.

one hundred word story #25: breathe

You can't help considering her shoes. The careful way the flowers are arranged on the counter. The recipe card pinned to the stove, those telltale loping cursive letters. And then there's that smell. What is it, cinnamon and cookie dough and starch? You walk in the house and it follows you down the hall, past the needlepoint, beyond the framed photographs of your parents and hers. You used to think it was unshakable, but you worry now, what if it, too, fades? Can you replicate it, memorize it? Did she leave a recipe? Fill your lungs. It is there somewhere.

On mourning

My grandmother died and I went to the carwash. It didn’t feel right driving out to her house in a dirty car. I gave the man behind the counter eight dollars and put the engine in gear. The automatic wash invited us in with its mechanical arms. I liked the way they washed without asking permission, the way the whole contraption cradled me inside the car, didn’t let me go. Once inside I turned the car off as the spray cycle started. The water was so loud on the windows, against the roof, that I couldn’t hear the street outside. The soap dripped down in even lines and the world was momentarily white. The car was my cocoon. The bird shit and seeds and yellow pollen that had stuck so goddamn tight to the windshield began to flake and peel off. The car was shedding. I was dry inside but really I was molting, little cells of memory stripping off my arms and legs with every shot of water. The last time I saw her, and that gap between her clavicle and her shoulder, and the time I laughed so hard at a wedding that she had to kick me to keep herself from laughing too, and the day so many years ago when she defended me in front of her friend, saying I was old enough and mature enough to be trusted to hold the family pictures, and the look on her face when she said, “I hope they can help you, too, Julia,” and that gasp of mock surprise whenever a grandkid stole a chocolate chip cookie or failed to pass the right card in pinochle. I wanted to stay in the wash cycle longer than the time allotted, but then the green arrows blinked and the voice said, pull forward now, and I wasn’t ready but the hot air vents had already started. The bubbles of water were being forced across the windshield and I could tell they didn’t want to go. The glass was crisp and nice.

I didn’t want to leave but the voice started again. The car rolled forward and the wheels were slick. The sun was too hot, the light too glaring. Sometimes things move before they’re really ready to. It was hard to get out of the car 30 miles later in front of a house that no longer had my grandmother in it. I just kept staring at the birdfeeder on the lawn and the lemon tree with green lemons. But at least my car was clean.

You should know

There are a few things you should know about my grandma Alice. You should know that she and her sister once spent a summer working at Yosemite National Park in the the 1940s. You should know that she can ride a bicycle backwards--that is, with her body facing the back tire. You should know that she got up on waterskis the summer she turned 80. You should know that she routinely pulled in 140-pound halibut off the back of a fishing boat in Alaska. You should know that she completed a ropes course in Costa Rica in her 60s. You should know that she can play a mean game of pinochle, and that she has the purest poker face in the world. You should know that her pies are so good that my brother and his wife used her recipe for their wedding desserts.

You should know that, when I was a kid and terribly shy, she was one of the few adults in the world who really understood what that meant.

You should know that when I was little, she was the soft grandma, the quiet one with a knack for listening and an endless supply of stories. You should know that she and my grandfather came to nearly every Sacramento regatta I competed in. You should know that I still own the purple and white sweater she knitted for me when I was five years old. You should know that she and grandpa hosted Christmas every year until us grandkids grew too tall to all sleep before the fire, and while every subsequent Christmas has been lovely, they are different without my grandpa's shadow lurking in the kitchen, my grandma's various hidden cookie jars.

You should know that my grandma has dignity.

You should know that when I saw her today, recovering from a bad fall, tubes and machines whirring around her, I saw a person stronger than I have ever been, and who knows, might ever be.

You should know that with grandmas like her, that's a quality that never fades.